Polar Bear Protection Spurs Lawsuits

  • The polar bear is now listed as a threatened species (Photo courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service)

The federal government has announced that
it’s listing the polar bear as a threatened species.
Biologists say the rapid loss of sea ice from
the warming climate is putting the bears at risk.
Mark Brush reports the government is now facing
legal action from some conservative groups:

Transcript

The federal government has announced that
it’s listing the polar bear as a threatened species.
Biologists say the rapid loss of sea ice from
the warming climate is putting the bears at risk.
Mark Brush reports the government is now facing
legal action from some conservative groups:

In the announcement Secretary of the Interior Dick Kempthorne tried to make it clear –
the listing doesn’t mean the government is regulating greenhouse gases. He says the
listing can’t be used to stop oil and gas drilling or to go after industries for releasing
carbon dioxide.

Reed Hopper is the principal attorney for the Pacific Legal Foundation – a conservative
public interest group. He says he still expects lawsuits from environmentalists. And that
the Secretary can’t control how the courts will interpret the new listing.

“If the activists are able to use this as they intend, to challenge industrial activity in the
United States, the ultimate effect on the average person is going to be an increase in
energy costs, transportation, fuel, food and housing.”

Hopper says his group is planning to go forward with a lawsuit of their own – opposing the listing.

For The Environment Report, I’m Mark Brush.

Related Links

Deer Poachers Getting Trigger Happy?

  • Wildlife officials encourage hunters to help thin the population of CWD, but some hunters may be taking it beyond what is legal according to regulations. (Photo by Dr. Beth Williams, University of Wyoming, courtesy of CWD Alliance)

In states with deer herds affected by Chronic Wasting Disease, wildlife officials have
encouraged hunters to help them thin the population. But some wardens worry that
poachers are taking this as an invitation to bag game any way they can. Brian Bull
reports:

Transcript

In states with deer herds affected by Chronic Wasting Disease, wildlife officials have
encouraged hunters to help them thin the population. But some wardens worry that
poachers are taking this as an invitation to bag game any way they can. Brian Bull
reports:


It’s illegal to shoot deer at night, from vehicles, or while trespassing. But that’s something
Wisconsin game warden David Youngquist has seen recently. He monitors that state’s
Chronic Wasting Disease eradication zone. Youngquist says in that area, there are nearly
six times as many deer as is healthy for the herd:


“Our agency feels that if we can get deer numbers down, we can halt the disease. But we
still enforce the road hunting the same as we ever
have. We want hunting to be safe.”


Youngquist says poaching activities are on the rise, because some people think bagging a
deer is the main thing, whether it’s done legally or not. In some of these eradication
zones, a record number of citations have been handed out.


For the Environment Report, I’m Brian Bull.

Related Links

Sewage Blending Stirs Up Debate

  • Many environmentalists fear the practice of sewage blending would become more routine if a new EPA policy is enacted. (Photo by M. Vasquez)

Officials at the Environmental Protection Agency are considering a new policy for sewage treatment plants. Many environmentalists say if the policy is adopted, it will lead to increased water pollution and greater risk to public health. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mark Brush reports on the debate over sewage blending:

Transcript

Officials at the Environmental Protection Agency are considering a new policy for sewage treatment plants. Many environmentalists say if the policy is adopted, it will lead to increased water pollution and greater risk to public health. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mark Brush reports on the debate over sewage blending:


(sound of water in sewer)


Some sanitary sewers are tied in with storm sewers. So when there’s a big rainstorm, or when there’s a fast snowmelt, all that water can inundate some sewage treatment plants. To tackle this problem, some treatment plants have adopted a practice known as “blending.” The excess sewage is re-routed around the slower parts of the treatment plant. The dirty water is then mixed with the water that’s been cleaned. It’s sometimes given a shot of chlorine, and then released into creeks, rivers, and lakes.


