Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Great Lakes’ Category

Snyder takes important step on straits pipelines, but more work ahead

Gov. Rick Snyder today took an important step toward protecting Michigan’s communities and waterways from oil spills by issuing an executive order that creates a Michigan Pipeline Safety Advisory Board.

The 15-member panel will “ensure safety, upkeep and transparency of issues related to the state’s network of pipelines. It will also be charged with advising state agencies on matters related to pipeline routing, construction, operation, and maintenance,” the governor’s office said in a news release.

While the group will look at pipelines across the state, a particular focus will be the Line 5 pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac. Owned by Enbridge and more than six decades old, the twin pipelines every day push 23 million gallons of oil through the heart of the Great Lakes.

The panel includes state officials, industry representatives, environmental advocates and others. MEC is pleased that the board includes Jennifer McKay from member group Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council; Mike Shriberg of the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes Regional Center, a strong partner group; and Chris Shepler of Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry, a local business owner who has been outspoken on the need to prevent an oil spill in the straits.

“This new advisory group will provide an important forum for state leaders, water-protection advocates and others to work directly with Enbridge toward a solution that keeps oil out of our Great Lakes and inland waters,” said Chris Kolb, MEC president. “I see an opportunity here for the conversation about Line 5 to become more open and transparent, and for Enbridge to provide clear information about the condition of its pipelines.

“This is a good first step, but there’s still a lot of work to do. I encourage the Snyder administration to take additional measures right away to protect our environment and local economies from the disastrous impacts of an oil spill, and to set aggressive timelines for meaningful action,” Kolb added. Read more

MEC submits comments on state’s 30-year water strategy

Late last week, MEC and several of our partners and members submitted formal comments on the draft document, “Sustaining Michigan’s Water Heritage: A Strategy for the Next Generation,” created by the Office of the Great Lakes (OGL) at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

Overall, our comments were supportive and encouraging. Despite a few areas where we suggest speedier timelines or tighter language in a particular recommendation, we’re mostly just excited, and encouraged that the state has put forward such a comprehensive 30-year water strategy. You can read our full comments here.

As we stated in our comments:

In an era of unprecedented freshwater uncertainty (such as Western-state droughts and climate change), the development of a comprehensive and far-reaching strategy and vision articulating the value and role of Michigan’s precious water resources is a great thing. We applaud the Governor for asking for the strategy, and thank Jon Allan and the team at OGL for pulling it together…It offers a solid accounting of the many specific water-related challenges, opportunities and options facing the state today, and in decades ahead. From aquatic invasive species and harmful algae blooms to groundwater withdrawals and stormwater runoff, the document offers a sobering and insightful picture of the road ahead.

If you’re interested in the nitty-gritty of our comments, there’s plenty of material to dig into, including calls for stronger language opposing commercial fish farms in the Great Lakes, more details about water affordability, greater emphasis on watershed-level governance opportunities and more urgency around septic inspections, water withdrawals, and replacing soon-to-expire monitoring and clean-up programs.

But beyond the specific policy ideas lies a bigger challenge for OGL—and for all of us. That’s to make sure this plan doesn’t end up on a shelf or get tied up (and bogged down) by politics. It’s got the depth and credentials to become a useful action plan during the current administration and in future ones, but only if we’re ready to take some ownership.

The water strategy might not be perfect, but it’s a good tool and MEC is committed to helping ensure that implementation and follow-up are baked in from the start.

###

Photo courtesy Delta Whiskey via Flickr.

Ten surprising facts in Michigan’s new water strategy

Crafting a 30-year strategy to position Michigan’s abundant (and awesome) water assets in a national and global context is no easy feat. MEC is grateful to Governor Snyder for asking for such a plan, and to Jon Allan and his team at the Office of Great Lakes (OGL) for pulling a laudable draft of one together.

More discussion of the water strategy is below, but first, here are the top ten surprises I found in digging through the document. Take a look for yourself, and see what surprises you!

  1. Michigan has more than 1.3 million on-site wastewater systems (septics), but is the only state without a specific law regulating them. No central system exists to track the locations or conditions of these systems as Michigan lacks a statewide sanitary code that would require inspections. Only 11 of Michigan’s 83 counties conduct septic inspections at time the time of real estate transaction.
  2. More than half of all new single-family houses built today in Michigan are not serviced by a public wastewater utility but instead rely on individual septic systems.  The report estimates that at least 130,000 systems statewide are likely failing and discharging as much as 31 million gallons of sewage per day.
  3. Michigan has more than 1 million private domestic wells, more than any other state in the U.S. While public water supplies are subject to oversight and frequent inspections to ensure their quality and safety, individual residential water well owners are responsible for the maintenance of their own wells, and the siting and construction of these wells is handled at the local level rather than at the state level.
  4. The state has an estimated 2 million improperly abandoned wells, each of which poses a risk to groundwater resources by providing a potential conduit between the surface and underground aquifers, or between aquifers.
  5. Michigan has more than 8,500 leaking underground storage tanks and more than 9,700 other sites of environmental contamination. Twelve of Michigan’s original 14 designated Areas of Concern remain on the list of areas with legacy contamination. Cleanup funds and monitoring funds from previous statewide bonds are within a few years of disappearing, and no replacement source has been identified. Read more

