Tick Boom & Ladies’ Trash Collection

  • (L to R) Moy Garretson, Karen Rooke and Melinda Fons spend some of their free time picking up trash. They say it's great exercise. (Photo by Rebecca Williams)

The tick population is booming in parts of Michigan…

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

Blacklegged ticks – formerly known as deer ticks – are historically rare in the Lower Peninsula. But over the past decade, that’s been changing.

Erik Foster is a medical entomologist with the Michigan Department of Community Health. He’s been studying the tick population as it’s been moving north along the western Michigan shoreline.

“It’s been so rapid, anecdotal reports say within the last five years of these ticks moving in and just really flourishing. Because of the habitat, because of the amount of hosts they have to feed on.”

He says the Lake Michigan shoreline is good habitat for ticks.

Foster says because the winter was so mild, more mice and chipmunks survived. Those animals are hosts for ticks… and that means more ticks made it through the winter too.

He says deer and birds are also hosts for ticks and they’re transporting the insects north.

Foster says black-legged ticks can transmit Lyme disease. He recommends wearing insect repellant that contains DEET and checking yourself and your pets for ticks after you walk in tall grass or in the woods.

Thanks to Interlochen Public Radio’s Rachel Lane for help with this story.

(music bump)

This is the Environment Report.

When you’re driving around southeast Michigan… you might happen to see three women on the side of the road. They’re all moms but their kids are grown up. They work part time. And they fill their free time… by picking up trash… for fun.

“This is a beautiful area and yet we have piles of garbage there.”

Melinda Fons is with her friends Moy Garretson and Karen Rooke in suburban Detroit.

Karen: “Wagons roll!” (laughter)

They get plastic grabbers and garbage bags out of the trunk. And they head into a little wooded patch next to a busy two-lane road.

Karen Rooke starts on the edges.

“I’ve got some cups, a newspaper and a plastic bag. And a credit card… ooh this is good. I’ll take that to the police.”

The three women crawl under trees and into bushes to get the trash. There’s a pile of Styrofoam peanuts, empty rum bottles, a tire… and two more credit cards.

Karen: “I picked up 20 vodka bottles once and Listerine. I think it’s the kids that go drink down there it’s just a quiet road, and have the Listerine so their parents – they think – don’t know. We were young once too!” (laughs)

(trash crinkling)

Melinda Fons admits she’s a little bit obsessed with picking up garbage. She says when her kids were young they’d get embarrassed.

“They would say Mom, you don’t have to pick up garbage everywhere. But it was so easy to do, you just stroll over to the garbage can and deal with it.”

She points out that trash can hurt wildlife… and she says she just can’t stand to see a place messed up.

“I was taught that if you go into an area don’t leave anything there that wasn’t there when you got there. I would like that same kind of reverence, you know, to be everywhere.”

Fons says she started by just picking up garbage on her walks around her neighborhood. Then… she started roping her friends into it. Sometimes they’ll even scramble up hills to clean up trash on highway interchanges.

Moy Garretson says you do have to get used to people staring at you.

“People look at us like we’re crazy, like maybe we’re doing some weekend community service. I’ve had girlfriends yell out the window and say ‘Great job!’ But we don’t see them out here.”

(bags crinkling, cars whizzing by)

After an hour… they call it quits.

They head to the police station to turn in the credit cards. At an intersection, a guy in a leather jacket pulls up next to the car.

Moy: “If that guy throws that cigarette butt out we’re chasing him.” (laughter)

The guy rolls his window down and flicks the cigarette out.

“OOOH Naughty!”

The women stop one more time to pick up a stray water bottle on the side of the road… and then it’s back to Melinda Fons’ house to unload the six big bags of trash.

Karen: “If more people do it, it won’t take long to get everything shipshape, in Bristol fashion.”

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

Palisades Plant Shuts Down to Fix Water Leak

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

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

The Palisades Nuclear Power Plant near South Haven has an aluminum water tank that’s used in case of emergencies or when the plant needs to be refueled.  That water tank has been leaking for several weeks.  On Tuesday evening, the Palisades plant was shut down so workers can fix the leak.

Lindsey Smith is Michigan Radio’s West Michigan reporter. Lindsey, the shutdown this week was a planned outage – so, in other words, the plant operators saw this coming.

Lindsey: That’s right – the company, Entergy, told me this tank has been leaking for several weeks. It’s an old aluminum tank that holds 300,000 gallons of water. By old I mean it’s been around as long as Palisades – 40 years old.