Kurt Heise oversees the operation of a sewage treatment plant on the Detroit River. He says the practice of blending is necessary in order to keep the plant from being overwhelmed.


“When you have a wet weather event, an extreme wet weather event, if we were to allow all of that combined water in through the normal process the treatment process would be ruined.”


Sewage blending has been around for a long time. To plant operators, it’s a necessary step in handling large amounts of dirty water. But to some people, blending is not seen as a good option. They want the practice to stop.


Instead, they say, cities should invest in their systems to make sure they can fully treat all the water that comes to the plant. Kurt Heise says, if his plant were required to do this, it wouldn’t make sense economically.


“It would almost result in doubling the size of our plant and spending just untold amounts of dollars for an event only happens a few times a year.”


Sewage treatment plant operators say you have to weigh the costs and the benefits before spending hundreds of millions of dollars on expanding the treatment plants. The decision of whether or not to allow blending has been left up to state and local regulators. But recently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has weighed in on the subject. And ever since they suggested new guidelines for allowing blending, environmentalists have been critical of their plan. Mike Shriberg is the Great Lakes advocate for the Public Interest Research Group. It’s an environmental consumer activist organization.


Shriberg says the draft blending policy, the way it’s written now, is too broad. And will allow the practice of blending to become routine.


“Our fear is that when you’ve got a treatment plant that uses blending, they’re never going to upgrade to full treatment sewage. And so if a treatment plant is allowed to blend they’re not going to go up to full treatment capacity they have no incentive to do that anymore. It’s sort of the cheap way out.”


Sewage treatment operators say blending is better than seeing the raw sewage overflow into waterways. And they say it’s better than spending large sums of money to fix a problem that only occurs a few times a year. But critics say the EPA doesn’t have a good handle on how often blending is used, and what kind of health risks are associated with the practice.


Some initial studies have been done on blended sewage and how it might affect public health. Joan Rose is a water microbiologist at Michigan State University. She’s written a report on the health risks associated with blended sewage.


“So what I found was that if people were actually swimming in the water and there was a discharge of a blended sewage upstream, that their risk of getting sick, actually getting sick with a virus or a parasite was about a hundred times greater – when there was a blended discharge as opposed to if the water was fully treated.”


Rose says some of these viruses, such as Hepatitis-A, are highly contagious. At this point, there are no good estimates on how many people get sick from blended sewage each year. It’s never been studied, so the impact of blending on public health is unclear. Ben Grumbles is the Assistant Administrator for water at the EPA. He says the EPA is considering the billions of dollars at stake in expanding the nation’s sewer treatment plants versus the risk to public health.


“What we’re trying to do is to clarify what’s legal and what isn’t legal and to recognize the economic realities that sewage teatment plants face across the country in terms of their infrastructure needs, but foremost and above all what leaves the facility has to meet Clean Water Act permit limits.”


But the Clean Water Act permit limits don’t measure all the viruses, bacteria, and parasites found in blended sewage. And so some environmentalists and scientists say meeting the limits doesn’t necessarily mean protecting public health. Grumbles says officials are still reviewing the tens of thousands of comments they received after releasing the draft blending policy.


He says he doesn’t know what the final rule will look like, or if they’ll issue a rule at all. One thing is likely, if the policy is finalized the way it’s written now, it’s expected that environmental groups will take the EPA to court.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Mark Brush.

Related Links

Mining vs. Old-Growth Forest

  • Dysart Woods in southeast Ohio is an old-growth forest. Many of the trees are more than 300 years old. (Photo courtesy of dysartwoods.org)

The need for cheap energy is coming into conflict
with efforts to preserve a forest. Coal mining companies are using a technique that causes the land to subside and sometimes changes natural underground water systems. Environmentalists say mining underneath a forest preserve could destroy the ecosystem. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lisa Ann Pinkerton reports on environmental activists who are defending the
forest:

Transcript

The need for cheap energy is coming into conflict with efforts to preserve a forest.
Coal mining companies are using a technique that causes the land to subside and sometimes
change natural underground water systems. Environmentalists say mining underneath a forest
preserve could destroy the ecosystem. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lisa Ann Pinkerton
reports on environmental activists who are defending the forest:


For decades, the coal mining industry has been using a technique of extraction called
long wall mining. Industry officials say it’s the most effective way to get the bituminous
coal out of the ground. In traditional room and pillar mining, the land above is not disturbed.
But the long wall machine leaves no support for the 1000-foot tunnel created in its wake. After
the coal is extracted, the ground caves in, causing the land to sink.


