Landowners Suing Enbridge & Charcoal Grill vs. Gas

  • Neal Fisher only uses charcoal for his summer grilling (Photo by Jennifer Guerra)

Enbridge Energy plans to build a bigger oil pipeline across the state. The company says, not only will it be bigger and move more oil. They say it will also be safer than the line that broke in 2010.

The Michigan Public Service Commission approved the first phase of the project last May, but some landowners have sued. They say they weren’t properly notified that the construction work could force them to give up more land. And that Enbridge could remove more trees.


Enbridge asked the Court of Appeals to drop that lawsuit, but this week, the court denied that request, and the case will go forward.

Katy Bodenmiller owns land with an easement for the oil pipeline.

She’s not a plaintiff in the lawsuit, but Bodenmiller says the court’s decision to let the case go forward feels like a small victory.

“I think at the very least in the absence of leadership on this issue in this state from our public officials, this suit can perhaps force Enbridge to answer some questions that they have up to this point been able to side step,” said Bodenmiller.

The lawyer representing the landowners in the case, Gary Field, says the court’s decision will give homeowners an opportunity to have their say.

An Enbridge spokesman says this case might not be decided until sometime next year. In the meantime, they’re moving forward with construction.

They say details of the project were laid out in their application to the Michigan Public Service Commission.

(Editor’s note: This story was originally published in July 2009)

Neal Fisher thinks he’s an environmentally friendly kind of guy. He and his wife recycle, they use compact fluorescent light bulbs in the house, they walk most places and hardly ever use their car.

But when it comes to outdoor grilling… it’s charcoal all the way.

“It may be a little decadent when you’re taking the environment into consideration, but I do it.”

On tonight’s menu, it’s burgers, Jamaican jerk chicken, onions, and asparagus. Everything is grilled on basic, 22 ½ inch Weber kettle.

“Nothing fancy, no frills,” says Fisher.

To get the fire started, Fisher throws about 7 or 8 pounds of hardwood lump charcoal into a chimney starter.

“I don’t use the lighter fluid, I just use the charcoal chimney. I figure if I’m going to be cooking wood, I don’t want to cook a lot of chemicals too. So that’s something. I don’t kid myself that this is at all healthy for the world,” says Fisher. “

[asset-pullquotes[{“quote”: “%22I%20sometimes%20joke%20about%20it%2C%20too%2C%20well%20there%20goes%20my%20carbon%20footprint.%20Suddenly%20I%27m%20carbon%20Sasquatch.%22”, “style”: “inset”}]]

To find out if Fisher really is a carbon Sasquatch, I called up Eric Johnson in Switzerland.

“Basically the footprint of using charcoal is about 3 times higher than the footprint of gas,” says Johnson.

Johnson published a study in the journal Environmental Impact Assessment Review. In it, he compared the carbon dioxide emissions – or carbon footprint – of the two most popular types of grills: charcoal and propane gas.

When it comes to straight up carbon emissions – gas grills win hands down. Run your gas grill for an hour; emit 5.6 pounds of carbon dioxide into the air. Use charcoal briquettes for an hour of grilling; emit a whopping 11 pounds of CO2.

Fair enough.

But what if we look at the total carbon cycle of propane gas, a fossil fuel and charcoal, which is a bio fuel?

For that answer, we’ll turn to Bill Currie. He’s a professor in the School of Natural Resources at the University of Michigan.

“You have to think about, can we replace the carbon back in the pool that charcoal came from? Can we replace it biologically over a reasonable period of time? And with charcoal, the answer is yes, we can re-grow those trees,” says Currie.

That’s because charcoal is made out of wood, which is a renewable energy source. So if charcoal is harvested locally in a sustainable way, the re-grown trees can absorb the CO2 – which makes charcoal essentially carbon neutral. So charcoal made out of wood which is renewable. Propane gas on the other hand is made from oil. Not renewable.

“Fuels that are based on coal, oil, petroleum based fuel, it’s not possible to put that CO2 back where it was biologically in a reasonable amount of time. And that’s the big difference,” says Currie.

But does any of this really matter? I mean, how important is grilling in the overall environmental scheme of things. Well Currie says it’s definitely not a big-ticket item like, say, the size of your house or the number of cars you have.

“It’s probably a small factor in the whole analysis. But at the same time, we make dozens or hundreds of these choices a day. And if we know that one alternative is better than another, these little things do matter because they add up,” says Currie.