It’s considered to be a small leak and the company has been collecting the water and monitoring it for weeks.  But on Tuesday the amount reached 31 gallons per day… and that was the threshold where the company determined the leak had to be fixed. So that means taking the plant out of service.

Rebecca: Does that water that’s leaking out pose any safety hazard?

Lindsey:  We asked Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesperson Viktoria Mitlyng that question and she says no.

“They’re collecting that water; it has no way of getting out of the plant. It cannot go outside and it does not pose a threat to plant workers and at this rate of leakage it does not compromise the plant’s stability or safety. "

Rebecca: So any idea how long it’ll take to fix this leak?

Lindsey: No clue. The plant operators will never say how long an outage will last.  Entergy spokesperson Mark Savage walked me through the process though:

“Shut the reactor down which we’ve done, unload the water from the tank, find the leak, repair the leak fill it up again and start the reactor back up.”

Rebecca:  So this time around the shutdown was planned.  But Palisades had five unplanned shutdowns last year – and one of those was considered to be of substantial safety significance.  Because of that the power plant now has one of the worst safety ratings in the country.  

Lindsey: And that means the federal government is watching the plant more closely. NRC spokesperson Viktoria Mitlyng says they want to see how the plant operators handle this repair… and see what caused the leak in the first place.

“You know, we are at the same time evaluating plant performance. If we find any deficiencies or any findings that will be public information, we will document it in the inspection report.”

In addition to this… the Palisades plant has to undergo a major follow-up inspection to see how they’re doing after all those safety problems last year.  The plant has until the end of September to get ready for that inspection. If they’re not ready by then they’ll be moved into a category that’s one step next to mandatory shutdown by the federal government.

Rebecca: You’ve reported recently that Entergy is revamping all of its safety procedures.  But the NRC Chairman toured the plant at the end of May and said that plant operators have made some improvements but they need to work on the fundamentals of nuclear safety. 

Lindsey:  Yeah, that was sort of ear catching, I’ll say, when the NRC chair says a company needs to work on the “basics of nuclear safety” as he put it. The agency is worried about poor maintenance, a questionable safety structure, poor work supervision, failure to follow up on procedures.

Here’s the list of the concerns discussed at the NRC’s January 2012 hearing:

  • Organizational failures
  • The need for a recovery plan
  • Poor quality work instructions
  • Failure to follow procedures
  • Poor supervision and oversight of work
  • Poor maintenance
  • Failure to respect the role of an operator
  • Multiple events caused by personnel or equipment failures
  • Questionable safety structure

But the NRC chairman said that he believes the company is making progress.

Most importantly, the NRC says the Palisades plant is operating safely, and if it were not, they would shut it down.

Rebecca: Thanks Lindsey.  Lindsey Smith is Michigan Radio’s West Michigan reporter. That’s the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Tar Sands Report & Supermileage Competition

  • The Penn State University team heads toward the track. (Photo by Logan Chadde/Michigan Radio)

State health officials say there's no long-term health risk for people who come in contact with oil in the sediment from a pipeline spill in the Kalamazoo River. Lindsey Smith reports:

It’s been nearly two years since an Enbridge pipeline ruptured near Marshall…leaking more than 843,000 gallons of heavy, thick tar sands oil into the river. Most of it has been cleaned up. What remains has sunk to the river bottom or dried up on the bank.

The study looked at the health risks from accidently swallowing or touching the oil that’s left.

"Like an accidental gulp of water that may have small amounts of sheen wouldn’t really be expected to be a concern."

That’s Dr. Jennifer Gray, one of the toxicologists who did the study.  She says there’s no increased risk of cancer. No need to panic if you accidently touch some oil: just wash the affected area with soap and water.

Gray says some people could get a skin rash from the exposure. If they’re worried, she says they should call their doctor. But Gray says parents should keep small children away from dried out tar patties left behind. She also advised pet owners to bathe animals who may have come into contact with submerged oil.

For the Environment Report, I’m Lindsey Smith.

(music bump) 

This is the Environment Report.

They look like one-person bobsleds. They run on lawnmower engines. And they get incredible mileage.

They’re cars that achieve what’s called supermileage. College engineering students from as far away as Quebec come to compete in the SAE International Supermileage Competition.

It’s held every year at the Eaton Corporation Proving Grounds in Marshall, Michigan.

When we visited last week, a lot of the students were scrambling to finish last-minute improvements to their vehicles before the moment of truth.