Q&A: Legal scholar proposes world’s longest walking trail around Great Lakes

Here’s a figure to impress the guests at your next cocktail party: The Great Lakes shoreline in the United States and Canada is more than 10,000 miles long—nearly half the circumference of Earth.

Now imagine a walking trail around that shoreline. It would be longer than the Appalachian, Continental Divide and Pacific Crest trails combined. In fact, it would be the longest public walking trail in the world.

Such a footpath is more than a hypothetical idea. Melissa Scanlan, director of the Environmental Law Center at the Vermont Law School, proposed a Great Lakes Coastal Trail in a recent article in the Michigan Journal of Environmental and Administrative Law. Scanlan argues that the trail would provide a tangible way to restore the public’s coastal history and build local tourist economies.

Intrigued, we checked in with Scanlan by email to learn more about her ambitious vision for the trail.

MEC: Why does someone in Vermont care so much about the Great Lakes? What’s your connection to the lakes?

Melissa Scanlan: I grew up in the Lake Michigan Basin of Wisconsin, founded and directed Midwest Environmental Advocates, where I worked as a lawyer to protect the Great Lakes, and have spent many hours enjoying the lake shores, so I understand what a precious and beautiful resource they are for the region. I also saw through my prior work that we need to focus the public’s attention on the significance of the lakes for the region as a cohesive, binational whole. To address this need, build on existing water and property law, and engage the public, I’ve created a blueprint to establish a Great Lakes Coastal Trail on the shores of the Great Lakes. The trail will link together 10,000 miles of coastline and provide the longest marked walking trail in the world. Unlike other National Scenic Trails where most of the trail required new easements, this one will demarcate an already existing, yet largely forgotten, public trust easement. You don’t have to be born rich to be a beneficiary of this trust fund; the Great Lakes Coastal Trail will allow the public to enjoy their common heritage in the lakeshore, which is held by the government in trust for them. Read more

White River Township seeks funding to purchase lakefront land at center of dune debate

One of MEC’s most-read blog posts was a 2013 analysis that pointed out serious flaws in—and helped build the opposition needed to block—a controversial proposal to develop a road through a public dune preserve on the Lake Michigan coast.

If a new fundraising effort succeeds, the piece of private lakefront property at the center of that debate could soon be open for public enjoyment.

Public attention turned to the two-acre parcel when a developer proposed building a home on the property with an access road through the White River Township Barrier Dunes Sanctuary. The proposal represented the first test of a 2012 law that gutted key provisions of Michigan’s Critical Dunes Act.

Thankfully, the Department of Environmental Quality rejected the proposal from Bro G Land Company, echoing MEC’s arguments that what the proposal called a driveway was, by the state’s definition, clearly a road—one that would have fundamentally changed the scenic character of a public sanctuary carefully preserved and managed by thoughtful leaders.

Following the permit denial, Bro G filed a lawsuit against the township seeking a judgment that it had the right to build the road. That suit ended last month in a settlement that gives White Lake Township 18 months to purchase the property for $900,000. Read more

Labor Day Bridge Walk is an opportunity for action on Straits oil pipeline

Gov. Rick Snyder will lead about 40,000 people on a five-mile walk across the Mackinac Bridge on Monday, continuing a 57-year old Labor Day tradition.

Also on Monday—as happens every day—23 million gallons of crude oil will cross the Straits of Mackinac just west of the bridge, through a pair of pipelines a couple hundred feet below the surface.

The pipelines are older than the Bridge Walk tradition. They were installed in 1953, the first year of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s presidency, when Patti Page’s “The Doggie in the Window” topped Billboard charts and the U.S. Supreme Court was deliberating whether public school segregation was constitutional.

The kids were crazy for this sort of thing when the Straits oil pipelines were installed.

They are owned by Enbridge, the Canadian company responsible for the worst inland oil spill in U.S. history – the 2010 spill of about a million gallons of tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River, which is still being cleaned up. The Straits pipelines are older than the one that ruptured in the Kalamazoo spill, but Enbridge has made public very little information on their condition. In July, the state notified Enbridge it needed additional support structures to comply with state regulations.

Enbridge was responsible for more than 1,000 oil spills in the U.S and Canada between 1999 and 2013.