Biologists Look for Answers to Pine Marten Mystery

  • Pine martens are elusive little creatures. (Photo by Robert Sanders/courtesy of Jill Witt)

This is the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Nearly a hundred years ago a small animal that most people have never heard of was wiped out of the northern forest. In the mid-1980’s, wildlife biologists reintroduced the pine marten in two locations in the Lower Peninsula. They thought the population would take off and spread but it hasn’t. And now researchers are trying to find out why. Bob Allen reports:

Pine marten is the smallest predator in the northern forest. It’s a member of the weasel family…related to otters and ferrets. It weighs roughly two to two-and-a half pounds, has big furry ears, a pointed nose, a bright orange patch on its chest and a bit of a temper.

“I don’t know how big of an animal they would take on but they do have a reputation for being quite fierce.”

Jill Witt is a wildlife biologist with the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians. She has a marten caught in a wire cage tucked next to a fallen log, half buried in twigs and leaf litter.

More than 80 years ago, martens lived in big pine trees before logging, wildfire and trapping wiped them out.

“And I think marten really is a good example of a species that can do well if the forest is allowed to recover and return to and continue on towards a more mature, possible even old growth state.”

The marten that are here appear to be doing okay in the Manistee National Forest.

But the population doesn’t appear to be growing or spreading.

Researchers think one reason might be that the prime habitat is isolated. So there aren’t places in between for martens to get a toe hold.

But the study also is looking at other possibilities.

Veterinarian Maria Spriggs uses a gas to anesthetize the marten. She lays it out on a cloth on the tail gate of a pick-up truck and monitors its heart rate and oxygen intake. She’s the vet at Mesker Park Zoo in Evansville Indiana.

She declares it a robust male.

“He looks healthy. Nice looking male. He’s in good weight. Good body condition.”

One of the main points of the study is to find out if there are signs of in-breeding or disease.

That could be a key reason why the animals aren’t doing better. After the fit of a new radio collar meets her approval, Spriggs places the marten in a wooden box lined with a towel.

“Oh. He’s waking up.”

KEENLANCE: “They do have bit of an attitude at times. Although I guess if a UFO plopped down and knocked me out and put a collar on me and punched a hole in my ear and all kinds of things I might not be real friendly when I woke up either.”

Paul Keenlance likes the marten’s feisty attitude.

He’s a professor of wildlife biology at Grand Valley State. Keenlance thinks forest managers could make a few changes to help martens recover without a lot of restrictions or costs.

“Is the ecosystem going to collapse because there aren’t martens? Well no, probably not. But it is, I think, a healthier ecosystem and more fully functioning with as many of the original components as you can have.”

For American Indians, the marten isn’t just related to the health of the forest but it’s also connected with the health of the people.

That’s why the Little River Band is putting so much effort into the research.

Jimmie Mitchell is head of natural resources for the tribe.

“We look at most species that were here during the time prior to the big change that occurred that those all were part of our family. We all interacted. We keyed-in on what each other did. We learned a lot from our environment and how the animals acted.”

There is a tradition for families to identify certain animals as part of their clan.

Members of the marten clan were warriors and stood for courage. Mitchell says the tribe wants to hold on to those traditions because they still have value today.

In the Manistee National Forest, for the Environment Report, I’m Bob Allen.

Lamprey Dam & Real Time Farms

  • Cara and Karl Rosaen, co-founders of (Photo courtesy of Karl Rosaen)

This is the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Michigan is taking ownership of a dam on the Manistique River in the
Upper Peninsula. That will allow the federal government to build a new barrier there to
keep sea lampreys from breeding in the river. As Peter Payette reports, managers of the fishery expect that will bring the lamprey problem under control in Lake Michigan:

The Manistique is one of the largest watersheds in the Upper Great
Lakes. Wildlife officials were caught off guard about a decade ago when it was
discovered sea lamprey were passing an old dam near the river mouth
and spawning upstream. That was one reason the lamprey population in Lake Michigan surged
around 2007.

And today the eel-like fish are still more numerous than fisheries biologists would like. Lamprey keep lake trout from recovering and also attach to white fish and salmon. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is ready to build a new barrier on the Manistique River and Michigan’s willingness to own the dam could allow that to happen by 2014. For the Environment Report, I’m Peter Payette.