Dysart Woods, in southeastern Ohio, is slated for such a fate. The conservation group,
Buckeye Forest Council, wants to block the woods from mining. Its members believe long
wall mining will destroy the old-growth forest. The four hundred and fifty acres, fifty-five
acres of the trees are more than 300 years old. Fred Gittis is an attorney who has volunteered
his services to protect the woods.


“And these woods are precious, and they are among the last old-growth forest areas remaining,
not only in Ohio, but in this part of the country. Recently a documentary was filmed in Dysart Woods, because it has some of the conditions that would have existed at the time of George
Washington’s life.”


Gittis argues state should repeal the mining permit granted for Dysart Woods. Ohio Valley
Coal was granted the permit in 2001. As steward of the woods, Ohio University disputed the
permit for three years. But last November, it agreed to drop its appeal, in exchange for $10,000 from the state to study the forest’s water, as it is undermined. Ohio Valley
Coal Company would drill the wells needed. But the Buckeye Forest Council says a study doesn’t
solve the problem.


“First of all it is just a water monitoring project. It offers no protection to the woods.
Second of all, they don’t have the base line data right now to compare to what it normal.”


That’s Susan Heikler, Executive Director of the Buckeye Forest Council. When Ohio University
accepted the mining permit, her organization took up the fight. The group worked with lawyer
Fred Gittis and nationally known experts to review the science of the Coal Company’s mining
plan. Gittis says the Council’s experts were not impressed.


And, both hydrogeologists and mining experts have indicated that the basic science related
to this mining permit is, not to be insulting but, junk.”


The plan calls for long wall mining within 300 feet of the old-growth forest. However,
experts from the Buckeye Forest Council say a 1500 foot buffer around the woods
is the only way to insure the protection of the hydrology – the natural water system that
sustains the forest.


In a major concession two years ago, the Coal Company agreed not to long wall mine directly
under Dysart Woods. Instead, room and pillar mining is planned. The Company says that will
delay subsidence for centuries to come. Attorney Fred Gittis says without core samples from
directly under the woods, the company doesn’t have the data to back up this claim.


“If you don’t know what that rock is, if it’s soft like claystone or shale, it can collapse.
And so its pretty basic stuff.”


Attorneys for the company declined to be interviewed for this story. In statements, the
Company defends its lack of data by pointing to exemptions they were granted by the Department
of Mineral Resources. The Company stands by its assertion that, quote, “trees and other surface
vegetation will absolutely not be affected by mining.” But in September, the story changed. In
court, a mining consultant for the company, Hanjie Chen, testified that the forest floor would
sink 5 inches. Attorneys for Ohio Valley Coal abruptly stopped his testimony after this
statement. But Gittis says the damage to the coal company’s case is already done.


Although Buckeye Forest Council rested its case in July, the defendant, Ohio Valley Coal is
still adding witnesses and dragging out the case. Fred Gittis says the Company is trying to
exhaust the Buckeye Forest Council’s legal funding. He adds that this is why he volunteers his
expertise.


For the time being, mining under the old growth forest has been pushed back until the hearings
conclude in November.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lisa Ann Pinkerton.

Related Links

Holy Grail of Great Lakes Shipwrecks Found?

