A new study indicates that air pollution dropped significantly the day after last year’s power blackout in the Northeast and upper Midwest. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
A new study indicates that air pollution dropped significantly the day after last year’s
power blackout in the Northeast and upper Midwest. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
Researchers at the University of Maryland took air samples during the blackout last
August. They found air pollution was dramatically reduced downwind of the blackout
area. They say the better air quality was at least in part due to more than 100 coal-
burning power plants shutting down.
Scott Segal is with the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, an electric utilities
industry group. He suggests power plants were only part of the reason.
“Not only do power plants go off line. Typically, people don’t go to work, which means
that automobile traffic is depressed. In addition, there are 20 industrial sectors that are
non-utilities that utilize coal-fired capacity or other fossil fuels that are sources of sulfur
dioxide and those are all taken off line in the event of a blackout.”
But the researchers maintain the study shows power plants play a dominant role in haze
and ozone pollution.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.
The U.S. and Canada are about halfway through a major study of navigation in the Great Lakes. The scope of the study has changed since it was first proposed. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Stephanie Hemphill reports:
The U.S. and Canada are about halfway through a major study of navigation
in the Great Lakes. The scope of the study has changed since it was first
proposed. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Stephanie Hemphill reports:
The Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway connect Midwest farms and
factories with the Atlantic Ocean. Its locks are aging, and big ocean-going ships can’t
squeeze through. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wanted to look at widening the
locks and deepening the channels.
But Canada wasn’t interested in that, and Congress directed the Corps to
scale back the study.
Wayne Schloop is the study manager.
‘There’s a lot of question marks as far as what does the bi-national system
need, in its entirety, not just the U.S. portion. There’s also a realization
there’s a lot of environmental sensitivity to the system, and you need to
address that in some manner before you can make any potential
recommendations about long-term improvements if they’re warranted, or if
they’re out there.”
Five public meetings are being held around the Great Lakes this summer, and
a final report is expected in fall 2005.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Stephanie Hemphill.
The Army Corps of Engineers is proposing spending billions of dollars to expand locks along the Mississippi River, but environmentalists say it’s a waste of money. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Katherine Glover has the story:
The Army Corps of Engineers is proposing spending billions of dollars to expand locks
along the Mississippi River, but environmentalists say it’s a waste of money. The Great
Lakes Radio Consortium’s Katherine Glover has the story:
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has compiled a study that suggests the nation needs to
spend billions of dollars improving navigation on the Upper Mississippi River. It would
expand or add locks at dams on the Mississippi from Minnesota to just above St. Louis,
Missouri. The Corps has similar plans for the Illinois River, which stretches from near
Chicago to near St. Louis.
Tow boats push barges full of grain downstream, carrying 60 percent of the nation’s grain
exports. They use the Mississippi lock and dam system, which was built in the 1930’s.
The Corps of Engineers built the lock and dam system to ensure the water would remain
deep enough to keep barge traffic moving year round. The locks that allowed barges
through the dams were adequate for the time. But today, towboats are pushing groups of
barges twice as long as they were in the 1930’s. To get through the locks, they must
separate into groups and then reconnect on the other side.
Denny Lundberg is the project manager of the Corps’ navigation study. He says the
Mississippi River system is an important corridor for the grain trade and the aging current
locks could put Midwest farmers at a disadvantage.
“What the Mississippi River does is provides a transportation system for certain key
exports and helps the nation’s balance of trade and it does this by saving roughly 60 to 70
percent of the cost of shipping over that distance by rail… so the existing system out
there generates about a billion dollars annual transportation cost savings to the nation.”
Farmers are in favor of expanding the locks. Gerald Tumbleson farms in Southern
Minnesota. He attended a public hearing on the Corps’ recommendations.
“The problem of the system now is it is too slow. Now, you might say it delayed an hour
or two on a barge or something like that, but when you start adding those up over a
period of time that’s a lot of hours.”
Tumbelson says that delays lead to increased transportation costs, bringing down the
price he can get for his products. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ proposal would
speed up the system by building seven new locks and five lock extensions, as well as
other smaller measures to speed river navigation.
The Corps’ proposal also includes money to help restore some of the ecosystems that
have been damaged by the Corps’ navigation projects in the past. But many
environmentalists are skeptical that anything will be done for the environment.