(music bump)

This is the Environment Report.

Figuring out how your food is grown is not always easy to do. Sometimes there are labels saying things like “free-range” or “certified naturally grown” but it can take some work to figure out what that means.

“So as a consumer, it’s just kind of like, UGH I give up.”

That’s Cara Rosaen. She and her husband Karl wanted a lot more information. They wanted our food system to be more transparent.

“And so we said, okay let’s just take you back to the story, to the pictures, all the things that are the core of the farm that will make you really know that that’s the truth, you know, go way beyond and way deeper than a label.”

Two years ago, they founded a startup company called Real Time It’s a crowd-sourced food guide that lets you learn more about the farms in your area.

The website shows a map of the U.S. with a bunch of dots on it. When you zoom in you can see photos of specific farms and what they grow.

Karl Rosaen shows me how it works.

“So I just clicked on Delight of Life Farm which apparently is in Suttons Bay Michigan and they have garlic and pork and they have animal byproduct free feed, antibiotic free and growth hormone free and they’re not cloned so we know that much about them.”

Anybody can visit a farm, take photos and add what kinds of things the farmers grow and how they grow them. Cara Rosaen says they’ve decided to make the site neutral. So they’re not promoting one kind of farm over another.

“It hasn’t been just about local or just about hyper-sustainable, it’s a guide to the whole food universe so, every farm. We’re really about transparency, not about judgment.”

She says they decided early on they didn’t want any advertising to clutter the site.

But of course, they also had to make money.

Karl Rosaen is a software engineer. He was part of the team that launched Google’s first Android device. A few years ago, he quit his job at Google, he and Cara moved back to Michigan, and they started Real Time Farms.

Karl designed software to allow restaurants to link menu items online back to the farms they came from. And they’ve been selling the software to restaurants and food trucks.

Paul Kessenich owns Darcy’s Cart in Ann Arbor.

“When you’re navigating through the menu, you can pull your little mouse over the egg that’s in the breakfast burrito listed on the ingredients, you’ll see Grazing Fields Cooperative who supplies our eggs. So that’s just a great thing, I can put as much or as little sourcing info as I want.”

There are about a hundred restaurants linked to farms on Real Time Farms’ website.

But like any startup… things change. The Rosaens are now shifting away from working with restaurants… although they’ll let their current customers continue to use the software for free.

Real Time Farms is joining forces with a crowd-sourced cooking site called

Karl and Cara say they’re hoping to reach a lot more people this way… and get them more connected to the places their food is grown.

That’s the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Another Leak at Palisades Power Plant

  • The Palisades nuclear power plant in Van Buren County, Michigan. (Photo courtesy of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission)

The Palisades Nuclear Power Plant near South Haven has shut down again.

This is the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

This is the second time this summer Entergy Corporation has had to shut down the plant for repairs.  Lindsey Smith is Michigan Radio’s west Michigan reporter and she joins me now to get us up to speed.  So, Lindsey – the plant shut down to fix a water leak. I thought they just fixed a leak?

LS: This is a different leak. The company noticed this leak when they restarted the plant after fixing that first leak in a tank above the control room. This leak is in a different area of the plant – the containment building. This building holds the nuclear reactor itself.

RW: Where’s that water going?

LS: I asked Prema Chandrathil that question. She’s a spokeswoman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

“This leak is not a threat to public health. It’s contained and it goes into the plant’s waste storage tank.”

Chandrathil says the situation at Palisades is “serious” though. The NRC now has a specialized inspector to assist regular inspectors at the plant while the company makes repairs.

RW: Do we know what’s causing the leak yet?

LS: Not yet. Palisades Spokesman Mark Savage says they’ve determined that a “control rod drive package” is the source of the leak. There are 45 of these control rods. Plant operators can raise or lower control rods to control the rate of the nuclear reaction.

“And occasionally these control rod drives will have a problem. In this case we couldn’t identify it until we actually shut the plant down. So we take aggressive action to shut the plant down, do the right thing, make the repairs and return the plant to service.”

But Rebecca, there are a lot of people, nuclear watchdogs in particular, who are quick to point out that Palisades has had a number of problems with these control rod drives.

RW: Problems they’ve had recently?

LS: Yeah, I mean this is the second time this year alone Palisades shut down to fix a leak related to these control rod drives. Back in January they replaced some seals on the rods that were worn out.