  • For a long time, anything any diver salvaged could be claimed as his or her own. Since the Abandoned Shipwreck Act of 1987, anything divers find on public land remains public. But a new discovery may bend some rules. (Photo courtesy of NOAA)

A shipwreck hunter believes he might have found what’s been described as the Holy Grail of Great Lakes wrecks. His find has triggered a new debate over who can lay claim to historic shipwrecks and what should happen to them. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Sally Eisele reports:

Transcript

A shipwreck hunter believes he might have found what’s been described as the Holy Grail of Great Lakes wrecks. His find has triggered a new debate over who can lay claim to historic shipwrecks and what should happen to them. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Sally Eisele reports:


Of the thousands of shipwrecks in the Great Lakes, the wreck of the Griffin is probably the most legendary. For a few reasons. She was built by somebody legendary – French explorer Rene-Robert Cavalier Sieur de La Salle, she was the first European ship to sail the Upper Great Lakes… and she was the first to sink. Actually, she sank on her maiden voyage in 1769, not exactly one of La Salle’s bigger success stories. But the mystery she left behind is pretty big – and it has pretty well flummoxed Great Lakes historians for hundreds of years. Shipwreck scholar Steven Herald is the director of the Manistee County Historical Museum.


“The Griffin loaded its first and only freight cargo downbound at Green Bay, and there has never been a reliable report of anyone who has seen the vessel since. It left Green Bay and disappeared totally.”


Did she run aground? Sink to the bottom of Lake Michigan? No one knows, But Steven Libert, a long-time shipwreck hunter, thinks he might have found a clue. What he’s excited about appears to be a long, wooden pole sticking out of the sand in about 80 feet of water in northwestern Lake Michigan. It doesn’t look like much. But Rick Robol, the attorney for Libert’s company Great Lakes Exploration, says tests indicate it could date back to the 17th century. And it could be part of a ship.


“Great Lakes Exploration does not know at this point what is there. And it does not know whether in fact it is the Griffin or not. Certainly if it were the Griffin, it would be a very substantial find.”


Great Lakes Exploration has filed suit in federal court seeking salvage rights to the site. But the site is in Michigan waters and the state has filed a motion to have the case dismissed. State archaeologist John Halsey says whatever there is should belong to the public, not a private company.


“They have the money to go out and look, they have the money to go out and find, but what they don’t have is the permission to bring stuff up. That’s where the rubber meets the road.”


The state argues the Federal Abandoned Shipwreck Act of 1987 gives any state title to historic wrecks in its waters. Before its passage, pretty much anybody in a rubber suit could salvage shipwrecks. And they did – the evidence is rusting out in garages across the country. The federal law sought to protect these historic sites – which, in the cold fresh water of the Great Lakes, are often well-preserved time capsules. But Wisconsin shipwreck researcher, Brendon Baillod, says a number of cases have already shown the law is full of technical loopholes if you have the money and time to challenge it.


“We have a lot of wrecks that are open game legally. It really is up to the judge who gets the case before them.”


If Great Lakes Exploration does clear the legal hurdles, the next question will be academic. What should happen to their findings? Attorney Rick Robol says it all depends on what’s there.


“Really, shipwrecks have to be dealt with on a case by case basis. There are some shipwrecks that may best remain in situ, that is, on site, and there are other that should be recovered. It’s impossible to determine what’s best for a particular wreck without first scientifically studying it.”


At this stage, it’s anybody’s guess as to whether the site contains the remains of a ship or just a pile of very old scrapwood. But preservationists such as historian Steven Herald, argue anything of historical value should really just be left there.


“I’m a great one for leaving it where it is and studying it in as much detail as possible. The easiest way to preserve it is to keep it there.”


One thing is certain, any excavation would likely involve many years and millions of dollars. Oh, and there’s another possibility too, if in fact the Griffin is found. Technically, the vessel still belongs to France, which was in charge around here after all at the time of La Salle’s adventures.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Sally Eisele.