In a study called Twice Cooked Pork, a coalition of environmental and taxpayer
groups say they found major flaws with the Corps’ conclusions in its proposal. The
groups say that barge traffic on the river is declining, not increasing. They say there’s
more domestic demand for grain and other products, so there’s not as great a need to ship
it downriver. And the groups say the project will be the most expensive waterway project
in history, but will only benefit the barge industry. And they add… it will benefit the
Mark Muller of the Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy is skeptical that the
proposed project would have any benefit for people like farmer Gerald Tumbleson.
“I don’t think it really matters if we have longer locks or not, that doesn’t mean our
exports are going to increase, and unless we have an increase in exports we’re not going
to have any benefits to farm income.”
Critics say given the Army Corps of Engineers’ history, there’s plenty of reason to be
skeptical of the Corps’ findings. In 2000, a whistleblower within the Corps revealed he
was pressured to falsify statistics to justify spending billions of dollars on Corps projects
along the Mississippi. Further investigation by both the Pentagon and the National
Research Council revealed widespread flaws and corruption in the Corps’ research and
But the Corps says the current proposal came after many public hearings, and extensive
consultation with other federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Army Corps of Engineers’ Denny Lundberg says those public meetings and
discussions had a role in developing the current proposal.
“And we have taken that and developed a combined plan to try to seek a balance out on
the river so this integrated plan really serves as a framework for being able to operate and
maintain the system both for navigation and for the environment.”
The Corps will continue taking public comments on the draft report until July 30th. In
the fall, they will present their final report to Congress, which has the final say on the
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Katherine Glover.
Steve Dahl is one of about 25 commercial fishers on the
North Shore of Lake Superior. Dahl makes a modest living
selling herring, but he'd like to be able to fish for
lake trout too. When he's fishing for herring, Dahl pulls his
gill net up and passes it across his boat, plucking herring
from the mesh. (Photo by Stephanie Hemphill)
In one net, the catch is about 40 herring. The second net
yields about the same. The catch varies widely depending
on time of year and weather. (Photo by Stephanie Hemphill)
At the Vanilla Bean Bakery and Cafe, a sign goes in the
window when there's fresh herring. Owner Paul Bergman says
it pulls in the customers. He thinks lake trout would be
just as popular. (Photo by Stephanie Hemphill)
Some fish populations in the Great Lakes have recovered dramatically from the devastating pollution of the last century. But the very health of the fishery presents a new set of challenges for people. Who gets to catch the fish? Most states favor sport anglers, but some commercial fishing operations are asking for a bigger share. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Stephanie Hemphill reports:
Some fish populations in the Great Lakes have recovered dramatically from the
devastating pollution of the last century. But the very health of the fishery presents a
new set of challenges for people. Who gets to catch the fish? Most states favor sport
anglers, but some commercial fishing operations are asking for a bigger share. The Great
Lakes Radio Consortium’s Stephanie Hemphill reports:
(sound: engine zooms, slows)
Steve Dahl guides his aluminum boat to his gill net, anchored below the waves of Lake
Superior. He fishes out of Knife River, a small town just up the shore from Duluth
Minnesota. A few feet at a time, the net offers up its catch – slender silver herring
caught by the gills.
“The mesh actually has a little bit of flex to it. That’s why I can squeeze them out. One
that’s too big or fat, you have to back it out, so you don’t harm the flesh.”
The openings in the net are just right to catch herring. Too small for lake trout. Dahl
isn’t allowed to catch lake trout anyway. He says they mostly just bounce off the net.
When the net is empty, about 40 herring – each of them about a pound – are lying in a tub
at the bottom of the boat.
Dahl is working hard for these fish. It’s pretty cold, and the wind is gusting.
Dahl says sometimes the current is so strong, he can’t pull the net up out of the water.
Sometimes there are no fish in the net. In the
summer, they move around and they’re hard to find. And of course, he can’t fish when
the lake is frozen.
But he loves this life.
“I get to be outside all the time, my own boss. It’s great fun.”
Steve Dahl sells his catch to the restaurants and fish houses that dot the North Shore of
Lake Superior. He makes his living this way. He says he doesn’t make a lot of money,
but it’s a good life.