But the Union of Concerned Scientists notes control rod problems at Palisades that go back decades.

David Lochbaum directs the Union’s Nuclear Safety Project.

“Other plants have similar designs and have at times in their past experienced problems but they were able to find the problem and fixed it the first or at worse second time. Whereas Palisades is at more than a dozen times. Something’s wrong there and the company has yet to figure out what it is and fix it.”  

Indeed, Palisades’ spokesman Mark Savage says they have yet to determine the cause of the leak.

RW: So what are they going to do?

LS: Savage says they’ll completely replace at least one of those 45 control rod drive packages.

Lochbaum with the Nuclear Safety Project says that’ll only work if it resolves the underlying problems. He says the NRC needs to do more to make sure the root cause is identified and fixed this time.

RW: Lindsey, you’ve been reporting that the Palisades plant had a series of problems last year that left it with one of the worst safety ratings in the country.  But the NRC has continued to say that the plant is operating safely – are they still saying that?

Lindsey: Yeah, they say that if the plant was ever not operating safely they would not hesitate to shut it down. That’s what they always say; they’re still saying that. But we do have a lot of problems with safety culture; that has been a problem at Palisades, and the next inspection that goes along with that will be in September. That’s really the big inspection next for Palisades.

RW: All right, Lindsey, thanks for staying on top of this.

Lindsey: No problem.

Lindsey Smith is Michigan Radio’s west Michigan reporter.

That’s the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Living with Cancer


It’s something we don’t like to talk about, but cancer is all around us. It would be hard to find someone who hasn’t been touched by cancer – not just someone you know – but someone you love. In Living with Cancer, a special one-hour documentary from Michigan Radio, we’ll explore how much we really know about the connections between cancer and the chemicals in our environment.

We’ll meet both regular people and scientists trying to figure out if certain towns around Michigan are struggling with more cancer cases than other places because of current or past pollution. You’ll hear about whether or not turning to the courts makes sense when it seems a company might to be blame for putting people at risk of cancer or other illnesses. Finally, we’ll look at where we go from here. What do researchers know, and where are they looking next?

Sand Dune Development & West Nile Virus

  • Photo courtesy of CDC

This is the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

People who own private property on Michigan sand dunes will now have more flexibility when it comes to getting building permits. Emily Fox reports:

Governor Rick Snyder signed a bill this week that broadens building permits on what are called critical dunes. Those are dunes that have the most environmental protection.

Rachel Hoekstra is the legislative Director for the Senator who introduced the bill. She says the previous law had too many regulations for building permits.

“Basically it turned out to be whoever had the most money could potentially one day build a home in these areas.”

But opponents of the new law say it puts those critical sand dunes at risk.

Nicholas Occhipinti is with the West Michigan Environmental Action Council. He says the new law reduces the control of the Department of Environmental Quality to work with property owners in order to protect the sand dunes.

“There’s going to be the ability to add driveways and accessibility features throughout critical sand dunes which will really impact slopes, ecosystems, increases the potential for erosion.”

He says critical sand dunes make up 30% of all sand dunes in Michigan.

For the Environment Report, I'm Emily Fox.

(music bump)

This is the Environment Report.

Maybe you’ve noticed you haven’t been swatting a lot of mosquitoes this summer. 

“It’s been a strangely quiet year for nuisance mosquitoes in particular.”

That’s Michael Kaufman.  He’s a mosquito expert and an associate professor at Michigan State University. 

“Most people think all mosquitoes are a nuisance and I guess I’d have to agree with that (laughs). But the ones most people complain about come out in large numbers after rain events or spring snow melts and things like that.”

Think of nuisance mosquitoes as the kind that attack you in swarms.

Kaufman says it’s been so dry… that we haven’t had the usual bursts of mosquitoes that you get after a big rain. 

But he says ironically… our hot, dry summer has been ideal for the species of mosquitoes that carry West Nile virus.  The species Culex pipiens is the one experts are most concerned about… and those guys like it when it’s hot.

“The Culex breed in areas that don’t necessarily need that much water. A really good source of them for their larval development is what we call catch basins or parts of storm sewer drainage systems.”

Kaufman says they also like standing water in bird baths and kiddie pools.

He says because it’s been so hot for so long… we’re seeing cases of West Nile virus pop up in humans and animals a few weeks earlier than normal. 