Related Links

Groups Sue Bush Administration Over Wildlife Rule

  • The Bush Administration has decided to make some changes on the National Forest Management Act, and many environmental groups are not pleased about it. (photo by Stefan Nicolae)

Environmentalists are suing the Bush administration for repealing rules that protect wildlife in national forests. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:

Transcript

Environmentalists are suing the Bush administration
for repealing rules that protect wildlife in national
forests. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester
Graham reports:


During the Reagan administration, regulations were
put in place that required the Forest Service to
ensure non-timber resources such as water, wildlife
and recreation were given due consideration and that
the wildlife be managed to maintain viable populations.
Tim Preso is a staff attorney for Earthjustice, one of
the groups that filed the lawsuit in federal court.


“Now, through a quiet rule-making, the Bush
administration is proposing to strip that protection
away and make it legal to drive wildlife toward
extinction in the national forests. We don’t think
that’s right and we don’t think that’s what the
majority of Americans support and we’re going to
seek to overturn it in the federal courts.”


Without public notice or public comment, the Bush
administration set aside the rule in favor of a less
restrictive guideline that relies on what’s called
“best available science.” One Forest Service official
says it doesn’t change things that much.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester
Graham.

Related Links

A Legal Victory for ‘Rails to Trails’

  • Bicyclists enjoy Minnesota's Cannon Valley Trail. (Photo by Patricia Schmid, courtesy of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy)

Private landowners say their rights are being trampled on by hikers when the state implements “Rails to Trails” programs. The landowners claim the property should be theirs now that the railroad is finished with the right-of-way. One state recently won the court’s approval to keep its trail intact, including pieces that cross through private property. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Katherine Glover reports:

Transcript

Private landowners say their rights are being trampled on by hikers when the state
implements “Rails to Trails” programs. The landowners claim the property should be
theirs now that the railroad is finished with the right-of-way. One state recently won the
court’s approval to keep its trail intact, including pieces that cross through private
property. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Katherine Glover reports:


Mike Sandberg doesn’t want a public trail going through his backyard.


“Every time anybody goes down it the dogs are barking and I didn’t move out in the
country to hear all the stuff going on with everybody’s, you know, it’s kind of a pain.”


Sandberg bought the land he lives on from his brother a couple years ago. One thing he
liked about the property was that it had a dirt trail running through it, and he thought he
could pave it and use it as a driveway.


The trail used to be a railroad bed. The railroad company laid the tracks in the 1890’s,
after getting the rights to go through hundreds of different properties. Usually they only
had an easement to use the property, but every deed was a little different. There was no
standardized legal form, and most of the deeds were written by hand.


Of course, over the next hundred years, people stopped using the train so much. In
Minnesota, the railroad company sold a lot of its land rights to the Department of Natural
Resources in 1991. Similar deals were passed all across the country, and many states, like
Minnesota, used this land to build public trails.


The path that passes through Sandberg’s property is one of these trails, the Paul Bunyan
Trail. It’s popular with bikers, dog-walkers, in-line skaters, and in the winter,
snowmobilers.


Terry McGawhee is Executive Director of the Paul Bunyan Trail
Association, and he’s constantly lobbying the state legislature to expand the trail or pave
parts of it that are still dirt.


“Not every community embraces the trail, but those that have, have seen significant
economic influence on their communities. And the majority of the people along the 100
miles of the trail are eager to see the trail development.”


The state had held off on further work on the trail because of a lawsuit filed by Sandberg’s
brother and several other landowners. Sandberg said the railroad company didn’t own the
trail on his property, so they couldn’t have sold it to the state.


“The abstract states clearly in layman’s terms it was an easement that the railroad had and
when they quit using it for railroad purposes it should go back to the landowner.”


That’s the reasoning Sandberg’s brother and other landowners used when they blockaded
parts of the trail back in 1998. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources sued
them, and was initially successful. The landowners appealed, however, and the Appeals
Court overturned the decision. The state agency then appealed to the Minnesota Supreme
Court. On July 29th, the Court ruled in favor of the state trail.