(sound of drilling)

Each driver had to complete six laps on a 1.6 mile track. And they had to maintain an average speed of 15 miles per hour. Teams could do as many runs as they wanted.

Laura Pillari is the driver for the University of Michigan team.

"I was a little nervous because there's a lot of stuff to do with my hands, and I'm kind of crammed in there with this little helmet, and it's very, very hot in that car in the sun."

To measure mileage, competition officials gave each team regulation fuel tanks that were weighed before and after each run. These vehicles can get hundreds or even thousands of miles to the gallon.

Most of the teams build their cars out of fiberglass, but carbon fiber is the ideal material for teams with enough experience and resources. It’s extremely sturdy and lightweight.

Jim Gluys is an engineer with the Eaton Corporation. The company sponsors the competition along with SAE International.

"They go through and they highly modify the engine for one thing. They build very aerodynamic bodies for the cars, and then they employ usually what’s called a burn and coast technique."

The students say this driving technique is crucial for achieving high mileage.

John Pearson is a senior at Penn State University – Behrend College.

"The biggest thing is actually how you drive it. We run the engine up to maybe 22 mph and that takes five seconds then we cut the engine and coast for the next two minutes, and then you fire the engine again."

Despite their amazing mileage, these super lightweight vehicles are not made for the highway. They have only 3.5 horsepower.  Compare that to a typical small car, say, the Ford Focus, that has 143 horsepower.

But many team members say the competition is less about real world applications and more about giving students experience and inspiration.

Jon Hofman is a senior from Calvin College. He said it’s especially important for young engineers to value fuel efficiency.

"For a long time it seemed like Detroit didn't care about fuel efficiency, and I think we're trying to change that attitude a little bit. The new cars coming out of Detroit are more and more efficient and that's exciting."

The Calvin College team placed seventh in fuel economy with 705 miles per gallon.

The team from UM placed second in design but they did not place in fuel economy.

The top prize in both design and fuel economy went to Penn State-Behrend. They achieved 1,485 miles per gallon.

This story was reported and written by Suzanne Jacobs.


Volunteers Hunt for Moose Bones on Isle Royale

  • Moosewatch volunteer Dave Beck holds up a marked antler. Team leader Jeff Holden looks on. They mark the antlers and hang them in a tree so others know the antler has been found and documented.

Wolves and moose are at the heart of the world’s longest running study of a predator and its prey.  The drama unfolds on Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior.

But it’s a big island, almost entirely wilderness.

The researchers from Michigan Tech say they can’t cover all that ground alone. 

So they have a program called Moosewatch.  It’s a backcountry expedition where you pay to help out with the wolf-moose study.  But be warned: it’s no easy little walk in the woods.

"We’re going to trash through the understory here for a third to half of a mile and see if we can find some dead moose."

That’s Jeff Holden. He’s a Moosewatch group leader, in charge of a group of six (himself plus five volunteers).  We’re going to push our way into the thick forest.

I put an arm up to keep the branches from whacking me in the face.

Jeff Holden’s got GPS to guide us… but it’s easy to lose sight of each other as the forest swallows us up.

Holden: "Sue… Jeff… Pete!  (laughs) This is typical, all the yelling around."

Everyone’s eyes are down… looking for a flash of white in the moss.

"Bone! You’ve got a bone? Yeah."

"So, Dave Beck just found a bone. We all converge on it and then we drop packs. (Sue Morrison: 'I've got the flags!') Sue’s got the flags, she puts orange flags out in trees so we know where the center of the search is."

The team fans out and spends a few minutes looking for more bones… but no luck.  Jeff Holden says when wolves kill an adult moose, they’ll rip it apart and drag the parts in different directions.

"The farthest I’ve found a confirmed moose pulled apart was a quarter mile."

These bones hold all kinds of secrets.  Clues to how a moose lived and died.  The volunteers collect skulls and leg bones from the moose skeletons and carry them all week in their backpacks.

We push on… finding a few shed antlers but no moose skeletons.  It’s muggy.  And right around the time I’m regretting wearing non-breathable rain pants… thunder crashes right above us, with a simultaneous flash of lightning.

Holden: “That’s pretty much directly overhead…"

Everybody puts on rain jackets and we hurry back to the camp, getting totally soaked.

"We are making hot chocolate. Sugar and heat; it’s a good thing in the rain after hiking!"

This is Pete Prawdzick’s second Moosewatch trip.  

"The thought of walking where someone hasn’t walked in a long time or maybe never seems to be magical and special.  And also there’s a little bit of the aspect of can I hike off trail with a 45 pound pack? The challenge of it is part of the attraction too."