Erik Foster is a medical entomologist with the Michigan Department of Community Health. He says so far this year in Michigan, there have been four confirmed cases of West Nile virus in humans.  But he says it’s really difficult to predict what will happen with the virus each year.

“You know, if things continue the way they are right now, we may have a bad year for West Nile virus.”

Foster says you can get infected with West Nile virus without having any symptoms.  You might also get just a mild flu-like illness.  But he says some people can become seriously ill.

“You start having neurologic involvement, you can start getting weakness in the limbs, you can start having changes in behavior, extreme headache and neck pain, and that’s definitely when you want to go see your doctor and get treated.”

Foster says people over age 50 are more likely to develop serious illness from West Nile virus.

People have been getting sick with West Nile virus since 2002 in Michigan, but Foster says no one knows how much of the population might have immunity by now.

“We’re not sure there is long-standing immunity after you are bitten by an infected mosquito. But you can’t really count on being immune unless you know for sure you were infected with West Nile virus previously.”

So he says… the best thing to do is to avoid getting bitten. There are easy things you can do, like drain any standing water around your house and make sure your window screens are in good shape. He also recommends using bug repellant when you’re outside.

Here are some additional guidelines from's Emerging Disease Issues site:

  • Reduce time outdoors, especially at dusk, during mosquito seasons
  • Wear light weight long sleeves and long pants if you are outdoors
  • If outdoors, apply insect repellent exposed skin or clothing that contains the active ingredient, DEET. Repellents containing Picaridin or Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus have recently become EPA approved and recommended for use by CDC.  (Be sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions).  For more information on mosquito repellents, click here.
  • Maintain window and door screens to keep mosquitoes out of buildings
  • Empty standing water from flower pot bases, pet bowls, clogged rain gutters, swimming pool covers, discarded tires, buckets, barrels, cans, etc.

That’s the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Hunting for Asian Carp in Lake Erie

  • A bighead carp at the Shedd Aquarium (perhaps a face only its mother could love). (Photo by Rebecca Williams)

This is the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Crews with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the departments of natural resources from Michigan and Ohio are searching Lake Erie for Asian carp this week.

They’re stepping up their sampling efforts because of lab results that showed six water samples from Lake Erie had positive environmental DNA hits for Asian carp. Those water samples were from August 2011.

So the teams are now out on the lake to see if they can find any more evidence of bighead or silver carp in the lake.

Todd Kalish is the Lake Erie Basin Coordinator with the Michigan DNR and he joins me to talk about the carp search. So, a positive eDNA sample could mean there are live Asian carp in Lake Erie… but there are other possibilities – what else could lead to a positive DNA sample?


Todd Kalish: A positive DNA sample basically means that some part of a carp was left behind within 24 hours of a sample being taken. And so it could’ve been a scale or mucus or excrement. Basically what it tells us, and what we assume, that environmental DNA means there was a silver or bighead carp in that area within 24-48 hours of the sampling.

RW: So if that genetic material is present, where else could it come from if not from a live carp?

TK: Well, it could come from a variety of other areas and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is currently conducting a study to identify where the other potential areas that positive environmental DNA could come from, so like ducks or birds or things like that, that may have picked up environmental DNA in one water body and transferred it to another. So there are other ways of introducing silver or bighead carp DNA into a water body than actually a live carp.

RW: What’s the plan if you do find a live carp in the lake or more positive DNA?

TK: If a live bighead or silver carp is collected, one of the first things we will do is get as much information about that fish as we possibly can. And so, the fish would be taken to an Ohio DNR or Michigan DNR facility. We would determine whether or not it was reproductively viable, we would age the fish, and then there would also be an enhanced sampling protocol.

RW: What would it mean if you discovered that there were a reproducing population of Asian carp in Lake Erie?

TK: It could have some significant negative effects on the fisheries community. Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair, which are connected, they provide really good habitat for silver and bighead carp, and we have a very good fisheries community in those two lakes right now. The walleye population is very good and yellow perch population is good, we’ve got smallmouth bass in both of those lakes, and those populations would likely be impacted if there were a reproducing population of silver or bighead carp within Lake Erie or Lake St. Clair.

RW: We’ve also had other carp news lately. The Michigan DNR announced last week that a grass carp that was caught in the St. Joseph River in southwest Michigan and it was capable of reproducing. How big of a deal is that?