Trail advocates across the country watched the case closely. Lawyers in trail land
disputes in every state could bring up this case as an example. For more than twenty
years, lawyers fighting for public trails have relied heavily on another case, also in
Minnesota. Dorian Grilley is the executive director of the Parks and Trails Council of
Minnesota. He says the Minnesota Supreme Court made the decision in 1983.


“In that case, the Minnesota Supreme Court decided that it was legal for that easement to
be transferred to a public agency for use as a trail because in the early 1900’s or late
1800’s, ‘railway purposes’ really meant public transportation, and that a trail qualified as
public transportation.”


In its recent decision, the court upheld the idea that a public trail serves the same kind of
purpose as a railway, moving people from place to place.


Now that the court has ruled in favor of the state, Mike Sandberg will be forced to
abandon plans to build a driveway along the old railroad bed. His brother is not sure
whether he’ll build his retirement home there as he’d planned, since bicyclists and hikers
will have access to the trail cutting across his property. But trail users can look forward to
seeing another section of the trail completed and paved.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Katherine Glover.

Related Links

Tribe Wants Clean Air Zone

The first Native American tribe in the Midwest to seek a special air pollution protection for its reservation has run into some roadblocks. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach reports:

Transcript

The first Native American tribe in the Midwest to seek
a special air pollution protection for its reservation has
run into some roadblocks. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s
Chuck Quirmbach reports:


The Forest County Potawatomi tribe in Wisconsin has a tentative
air pollution deal with the state and the EPA. Under the plan, the
tribe’s reservation would be granted Class One Air Designation.
That top level protection would mean the Potawatomi could
challenge major new air pollution sources within 62 miles of its reservation.


Some of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan falls within that zone… and Michigan
is fighting the designation, citing states’ rights. Steven Rothblatt is with the EPA. He’s
moderating the dispute.


“I don’t think we have an absolute legal time frame that we have to act in
so many days or anything on this. So we’ve taken a position of really trying to work with the
parties to seek agreement.”


The Potawatomi say there’s increasing evidence that air pollution affects the tribe’s natural
resources… and they want to restrict it.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Chuck Quirmbach in Milwaukee.

Related Links

Long Road to River Recovery

  • Aerial view of industry along the Fox River. Photo by Great Lakes United.

One of the rivers that flows into Lake Michigan is polluted so badly that it’s being treated much like a Super Fund site…an environmental disaster. It’ll be decades before it’s cleaned up, and some environmentalists think it might never be cleaned up properly. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:

Transcript

One of the rivers that flows into the Great Lakes (Lake Michigan) is
polluted so badly that it’s being treated much like a Super Fund site –an
environmental disaster. It’ll be decades before it’s cleaned up. And some
environmentalists think it might never be cleaned up properly. The Great
Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:


(Sound of fish splash)


It’s late at night. The moon’s out. And the fish are flopping on the Fox
River. In downtown Green Bay, Wisconsin, Robert Hageman and a few of his
friends have been fishing. A couple of the guys are bragging about the big
fish they caught. But they’re not taking any home with them tonight.


LG: “Had any luck?” RH: “Yeah, I caught 23 fish.”
LG: “And wwhat did you do with them? RH: “Let ’em right back.” LG: “why?” RH: “Because it’s dirty. Fox River’s dirty.”
LG: “What have you heard about the Fox River?” RH: “The fish ain’t good for you. They can’t hurt you, but they ain’t good for you.
(friends in background say “PCBs, man.”) “yeah.”
LG: “What do you know about PCBs?
RH: “I don’t know nothing about it. That’s why I ain’t eatin’ them.” (all laugh)


Hageman and his friends are right when they say there are PCBs in the Fox
River. But apparently they haven’t heard that eating fish from the river
probably can hurt you in the long run. There are 60-thousand pounds of
PCBs, or poly chlorinated byphenyls, in the 39 mile run of the Fox
River. Of that, 50-thousand pounds – that’s 25 tons – is in the sediment of
the last seven mile stretch just before the river flows into Green Bay and
on into the rest of Lake Michigan. It’s that final stretch where Hageman
and his friends have been fishing.