That complete break from everyday life is a big draw for these volunteers.  But they also say they like helping with the wolf-moose study.

Ann Schumacher and her daughter Kelsey came out here from upstate New York.

"You never know, a bone we pick up might make a huge difference ten years from now that may really change things and help.  It’s a small way to be part of something really big."

The three crews on this trip found 18 dead moose.

Biologist Rolf Peterson says people from all over the world have joined Moosewatch.  Military veterans, engineers, railroad workers, even professional models.

"We rely completely on those volunteers to come every year.  They cover hundreds of miles and weeks and weeks of effort we could never do any other way."

After a week in the woods… the Moosewatch volunteers gather at Rolf and Candy Peterson’s cabin. They eat a hot meal and show off their scars.  Then… the Petersons and the group leaders stand up and serenade us:

"Bone, bone, ain't it great to do Moosewatch… bone, bone, ain't it great to do Moosewatch…"

You can watch the volunteers slog through the forest at michiganradio.org. I'm Rebecca Williams.


The Lives of Wolves and Moose on Isle Royale

  • Biologist Rolf Peterson on Caribou Island. (Photo by Mark Brush/Michigan Radio)

All this week, we’re visiting an island archipelago in Lake Superior.  Isle Royale National Park is so remote you can only get here by ferry or seaplane.  It's mostly wilderness.  Cell phones don’t work here. 

Wolves and moose have the run of the island.  It’s an ideal place for people who study the big mammals.

"A nine month old calf.  It looks like it might’ve just fallen down the rocky edge and never got up."

Rolf Peterson has come across a moose skeleton.  Mourning cloak butterflies are lapping up sodium from the bones.  With a yank and a twist, Peterson rips off the skull. 

"I think it’s least disruptive if we just saw off the back leg."

Every bone tells a story.  Peterson can tell how the moose lived and how it died.  He can tell whether it fell and broke its ribs, whether it starved or was killed by wolves.  

"We look for any abnormalities in any of the bones.  And particularly, how big it was, what its early developmental history and nutritional history was, which is key to its adult health."

Over the past 54 years, researchers have collected more than 4,ooo moose skeletons on the island.  The bones offer clues about the moose population – and about the wolves.  Wolves got here by crossing an ice bridge from Ontario in the late 1940’s.

This study of wolves and moose is the longest running study in the world of a predator and its prey.  Rolf Peterson has been involved for 42 years of the study. He’s been here through the brutal black fly summers and the harshest winters. He and his wife Candy live in an old fishing cabin on the island for much of the year.

Wolves are secretive on the island. Candy Peterson says it’s unusual to see them.

"It’s really much more fun to hear them because you can hear them without their knowing you’re listening. That mournful, lonely howl, it does really send shivers up and down your back."

Rolf Peterson and other scientists spend the winters flying over the island in a little two seat plane. They watch – and count – the wolves and moose from the air. 

Over the years, they’ve seen the wolf and moose populations boom and crash.  This past winter, the wolf population dropped from 16 wolves down to its lowest point ever: just nine.

"A lot of it was due to high mortality that we don’t even know the cause of.  That’s a big red flag.  There are apparently two females. So two out of nine, they’re just hanging by their teeth, so, high, high risk of extinction."

He says there could be a few reasons why the wolf population has been sinking over the past six years.  The wolves are highly inbred, and Peterson says it’s unlikely that new wolves will come here on their own, because fewer ice bridges are forming in our warmer climate. There’s a shortage of the old moose that wolves like to eat.  And a fatal disease called canine parvovirus could be hurting the wolves. 

If the wolves die off, it will be up to the National Park Service to decide whether or not to re-introduce wolves to Isle Royale.

Long term studies like these are extremely rare.  Rolf Peterson says there are all kinds of hurdles: financial, logistic, political. 

But he says studies that last this long give us a more complete picture of how nature works.

"The answers that you get after 10 or 20 or 30 or 50 years are entirely different from what they would've been after five years.  I mean, sometimes you get the opposite conclusion.  So that makes you very cautious about saying what we know for sure."

Flame Retardant Chemical Detected in Food

  • Flame retardant chemicals are in many of the products we use in our homes and offices. Hundreds of peer-reviewed studies suggest the chemicals could be linked to a variety of health problems. (Photo courtesy of Reiner Kraft)

A flame retardant chemical that’s used in insulation and electrical equipment is showing up in food. It's called hexabromocyclododecane or HBCD. 