MEC and other groups from the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign will be at the Bridge Walk to gather signatures from participants on a petition urging Gov. Snyder to protect the Great Lakes from a disastrous oil spill. (Signing the petition is quick and easy; click here.) We’re asking the governor to immediately open a transparent, public process under the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act to evaluate the threat posed by the pipelines and determine what actions should be taken to prevent a catastrophe. Read more

Michigan’s Sleeping Bear, ‘America’s Most Beautiful Place,’ set to earn Congress’ first wilderness designation in years

(Second update: President Obama signed the bill March 13, designating roughly half of the Sleeping Bear Dunes as a federal wilderness area!)

(Wednesday morning update! The U.S. House of Representatives passed the bill on a voice vote late Tuesday, and it is on its way to President Obama’s desk. Said U.S. Senator Carl Levin: “This is good news for all of us who cherish the matchless beauty and the ecological importance of Sleeping Bear Dunes.”)

****

Michigan’s iconic and globally rare freshwater dune system is on the verge of getting Congress’ first wilderness designation since 2009, capping more than a decade of discussion about how best to protect one of the region’s signature natural areas while keeping it open to hunters, anglers, beach lovers and others.

The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Conservation and Recreation Act would designate as wilderness 32,500 acres of the park that gained national attention in 2011 when Good Morning America viewers voted it the nation’s most beautiful place. The bill is set for a House vote this evening and is expected to land on President Obama’s desk for his signature.

The bill is a rarity for the polarized 113th Congress, which hasn’t designated a single acre for protection under the Wilderness Act. (Neither did the 112th – the first Congress not to add wilderness since 1966.)  It enjoys bipartisan support among Michigan’s congressional delegation—Democrats Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow co-sponsored the Senate version, which passed in June, while Republican Dan Benishek introduced the House bill—and has the backing of local residents and the National Park Service. Read more

Friday linkaround: Big week for cyclists and the DNR finds a lost toddler!

Good Friday everyone! Here are some items of interest from the week that’s drawing to a close:

It was a big week for our friends at the League of Michigan Bicyclists, with two legislative victories: House passage of revised right-turn signals and vulnerable roadway user legislation.

The state released this draft report last week on its findings regarding customer choice in the electric utility market. The report stays scrupulously neutral on the question of whether to expand competitive choice beyond the current 10% cap….perhaps indicating the governor will not be proposing significant changes to the program. More explanation on the choice cap is here (PDF)

Read more

Anti-biodiversity SB 78: Michigan scientists (133 of ‘em!) poised to tell Gov. Snyder it is “against the best advice” of state’s academic experts

The good news is the Michigan Legislature is on summer recess.

Even better news; they left without taking up SB 78, legislation that would redefine the term “biodiversity” in state law and prohibit state agencies from designating public lands to protect biological diversity. (We’ve written extensively about the bill’s flawed premise and terrible consequences, and you can read about it here and here and here.)

But Rep. Andrea Lafontaine, who chairs the House Natural Resources committee, told MEC earlier this year  that she expected to give the bill a hearing prior to legislature’s summer recess. Due to a busy close of session and – we’d like to think — lots of letters and calls to her office, the bill was not brought before the committee.

But we have every reason to believe the bill, which already passed the full Senate, is still likely to reappear. And when it does, the environmental and conservation communities need to be ready to stand in opposition.

University of Michigan School of Natural Resources Professor Bradley Cardinale PhD, whose work focuses on the challenges of protecting biodiversity, has been working to point out the far-reaching ramifications of the bill. He, and 133 other PhD-level professors representing 13 Michigan universities, have signed this letter urging Gov. Rick Snyder to veto SB 78 should it reach his desk. Signing SB 78, they agree, would be a significant setback for the scientific management of state lands – a decades-old philosophy that has successfully restored Michigan’s once–decimated forests, protected its freshwater lakes and streams, and done a reasonable job of balancing the needs of multiple constituencies who use state lands for diverse activities.

We sat down with Professor Cardinale to ask him a few questions about the professors’ letter and the effects SB 78 would have on Michigan conservation.

 ************************

— Tell us about your letter to the Governor. And you have not yet sent it, is that right? When will you?

Read more

Polluting the Pure Michigan brand

The ill-advised Pure Michigan Right to Work advertisement is the latest in a string of questionable decisions that suggest the state and in particular, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) don’t understand the value of the brand they inherited.

The Pure Michigan brand is suffering a painful identity crisis. Why? Because there are two versions: first, there’s the Pure Michigan tourism promotional campaign, which has wisely expanded to spotlight both natural resources and great communities.

I’m a big supporter of that version because the ads remind what I love about Michigan—the places, the Great Lakes, the sense of our unique assets and place in the world.

Read more