Dahl says the money would be better if he were allowed to fish for lake trout. He figures
he’d be able to make several thousand dollars more a year if he could catch even just a
few hundred lake trout.
“That’s all we’re asking for is to be able to supply the local restaurants through the peak
Lake trout were almost wiped out by over-fishing and by the parasitic sea lamprey in the
1960’s and 70’s. The lamprey are under control now, and decades of stocking lake trout
have brought the population back up. People who fish for sport have been catching more
and more lake trout. Last year, they caught about 15,000 of the fish on the Minnesota
side of Lake Superior. But so far the state of Minnesota won’t allow commercial fishers
to go after them. Neither will Michigan, although Wisconsin and Ontario do.
Don Schreiner manages the Lake Superior fishery for Minnesota. He says restoring the
lake trout population is taking a long time. That’s why they don’t want to open it up to
commercial fishing just yet.
“Right now we’re pretty cautious, we’ve just started kinda pulling back on stocking and it
seems a little premature to start thinking about opening the door for commercial
Next year, Minnesota plans to create a new ten-year plan for the fish in its Lake Superior
waters. Don Schreiner says during the planning process, everyone will be able to have
their say. But sport anglers far outnumber the two dozen or so commercial fishermen on
the North Shore. So they’ll need to find allies in their claim on the lake trout.
Paul Bergman is likely to speak up in favor of commercial fishing for lake trout. He
owns the Vanilla Bean Bakery & Café in Two Harbors, Minnesota. He buys herring from
Steve Dahl. He says half his customers order fish, and they love it when it’s locally
“People really do come up here for the native fish on the North Shore, so we’re getting so
many more repeat customers now from the cities. More and more are asking for the fish.”
Bergman puts a sign in the window when he has fresh herring, and he says it pulls people
in. He’d like to be able to do the same with lake trout.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Stephanie Hemphill.
Several lakefront communities in the region have banned certain lawn fertilizers. Naturally, some lawn care companies are opposed to the ban, and now they’re cultivating a case for court. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Shamane Mills reports:
Several lakefront communities in the region have banned certain lawn fertilizers. Naturally, some
lawn care companies are opposed to the ban, and now they’re cultivating a case for court. The
Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Shamane Mills reports:
(sound of waves)
The 44 lakes in Dane County are one of Wisconsin’s biggest attractions. Also eye-catching are
lawns around the lakes, but officials say fertilizer from these lawns is running into lakes,
causing stinky, ugly, algae blooms. To improve water quality, Dane County has become the latest
community in the region to restrict phosphorus fertilizer.
The Wisconsin Landscape Federation hopes their lawsuit will stop next year’s ordinance from
taking effect. David Swingle is the Federation’s Executive Director. He contends the phosphorus
ban breaks state law and is based on faulty science.
“This was an effort to try to bring attention to area lakes, the problems they’re having from
so many other sources… and lawn fertilizer really was an easy to target to grandstand on.”
County officials are reviewing the ban to see if it will hold up in court…
or whether changes need to be made.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Shamane Mills.
Budget cuts continue to plague states across the country. In Michigan, these cuts led to the elimination of the state’s fish advisory program. It’s the first state in the region to drop its program. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Ashley McGovern has more:
Budget cuts continue to plague states across the country. In Michigan, these cuts led to
the elimination of the state’s fish advisory program. It’s the first state in the region to
drop its program. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Ashley McGovern has more:
Two years ago, Michigan’s legislature cut funding for the state’s fish advisory program.
Since then, Michigan’s Department of Community Health has been struggling to pay for
the advisories. Now, department officials say they can no longer afford to keep the
T.J. Bucholz is a spokesman for Michigan’s Department of Community Health. He says
the advisories inform an important segment of the population:
“The message is targeted these days at women that are pregnant. Letting them know that ingestion
of too much fish that is contaminated with mercury or PCBs or PBBs can have an
adverse affect on their pregnancy.”
Two years ago, officials from Ohio’s Department of Health threatened to end their fish
advisory program because of budget cuts. But they later found funds from other state
departments. Bucholz says his department will try to do the same.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Ashley McGovern.