Here's what the Environmental Protection Agency says about the chemical:

HBCD is found world-wide in the environment and wildlife. It is also found in human breast milk, adipose tissue, and blood. It bioaccumulates in living organisms and biomagnifies in the food chain. It is persistent in the environment and is transported long distances.

HBCD is highly toxic to aquatic organisms. It also presents human health concerns based on animal test results indicating potential reproductive, developmental and neurological effects.

Flame retardant chemicals are used in hundreds of consumer products. Certain kinds of these chemicals leach out of our couches, our TVs, our carpet padding and many other things in our homes. They've been found in household dust and in food, and they're getting into our bodies.

Linda Birnbaum is the Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Toxicology Program.

She’s a senior author of a study out today in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives and I spoke with her for today's Environment Report.  For the study, the team purchased 36 samples of foods common in American diets from Dallas, Texas supermarkets, including peanut butter, poultry, fish and beef.  HBCD was detected in 15 of the samples.

"We primarily found it in fatty foods of animal origin, so fatty animal products. This is a chemical that loves to be in the fat, and that’s where we’re finding it."

Williams: "Now, were the levels you found high enough to be of concern?"

Birnbaum: "The levels are very, very low. I would call this micro-contamination. In our 2010 study where we looked at the total presence of this chemical, at that point we estimated that the daily intake was about 1,000 fold lower than what is believed to be a safe dose."

HBCD is showing up in people's bodies. The study states that food "may be a substantial contributor to the elevated α-HBCD levels observed in humans."

Birnbaum: "There have been several studies done, a few studies in the U.S., not large studies of the entire population, but a few studies in the U.S. and some studies in Canada and Europe and Asia, which have found low levels of this compound in either human blood or breast milk."

But she says it's not clear whether those levels pose a health hazard to people.

Birnbaum: "We know very little, really, about the toxicity of HBCD. There have been some animal studies which suggest it could affect neurodevelopment and that it’s an endocrine disruptor. But we have really no data to speak of in humans yet, and again, the animal data is very limited."

Williams: "And HBCD is certainly not the first flame retardant chemical that has shown up in food or people’s bodies…"

Birnbaum: "No, it’s not. These are chemicals that are produced in high volume and are used in many products we all come into contact with."

She says the flame retardants that have received the most study are PBDEs, polybrominated diphenyl ethers. (You can learn more about PBDEs in a five-part series we produced in 2010: Is Fire Safety Putting Us at Risk?)  These are types of flame retardants that have been widely used in furniture.  Several types have been phased out or will be in coming years… but they are persistent in the environment.

"And it’s only within the past couple years that people have begun to look to see whether the effects that we see in experimental animals and in wildlife are also occurring in humans. And we’re finding that the animal data is in good agreement with what we’re beginning to see, now that we’re looking, in the human population."

Birnbaum says the human and animal studies are suggestings links between PBDEs and problems with reproduction, neurodevelopmental effects, and endocrine disruption.

Williams: "At this point, do we know enough about HBCD’s potential toxicity to try to reduce our exposure?"

Birnbaum: "I think we really don’t know where our exposure is coming from for HBCD. The presence of it in our food suggests that that would be one route of exposure. There is only very limited information for us to get an idea of how much might be in dust to try to understand is it dust or food which is going to be our major source of exposure to HBCD. The detection of these chemicals in our food, this is really just a pilot study, it says it’s been detected. The levels are actually a little bit lower than have been reported in some European foods. But it would really be nice to have a larger statistically-based sampling of the American food supply."


The Chicago Tribune recently published an investigation of the tobacco and chemical industries called "Playing with Fire." Here's an excerpt:

The average American baby is born with 10 fingers, 10 toes and the highest recorded levels of flame retardants among infants in the world. The toxic chemicals are present in nearly every home, packed into couches, chairs and many other products. Two powerful industries — Big Tobacco and chemical manufacturers — waged deceptive campaigns that led to the proliferation of these chemicals, which don’t even work as promised.



Spruce Tree Disease & Beach Grooming

  • A seedling with dead terminal buds due to a Phomopsis canker on the main stem below the dying buds. (Photo courtesy of MSU Extension)

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

The landscape of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula has been changing over the
decades. Some of the changes are intentional… some accidental…and some
are simply a mystery. Rina Miller reports:

In the sixties and seventies … Dutch elm disease left tree-lined streets

These last few years saw the Emerald Ash borer leave its trail of
destruction across the state. And now Michigan’s spruce and pine trees are in decline.