TK: That’s a big deal. Grass carp are a prohibited species in the state of Michigan. And so grass carp are illegal to transport or have in your possession alive. Grass carp are extremely voracious, so they can eat 40-50% of their body weight in one day, and they specifically target vegetation, so they can remove significant amounts of vegetation, which is really critical to sustain a healthy aquatic ecosystem.

RW: Todd Kalish is the Lake Erie Basin Coordinator with the Michigan DNR. Thank you so much.

TK: Thank you!

That’s the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Hedging Bets on Wine Grapes in N. Michigan

  • Willow Winery (photo by Jennifer Guerra/Michigan Radio)

This year was one of the worst harvests for tart cherries in recorded history. That’s a hard hit considering Michigan is the nation’s largest producer of the fruit. But a winemaker in the state says this was a great year for his wine grapes. Emily Fox takes us to the Leelanau Peninsula where one family owned cherry farm has transitioned into a vineyard in order to make more money:

(sound of the winery)

It seems that everyone is talking about the bad cherry crop this year.

We’re in the tasting room of Good Harbor vineyard on the Leelanau Peninsula. It’s a family run farm that originally only grew cherries. The farm started growing grapes in the 80's because it was more profitable. Sam Simpson is the wine maker and operations manager for Good Harbor and the third generation in his family to run the place. He still has cherry trees on his farm but when it comes to comparing the difference between his grapes and cherries this year. . .

"That’s easy because there isn’t a cherry crop this year."

Simpson says his family’s switch to grapes was a good move for the business, and says cherry farmers are going to have a hard time this year.

"So you feel bad for the people who are solely dependent on cherries this year. In no other industry can you lose 95% of your income and people expect you to do it next year."

A slew of 80 degree days in March made the cherry buds begin to swell early this year. But the 19 nights of frost that followed wiped out the cherry crop in the region. Farmers lost 90% of their tart cherries this year.

Jeff Andresen is the state’s climatologist and professor of geography at Michigan State University. He says over the past 30-40 years we have been seeing warmer temperatures in the colder months. And spring weather has been arriving a week or two earlier than it has historically.

"So that’s a fairly significant change, some years it has been earlier than that, but of course, 2012, our March heat wave is an exclamation point on that trend. That’s the earliest warm up we’ve had in our climate record that goes back around 120 years."

Andresen says earlier springs bring a greater risk of late frosts, like the one that wiped out the cherries this year.

Sam Simpson at Good Harbor vineyards says grapes are better able to withstand the change in weather patterns Michigan has been getting. They can survive frosts and thrive in mild winters.

"Grapes take a longer time to reach bud burst or bud swell when water starts coming into the buds so we were at less risk of frost. We were looking at probably one of our biggest crops we’ve seen off of our vineyards this year."

Simpson says farmers have noticed the change in climate and are starting to consider diversifying and growing grapes.

"I get multiple phone calls each season of people interested in converting."

But getting into the wine industry also comes with a price. Duke Elsner is with MSU Extension. He works with farmers in Grand Traverse County and has noticed the trend to diversify.

"It’s not a cheap matter to switch from cherries to grapes. There is quite a cost to remove orchards in the first place and grape plants are expensive."

He says a startup investment in wine grapes costs around $10-15,000 an acre.

It was a devastating year for cherry farmers, but Elsner says cherries still dominate the region and will continue to do so in the future. He says there is limited land available that is suitable for wine grapes. Wine grapes grow well on southwest facing slopes in sunny areas.

Although Good Harbor vineyard fared well with grapes this year, the weather did affect the business. The vineyard will not be producing their cherry wine this year.

For the Environment Report, I'm Emily Fox.

Related Environment Report stories:

Hard Freeze Hurts Michigan Cherry Crop

Michigan Retailers Importing Cherries

Coping with a Historically Low Crop in the Cherry Capital

Fruit Growers and a Changing Climate

Cleaning Up a Pollution Puzzle in Ann Arbor

  • Kevin Lund of MDEQ shows a sample of oil and water he collected when he dug a hole in the bank of the Huron River. The analysis they did on the samples they collected showed that the contamination was coming from the old MichCon manufactured gas plant. (Credit: Mark Brush / Michigan Radio)

by Mark Brush

The city of Ann Arbor recently spent more than one million dollars rebuilding an old mill race along the Huron River. The Argo Cascades is a series of little waterfalls and pools where kayakers and people floating in inner tubes come to cool off.