The emerald ash borer has been destroying ash trees in Michigan, Ohio, Ontario, Virginia and Maryland – and the bug is spreading. Now, agricultural officials in Michigan are developing an early warning system. By detecting the insects early, they hope to slow or even prevent their spread. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tracy Samilton reports:
The emerald ash borer has been destroying ash trees in Michigan, Ohio,
Illinois, Maryland, and Ontario – and the bug is spreading. Now,
agricultural officials in Michigan are developing an early warning
system. By detecting the insects early, they hope to slow or even
prevent its spread. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tracy Samilton
Forestry agents will be designating a number of so-called trap trees in
every township in Michigan. The ash trees will act as sentinels. A
strip of bark will be removed from the trees, which stresses them and
makes them attractive to insects. A sticky substance called tanglefoot
will then be applied to the trees to catch the borers. Kara Bouchay is
with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
“Part of the struggle with having a borer that you can’t see most of
time because it’s underneath the bark, is when it’s in a low level
population, it basically flies under the radar. So the trap tree is a
way to bring it to a single location to detect it.”
If borers are found on a tree, all ash trees within a half-mile will be
destroyed to contain its spread. Bouchay says if the early detection
system proves itself, it will likely be implemented in other states as
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Tracy Samilton.
The American Heart Association says air pollution appears to be a risk factor when it comes to heart disease. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris Lehman reports:
The American Heart Association says air pollution appears to be a risk
factor when it comes to heart disease. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Chris Lehman reports:
Air pollution has long been linked to respiratory illness. But the
American Heart Association now says people who live in areas with high
rates of air pollution are at a greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
Doctor Robert Brook is a researcher at the University of Michigan in
Ann Arbor. He helped author the report.
“We don’t want to be alarmist. And what we’re trying to make clear is that
this is an independent risk, but compared to the established risk
factors — obesity, blood pressure, tobacco smoking and inactivity — it’s a
relatively small one.”
But Brook says the danger is great enough that people with an elevated
risk for heart disease should minimize outdoor activity on days when
air pollution is at its worst.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Chris Lehman.
High-speed ferries have come to the Great Lakes. A ferry between Toronto and Rochester, New York, is scheduled to start this week – joining another ferry that started earlier this month between Milwaukee and Muskegon, Michigan. But transportation experts say it isn’t clear that the fast ferries will prosper. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach reports:
High-speed ferries have come to the Great Lakes. A ferry between Toronto, Canada,
and Rochester, New York, is scheduled to start this week, joining another ferry that
started this month between Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Muskegon, Michigan. But
transportation experts say it isn’t clear that the fast ferries will prosper. The Great Lakes
Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach reports:
The privately owned Lake Express ferry between Milwaukee and Muskegon cuts across
Lake Michigan at nearly forty miles per hour. Four diesel engines drive high-powered
jets underneath the catamaran-style boat. The jets shoot huge plumes of water out the
back end of the nearly 200 foot-long vessel.
(sound of ferry)
It only takes two and half hours for the Lake Express to make a crossing, about half the
time of an older ferry that travels across northern Lake Michigan. A Milwaukee-based
passenger named Jack says the faster pace is what draws him to the new boat.
“This is quick… we’re all about being quick.”
The Lake Express also has room for 46 cars and smaller vehicles such as motorcycles. A
motorcycle passenger named Bobbie says using the ferry is a breeze, compared to driving
around Lake Michigan and fighting traffic in Chicago.
“Have you ever ridden a motorcycle and had a semi pull up behind you? I mean, it
seemed like he was that far away, maybe two feet, and it’s very frightening and it’s
happened to us several times.”
Some people who study ferries say less stress and time savings are just two of the appeals
of the boats. University of Delaware professor James Corbett says fast ferries have a
certain cachet for the upscale, leisure tourist.
“Fast ferries are very, very attractive first choices when people are considering new
routes… they look for the latest and greatest vessel designs.”
But Corbett says the ferries have several drawbacks. For one thing, the faster boats use
more energy and that helps push up ticket prices. Adult roundtrip fares for the
Milwaukee to Muskegon route start at 85 dollars.
Sue McNeil heads the University of Illinois-Chicago Urban Transportation Center. She
says the fares may scare off repeat business in certain markets.