Bert Cregg is an associate professor of horticulture and forestry at
Michigan State University.

He says one culprit is called Phomopsis. It’s a fungus that has been around for
a long time. It used to affect just seedlings and smaller trees. But now
it’s killing larger trees, too. And scientists don’t know why.

“Is this an environmental set of conditions? Is there something going on
with the pathogen itself? So there’s really lots more questions than
answers at this point, other than we’re seeing a lot of trees starting to

Cregg says the Phomopsis fungus is primarily affecting blue, white and
Norway spruce used for landscaping. Those trees are not native to Michigan.

He says it progressively kills branches…and eventually the whole tree.

Cregg says a couple of things can be done. He says if you spot dead branches, you should prune them … and get rid of lower limbs to help with air circulation.

He also says if you’re planting spruce trees … don’t group them closely
together, because that makes them more vulnerable to fungus.

And if you’re not sure what’s going on with your tree…call an expert.

“So if you can get a sample into our diagnostics lab, or another tree care
provider that knows what they’re looking at. If it can be identified as
Phomopsis, then there is a possibility of treating with a fungicide.”

You might also be noticing branch dieback on pine trees along roadways and
in state forests. Cregg says any number of things could be causing that…
including a type of blight or insects… or maybe just normal variations in
weather affecting tree growth. They just don’t know yet.

For the Environment Report, I’m Rina Miller.

(music bump)

This is the Environment Report.

Let’s say you own a beach house. You might want to pull out some plants
or mow them or smooth out the sand to make it look nice.

At the moment, if you want to do any of these things, you need a permit
from both the state and federal government.

Maggie Cox is with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. She
says her department has to make sure everyone can walk on the beaches. And
she says sensitive wetlands need to be protected.

“Your property line is down to the water’s edge – but the state also
holds in trust for the public the land up to ordinary high water mark.”

Last week, the Michigan Senate passed legislation that would eliminate the
state permit for beach maintenance.

Several environmental groups are opposed to that.

The DEQ’s Maggie Cox says her agency will still have oversight of beach
maintenance in wetland areas.

“In areas that are mostly sand or mostly rock, you no longer have to get
a permit from the department. But in areas that are wet or coastal
wetlands, made up mostly of bulrush or other vegetation, you’re going to
have to still come to the department and the Army Corps for a permit.”

But the Army Corps does not regulate mowing on beach areas. So if the state permit requirement goes away, property owners would be able to mow plants on sandy beach areas without any oversight. Environmental groups say that’s a problem.

But Ernie Krygier disagrees. He’s the president of Save Our Shoreline. That’s a group of property owners that wants to preserve the right to groom beaches.

“We’re not about people going out into the lake with bulldozers. In
fact the DEQ still does have the ability to police the shoreline. If some
goofball wants to take a fence down to the water’s edge to stop people
from walking down the beach, they have the ability to come in and make him
remove it.”

Krygier says his biggest concern is an invasive plant called phragmites that he wants to be able to remove from his beachfront property.

The legislation now moves to the state House.

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

Salmon Debate & Smart Thermostats

  • The Desperado heads out at sunrise to go after Pacific salmon in Lake Michigan. (Photo by Lester Graham)

How many salmon can Lake Michigan support?

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

That’s the critical question state fishery biologists have to answer this year.

Everyone involved in the salmon fishery is worried about its future… and now some sport fishing groups say drastic action might be required. They want the state to stop putting more fish into the lake. Peter Payette reports:

There’s not much food for salmon in Lake Michigan these days because invasive species are changing the food web.

But there are a lot of salmon, because more and more are being born in the wild as opposed to in fish hatcheries. That combination of too many fish and not enough food wiped out the salmon in Lake Huron almost a decade ago and they never returned.

That’s why the state has proposed reducing the number of salmon stocked in Lake Michigan by 30-50 percent.

But last month the Michigan Steelhead and Salmon Fisher’s Association urged lake managers to consider ending all stocking for two years.

Now a charter boat association in Muskegon has endorsed that idea too.

Paul Jensen is part of that group.

“We need to make a radical move to change the pattern and what we don’t want to do is duplicate what happened on Lake Huron.”

But ending stocking might not sit well with some anglers. For decades, more fish stocking meant more fish being caught.

But researchers say the situation is bleak.

The salmon fishing is great so far this spring. But that’s a problem because it means there’s still a lot of fish in a lake without much food.

For the Environment Report, I’m Peter Payette.

This is the Environment Report.