But downstream from the Cascades on the other side of the river, there’s a problem.

There's been pollution lurking underground for some time from an old industrial plant, and two years ago regulators found that some of the pollution was making its way into the Huron River.

The days before natural gas

Kevin Lund is a senior geologist with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality's Remediation Division. He told me to really understand what’s getting into the Huron River, you have to understand some history.

So he took me to a small parking lot about a quarter mile away from the river. It's directly across the street from the Amtrak station on Depot St.

He showed me an old brick and mortar foundation that was installed, he thinks, around the 1870s or 1880s. This bit of old foundation is one of the only things left of an old manufactured gas plant.

Back in the day, they manufactured gas here. Lund said the gas was originally used for street lights.

"There would be lamplighters, and then the extra gas was used for the people who could afford it to cook with and to light with," said Lund.

They made the gas by heating up chunks of coal, and trapping the gas that came off.

Manufactured gas plants were built all over.  Any city or big hospital or company that needed gas often had one of these plants nearby.

Wherever they made gas from coal, they had a lot of leftover material. By-products such as coke, coal tar, and ammonia could be sold.  But even so, there was still a lot of waste.

Burying the leftovers

Leftover coal tar, chemicals, and some metals, whatever they couldn’t sell, they often dumped.

“You got to remember they were no waste disposal facilities back in the day, and they didn’t move this stuff too far off their properties," said Lund. "So if there was a low depression in the property where they were doing the coal gasification, the waste products tended to find themselves over there.”

The old foundation Lund showed me was from the original gas plant in Ann Arbor.

It burned down, so they built a bigger one right next to the Huron River. As the town grew, so did the demand for coal gas.

Coal was brought in by the train load.

But in 1939, natural gas came to Ann Arbor, and that pretty much ended things for manufactured gas plants. Gas no longer had to be made. They could just pull it out of the ground.

The buildings were torn down, and they moved on.

The past bubbles to the surface

But old bricks aren’t the only things you’ll find around these sites. To get a look at what else was left behind, Lund takes me down to the bank of the Huron River next to the Broadway Bridge. Since there's been a drought, we can walk part way out into the river bed.

He scraped the gravel under the shallow water with his boot, and up popped a pool of black, gooey liquid.

Lund and another colleague from MDEQ discovered this stuff in the river bed two years ago.

“We were just collecting samples along the way and were finding exactly this all the way through here. And one of the locations that we dug, a hole in the bank, it filled with oil,” said Lund.

MichCon is the company responsible for the site. They took over the gas works in Ann Arbor in 1938 when the company consolidated several gas companies across the state. After natural gas came to the city a year later, the manufactured gas plant pretty much stopped operations. The buildings were torn down in the 1950s, and the site was used as a service center up until 2009.

Shayne Wiesemann is an environmental engineer with DTE Energy, MichCon's parent company. He's also the project manager for the cleanup on the site in Ann Arbor. He said MichCon has been monitoring the site since the 1980s, when he said they became aware of the problems there.

"These are exceedingly complex projects," said Wiesemann. "There were industrial operations here for nearly 50 years. You really have to do your homework."

Cleaning up our forefathers' mess

So far, Wiesemann said they've spent around $3 million on monitoring and clean up efforts. They've cleaned up some hot spots up on the property. They excavated 1,700 yards of underground contamination in 1998, and 5,000 yards in 2006. They also ran a groundwater cleaning system on the site for 5 to 6 years.

When they learned about the pollution coming in contact with the Huron River from the MDEQ, they began to develop a plan to clean it up.

In the first week or two of August, the company plans to spend another three to four million dollars to start digging the pollution out of the river bed and its banks.

He said over a two to three month period, they’ll haul out around five to six hundred semi-truck loads of contaminated dirt (25,000 cubic yards). Wiesemann says they hope to finish this cleanup sometime in late October to early November.

"We’re going to excavate the material, we’re going to take it to a type two landfill, and then we’re going to restore all that material with clean backfill," said Wiesemann. "And then we’re going to put on a cap, and this cap is going to prevent any future contaminant migration to the sediment that we backfill into the surface water within the river."