“Just what I know about travel patterns and where people go, the Rochester-Toronto
seems to make more sense than the Milwaukee to Michigan.”
Still, McNeil says she hopes all the ferries succeed, because they provide another
transportation option. Federal, state and local governments are buying into the concept,
by offering some subsidies to promote the boats and build docking terminals. Chicago
and Cleveland are also looking at adding the faster moving ferries.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Chuck Quirmbach.
A crane dredges sediment
from the bottom of the Illinois River. The mud is
loaded onto a barge bound for Chicago - to turn a brownfield into a park. (Photo courtesy of Illinois Waste Management and Research Center)
A researcher gets stuck in the mud at the new park site. (Photo courtesy of Illinois Waste Management and Research Center)
Grass starts to grow in the new soil. (Photo courtesy of Illinois Waste Management and Research Center)
Soil is being washed from farmland and construction sites. The soil clogs up many rivers and lakes around the Great Lakes region. It can harm plants and aquatic wildlife in the waterways. The sediment can also fill the channels and harbors, blocking ship traffic. But a pilot program in one Great Lakes state is using the sediment in a new way. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Jonathan Ahl reports:
Soil is being washed from farmland and construction sites. The soil clogs up many rivers
and lakes around the Great Lakes region. It can harm plants and aquatic wildlife in the
waterways. The sediment can also fill the channels and harbors, blocking ship traffic.
But a pilot program in one Great Lakes state is using the sediment in a new way. The
Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Jonathan Ahl reports:
The Illinois River used to be an average of more than twenty feet deep. These days, the
river averages a depth of about two feet. The river stretches nearly from Chicago across
the state of Illinois and joins the Mississippi near St. Louis. The entire length of the
Illinois River is clogged with sediment that’s eroded mostly from farmland. Besides
blocking navigation, the sediment buries aquatic plants, destroying a food source for fish
(sound of a dredger)
A giant dredger is taking deep bites into the muck beneath the water’s surface that’s
clogging up the bottom of the river near Peoria. The bright orange clamshell bucket is
filling up barges that will take 100,000 tons of sediment to Chicago. There, it will be
used to cover up the remains of an old steel plant and create 17 acres of parkland.
Bob Foster is a project manager with the Chicago Park District. He says the steel mill
site is useless without the sediment from the Illinois River:
“What’s left there now is several foundations and forty feet of slag. It’s pretty hard to
plant trees in forty feet of slag. This project would not be happening unless we were
receiving this soil, this dredged material, because soil is our number one cost in park
State and federal officials say this idea helps both the Illinois River by clearing out
sediment… and the city of Chicago by providing topsoil for a park. The program also has
the support of environmentalists, although they do sound a word of caution.
Marc Miller is an environmentalist who serves on the Illinois River Coordinating
Council, a group of public and private organizations trying to help the river. He supports
the dredging program, but says it would be better if the government, farmers and
developers would do more to stop soil erosion.
“That’s why the Illinois Coordinating Council has many irons in the fire in addressing
these issues. It’s going to take prevention in order to stop the kind of problems that have
been going on for decades.”
This kind of program won’t work everywhere. John Marlin is with the Illinois
Department of Natural Resources. He’s done a lot of studies on the possible uses for
dredged material. But, because some sediment is contaminated with pesticides or old
factory pollution, you have to test the muck and know where it’s going to be used.
“There are definitely places where the soil in the lakes and the Illinois River is too
polluted to use. But there are other places where it is clean, and one of our jobs is going
to be to find out where it is clean and safe to use and make judgments accordingly. There
will be a lot more questions as time goes on.”
But public officials behind this project are concentrating solely on the positives of the
project. Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn told supporters at a rally on the banks of the
Illinois River that the dredging program will be the beginning of a much larger program
that will benefit several states.
“This is a model, we want to replicate it, we want to do it elsewhere. We are open for
business. If you need topsoil somewhere, we got it. (laughter) And by digging up the
sediment and making the river a little deeper, we can help our fish, our wildlife, our
waterfowl, we can help our boating, our recreation.”
To have any significant impact on the Illinois River, this kind of dredging program will
have to be expanded exponentially. This first project will remove 100,000 tons of
sediment. Each year more than 14 million tons of sediment is washed into the Illinois
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Jonathan Ahl.