A lot of us have smartphones… you’ve probably heard of smart meters… and now there’s something called a smart thermostat for your house.

I met up with energy expert Matt Grocoff of Greenovation.tv to find out more:


“The old school thermostats that were programmable were meant to reduce your energy costs. But in 2009, the EPA did a study and found out that nobody was programming them. So, the new breed of smart thermostats do a lot of these things for you without you even thinking about them. They’re called learning thermostats. They learn from your own behavior. So the best thing to do I think is to show you Joe Capuano’s. We’re in his house now and he’s got one of these smart thermostats.”

Rebecca: “All right, hi, Joe.”

Joe: “Hello, Rebecca.”

Rebecca: “We’ve been hearing that this thermostat learns from you. So, is it watching you? What do you mean by that?”

Joe: “It has a sensor in it so that it actually notices the motion that takes place in the house. So during the day, when you’re moving around it knows there’s something going on so it’ll keep the temperature at the temperature you set. When the activity drops off and there’s nobody in the house, it’ll actually set back down to what it calls the “away” temperature. And the way it learns is that it follows the patterns that you have, so instead of programming it, it actually says, okay, from this time to this time there’s no activity in the house, so that’s the schedule I’m going to set.”

Rebecca: “So if you’re upstairs it doesn’t just drop down and make it colder while you’re upstairs?”

Joe: “I’d have to be upstairs for more than two hours before that would happen.”

Rebecca: “So, why is this better than my dumb thermostat at home that I just actually turn the heat down on at night before I go to bed?”

Matt: “These know the humidity level in your house. They know the temperature outside. They know the temperature inside. So they can take all of that data and that information and optimize your comfort by cutting your energy costs, by a huge amount. We’re not talking four or five percent. We’re talking 20-30% for these things.”

Rebecca: “Do you know if you’ve saved any money yet?”

Joe: “I don’t know for sure. I won’t know for sure until we have another really cold winter to confirm it. I think in the long run that I will save money. I’m definitely going to pay for what I put into the cost of the thermostat.”

Rebecca: That was Joe Capuano talking about his smart thermostat – along with energy expert Matt Grocoff of Greenovation.tv. We should note these new thermostats do cost more than the traditional kind. They range in price from $100 to upwards of $400.

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

New Renewable Energy Standard for Michigan?

  • Green Energy Futures / Flickr

This is the Environment Report. In for Rebecca Williams, I’m Zoe Clark.

The Michigan Energy, Michigan Jobs coalition wants to increase the state’s renewable energy standard to 25 percent by 2025.

That would mean that a quarter of all the energy used in Michigan would come from renewable sources like the wind and sun. The coalition is trying to collect enough signatures to put the issue before voters in November.

And, interestingly enough, the proposal is getting support from both Democrats AND Republicans.

Steve Linder is President of Sterling Corporation, a Republican consulting firm. He says his organization is behind the proposal for business reasons.

“While we don’t like government mandates, this allows us to use manufacturing capacity in Michigan rather than bringing in $1.6 billion worth of coal from West Virginia and Pennsylvania. So, this is really a business to business ballot initiative and we are very comfortable in making the business and economic case that this keeps dollars in our state and it keeps us at the cutting age of new types of manufacturing technology,” Linder says.

Mark Fisk, a Democrat, is co-partner of Byrum & Fisk, a political consulting firm. He says he’s working on behalf of the initiative because of the jobs it’ll bring to the state and the environmental benefits of renewable energy.

“This initiative will create thousands of new Michigan jobs and help boost Michigan’s economy by building a clean energy industry right here in our state. And, it gives Michigan cleaner and healthier air and water. It’ll protect our Great Lakes, reduce asthma and lung disease, and ultimately save lives,” Fisk says.

James Clift is Policy Director at the Michigan Environmental Council. The MEC is part of the Michigan Energy, Michigan Jobs Coalition.

James, right now, how much energy does the state get from renewable sources?

James Clift: We’re at about three and a half percent and we’re hoping to get up to about five percent this year.

ZC: Now, there’s already a renewable energy mandate in place in the state. The legislature passed it in 2008 and it says that Michigan needs to get to 10 percent by 2015. So, how big of a change would this new proposal be if it is, indeed, passed in November?

JC: Actually, it’d be about the same ramp-up that we’re currently doing today. We’re increasing about one and a half to two percent a year. So, this would increase us another 15 percent over 10 years – so, about one and a half percent a year. So, it’s a nice, steady transition to cleaner energy.

ZC: And, what would the environmental impact be?