A company spokesman said the entire cost of this project could be passed onto MichCon ratepayers. Up until this point, the company says it has been able to use payments from insurance claims to pay for monitoring and cleanup.

During the cleanup, big trees will have to be removed along the river bank (other trees will be replanted), and when they begin to dig into the polluted sediment, it can be like cracking a spoiled egg open.

There could be strong odors – smells of naphthalene (like mothballs) or creosote. MDEQ officials said air monitors will be operated during the remediation to make sure the air is safe to breathe. Wiesemann said their contractors will use covering foams on the contaminated soil and other work practices to keep the chemical smells to a minimum.

Once this project is done, the old coal tar will be out of the river, but there will still be some pollution on the site.

Wiesemann says they’ll wait to see how the community wants to use the land to determine further cleanup.

A pollution problem around all of Michigan

This cleanup is big for an old manufactured gas plant, but it's not as big as the pollution cleanup DTE is working on at its "Station B" site along the Detroit River.

"The Broadway site… we’re looking 25,000 yards of material, and we’re going to excavate that material over two to three months, and then on the far end of the spectrum, you’ve got the Station B site where we’ve excavated nearly 300,000 yards of material and we’ve been doing it since last year," said Wiesemann.

MDEQ's Kevin Lund said, in addition to the site in Ann Arbor, he's actively working on polluted sites in Adrian, Albion, and Jackson, and he knows of others in Bay City and Grand Rapids.

It’s estimated there are around 70 old manufactured gas plant sites in Michigan. The two big utility companies in the state, DTE Energy and Consumers Energy, are responsible for 40 of them (DTE – 17, Consumers Energy 23).

But for some of the rest of these old plants, with so much time passing since they’ve closed, finding the people responsible for cleaning them up can be difficult. And the tar, oils, and chemicals will be underground for future generations to find.

Wind Potential & Taking Stock of State Land

  • (Photo credit Bug Girl/Flickr).

Scientists are analyzing new data that’ll determine whether offshore wind farms are viable in Lake Michigan and the data is more detailed than any available from the Great Lakes so far.


A floating eight-ton research buoy is collecting the data. There are only three such vessels in the world and this is the first one launched in the United States.

The buoy has been anchored about 37 miles off shore for about two months now. Recently crews retrieved the first set of data cards – with information about wind conditions and any bats and birds that fly by. Scientists are now analyzing that data.

Arn Boezaart heads the Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center that’s operating the buoy. "I think we are getting data at this point that will be very useful and will validate the fact that the wind conditions at mid-lake are very promising for potential future use as a commercially viable wind source," Boezaart says.

But right now there is no clear path to proposing an offshore wind farm in the Great Lakes inside the Michigan border.

Of all the land in Michigan, the state owns about 20 percent.  That’s about four million acres. And, some people think that’s too much. Some people think it’s not enough. Regardless, every few years, there’s a new call to take a look at how much land is owned by the state, and how it’s being used.

Governor Snyder signed a law recently that limits how much land the state can acquire while the state Department of Natural Resources conducts a study of what the state has and how it’s used.

“The state itself owns millions of acres of land, let alone cooperating with the private sector and there’s no cohesive strategy on how we manage our resources for both terrestrial things like – land-based things, but also aquatic. So one of the things I’d like to see in the special message is setting the framework of how we’re going to evolve over the next few years to have comprehensive strategy for how we’re going to manage land and aquatic resources in the state of Michigan," the Governor said recently.

The state’s been acquiring this property for more than 150 years. The state got a lot of this land in the 1880s and 90s as loggers turned to farming clear-cut acres –failed, and failed to pay their taxes. The state acquired more land from unpaid taxes during the Great Depression.

A lot of it now is state parks, forests and recreation areas. The state manages this land with a few purposes in mind like recreation and habitat preservation. And, some of the land is used for extracting natural resources like timber, gas drilling, and mining.

The state also bought a lot of this land from money raised by leasing drilling and mining rights.

Governor Snyder’s idea is, maybe, the state can strategically sell and acquire property to do things like create a Lake Huron to Lake Michigan trail system for bikers and hikers. They’d stop and camp or use hotels and restaurants along the way.

But those decisions have implications – especially to the real estate market.  And to local governments that might or might not derive some tax benefits based on what happens.

We can expect to hear more from Governor Snyder about how the state plans to manage the land it owns when he delivers a special message on the environment this fall.