The Environmental Protection Agency says seven paper mills along the Fox
River are the likely polluters. The EPA says PCBs were produced as a
by-product of the paper manufacturing process, and from the 1950s to the 1970s
they were dumped into the river. Now, the agency intends to make those
mills pay for cleaning up the contaminants.


Dennis Hultgren works for Appleton Papers, and is a spokesperson for a group
that represents the seven companies. Hultgren says the paper mills want to
clean up the pollution. But they don’t want to pay more than they have to.


“What we want to do is make sure that the money that we do spend
is spent wisely and it does the most environmental good for the region. And
so, we have one chance to do it right and we want to do it right the first
time.”


The paper mills have been working closely with government agencies to try to
determine where the PCBs are concentrated and how best to clean up the
pollution. Some of the companies have spent millions of dollars on tests in
the river. Just recently, Hultgren’s firm offered 40-million dollars… ten-million dollars a year for four years… for data collection and preliminary clean-up tests. The government agencies praised the decision and some environmental groups voiced their approval. But a local grassroots group, the Clean Water Action Council of Northeast Wisconsin, does not approve. Rebecca Katers is with the council and says it’s a delay tactic by the paper mill companies.


“It makes the company look generous. But, in fact, they should be doing this anyway. They should have done this ten years ago.”


Giving the money now, Katers says, only manages to delay legal action
against the company for four more years. Besides, she says, while
40-million dollars might seem like a lot of money, the estimated clean-up
could cost as much as 30 times that amount.


The Clean Water Action Council says this money and the government’s
willingness to accept it are representative of the cozy relationship the
companies seem to have with regulators. But Katers says the state and
federal agencies are forgetting about the people who live here. She
bristles when she hears the government agencies talk about how close they
are to the paper mills.


“They talked at the announcement about ongoing discussions they
have on a daily basis with the paper industries on this issue. But, they
haven’t met once face-to-face with the public. They haven’t held a public
discussion or debate on this issue.”


And it appears there won’t be many opportunities in the future. Although
the Fox River is not a Superfund site, the EPA is generally following the
process used for Superfund sites. The EPA says that means the public can
submit comments in writing. But there won’t be a lot of public discussion
until the EPA actually has a proposed plan. Katers thinks the people
should have a voice a lot earlier in the process.


But, the paper mills’ representative, Dennis Hultgren says it’s better to
let the experts work first.


“It’s complicated. For the normal citizen, it’s going to be very difficult to comment on it because they’re going to be looking at the technical merits
of their comments. And a general citizen, not having been involved, it’s going to be very difficult to have germane comments.”


The companies say they’ve been studying and testing and they’ve found
disturbing the sediment by trying to remove it proves that the PCBs should
be left in the sediment, allowed to slowly break down… a process called
natural recovery. And where there’s risk that sediment laden PCBs might
be disturbed by the river’s currents, engineered caps could be put in place.


The Clean Water Action Council says the paper mills tests were designed to
end up with that conclusion because that would be the cheaper way to deal
with the PCBs. The council wants the PCBs removed from the river and
disposed of safely… a much more expensive job.


The acting regional administrator for the USEPA, David Ullrich, says
there’ll likely be some combination of natural recovery, capping, and
removal. But, Ullrich says none of that will happen anytime soon. It’s a
big job, and it looks as though it will take up to ten years to deal with
the PCBs. And Ullrich says that’s just the beginning.


“The actual recovery of the resource, getting fish contaminant
levels down to acceptable levels and getting the PCB loadings to Green Bay
and out to Lake Michigan down, could take a longer period of time than that,
perhaps up to twenty years.”


And over that 20 year period, experts say that contamination will
naturally spread farther and farther into Green Bay and Lake Michigan.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.