JC: The Michigan Environmental Council commissioned a report last year looking at the nine oldest coal plants in Michigan. That report found that Michigan residents have health care costs and damages of about $1.5 billion a year – just from those nine oldest coal plants. So, transitioning away from coal to clean more renewable energy, we hope will put a significant dent in those health costs that we are currently occurring.

ZC: And, finally, why a ballot proposal? Why not go through the legislature like the earlier mandate?

JC: Well, the bottom line is that the legislature is not going to do anything. So, it’s going to be up to the people to say we want cleaner energy in the future and we want more of our energy dollars being spent on Michigan workers and Michigan products.

ZC: James Clift is Policy Director at the Michigan Environmental Council. James, thanks so much.

JC: Thank you.

ZC: Utility companies in the state think a ballot proposal mandating an increase in Michigan’s renewable energy use is the wrong approach. They say energy policy should not be changed by amending the state constitution.

Neighbors Feel Pressured by Enbridge’s New Pipeline Plans

  • Beth Duman with one of her four dogs. (Photo by Logan Chadde/Michigan Radio)

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

Enbridge Energy operates the pipeline that ruptured in Marshall almost two years ago.  The Environmental Protection Agency says more than one million gallons of thick tar sands oil spilled into the Kalamazoo River.  The oil spill is still being cleaned up.

Since the spill, Enbridge has been making repairs on that pipeline. It’s known as Line 6B.

Now, the company plans to replace the entire pipeline from Griffith, Indiana to Marysville, Michigan. 

Joe Martucci is a spokesperson for Enbridge. He says the new pipeline will cut down on the number of repairs they’ll have to do.

"We could do the maintenance activities, we do them all the time.  But the thinking is, by putting in new pipe, it would reduce the number of them and there’d be less disruption for landowners and local communities over the long term."

He says the new pipeline will also allow Enbridge to double the amount of oil they can transport to refineries in Detroit, Toledo and Sarnia, Ontario.

The current Line 6B pipeline often runs right through people’s backyards.

"When the pipeline broke in Marshall I said, wait, I live on that pipeline too."

Beth Duman lives in Livingston County.  She’s lived on this spot out in the country with her husband for 25 years. 

"This is where the new pipeline is going, right under my clothesline.  Their easement is going to take all my shade trees around my house and it’s going to take out my deck and we’re going to have to move the well."

Duman says they knew there was a pipeline here when they bought this place – but they just didn’t think too much of it at the time.  She wants the pipeline to be replaced, but she says she has run into trouble with the land agents who represent Enbridge.  Duman says the agents have been approaching landowners, asking them to sign contracts for the pipeline work.  In some cases, the company wants to purchase additional acres of easement for the new pipeline.

"The first time the first guy came, he was friendly for a few minutes. Then when I started saying this is my life, this is my business, this is where I live, he said you know, we could just condemn you.  Doesn’t really mean they’re going to take your house but it means you’re going end up in court, which most of us don’t have time to do. And so that ends up being a threat."

Several people I talked with said the same thing: they’ve felt intimidated by Enbridge land agents.  And they say they no longer trust the company.

For four months, Enbridge contractors worked on a section of pipeline running through Connie Watson’s backyard.  She points to the foundation of her house.

"We’re looking at several cracks in our foundation that happened during the months Enbridge was on our property with all their equipment. This house shook, vibrated and moved constantly."

Watson says she brought this up to her Enbridge land agent, and asked to be compensated for the damage.

"He said he finds many people will accuse Enbridge of things just so they can get their house remodeled.  I had to ask him to quit saying it, you know, it was so offensive."

We asked Enbridge spokesperson Joe Martucci to respond to these landowners who say they’re being bullied by Enbridge land agents. 

"You know it’s difficult to respond to those specifics, because it’s secondhand information. I don't know the landowners, I don't know the land agents, I don't know exactly what transpired.  But I can give you a general comment on that which is that Enbridge certainly doesn’t condone any type of bullying behavior on the part of the land agents whatsoever, or any type of intimidation."

He says Enbridge trains its land agents to avoid litigation and come to a mutual agreement.  (Martucci says landowners can call a special hotline the company set up for any concerns: 866-410-4356)

Enbridge has not yet gotten approval for the second phase of its pipeline project.  It will cover 160 miles of pipeline in Michigan east of Ortonville and west of Stockbridge.  There’s a hearing in Lansing on June 6th. This is when people who live along those parts of the pipeline can legally intervene and become more involved in the process.