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.

Enbridge and the Kalamazoo River: Two Years After the Spill

  • Enbridge building in Edmonton, Alberta. (Photo by user Kyle1278 / Wikimedia Commons)

It's been two years since a busted pipeline spilled more than 800,000 gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River. 

Michigan Radio's Zoe Clark and Steve Carmody discussed what has happen since then, and how it affects the environment and the company involved.


Zoe Clark: Enbridge has already spent more than $750 million trying to clean up the spill.  Where does the clean up effort stand?

Steve Carmody: At this point, there is still oil in the river.  Most of the river has been reopened. There is a section of the delta that leads into Morrow Lake which is still off-limits to the general public, because work is being done there, and there are other pockets along the river where oil still exists.

ZC: What is the river like these days? Can you sill see or smell oil?

SC: When I've been along the river, and I've been in different parts of it, you cannot smell it like you could in the early days, and even as much as a year later. But there are portions, especially where they're continuing to work to remove oil, where there obviously is still something there. But the amount of oil that is present in the environment in most of the river area is greatly diminished. However, again, there is still some oil in the environment, and there will be for quite a long time.

ZC: Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Transportation recommended a nearly $4 million fine against Embridge.

SC: That's correct, and that's the largest fine that the department of transportation has issued in a pipeline break like this.  Now, the cleanup itself is more than $800 million, and that is continuing. So $3.7 million, while it is a lot of money, is really a rather small amount of money compared to the entire cost to Embridge.

ZC: Also, another report came out from the National Transportation Safety Board.

SC: They delivered a scathing report against Enbridge and about how they handled the report when it occurred. They started noticing alarm bells going off, which apparently is not that unusual; anomalies crop up, alarms sound.  But they allowed the alarms to sound for 17 hours before they realized something had happened, and the only reason they found out something had happened is they received a call from the utility people here in the state of Michigan that there was a strong smell of petroleum in the air.

ZC: So what happens now?

SC: Enbridge still has some time to respond to the federal government for the fine, and that discussion will continue on. Embridge's stock price is about 50 percent higher now than it was two years ago, and you can look at that and say it is because of our demand for oil that the demand is so great. The price Enbridge has had to pay for the past two years, is more than compensated by what needs to be done from this point forward. Enbridge is facing other issues as well. What happened here in Michigan is affecting Enbridge's ability to build a $5 billion pipeline in Canada, because there's a lot of anger about what happened here, and they don't want it to happen there in Canada. But, the project has the strong support of the government in Ottowa. So, all of the negative publicity that has come out of this oil spill is probably not going to affect Enbridge's ability to move forward from this point.

Coping With a Historically Low Crop in the Cherry Capital

  • A blossom on a cherry tree (Photo by Markus Lehtonen).

The great loss of cherries

Earlier this month most of the counties in Michigan were designated disaster areas for agriculture. Michigan is the largest producer of tart cherries in the nation and this year, the state lost 90 percent of its crop.

Ben LaCross is one of the many farmers who is trying to cope in what is known to be the Cherry Capital of the world. He manages 750 acres of cherries in Leelanau County, just outside Traverse City.


While walking through his cherry orchard next to his family’s home he points out that there are zero cherries on the trees when usually around this time of year, each of his trees would be holding 50 to 100 pounds of the crop.

LaCross just got done harvesting his cherry crop for the season. He said in a normal year he harvests 4.5 million pounds of cherries in five weeks. This year it only took one week to harvest 4 percent of his annual yield.

“So what we harvested this year in a week we would normally do on an average day,” LaCross said.

The freeze

The loss of cherries in the region is a result of an early tease of summer followed by a frost.

“You don’t tend to associate a natural disaster with 80 degree sunny days,” he said.

LaCross said after more than a week of warm weather in March, the buds on his cherry trees began to swell, only to be decimated by 19 nights of freezing temperatures a few weeks later. LaCross said this may be the worst harvest in recorded history.

A decade of bad harvests

Cherry growers talk a lot about 2002. That was a terrible year as well. But LaCross says farmers had tarts in reserve back then that they could sell to pay the bills.

“So it has basically taken us 10 years to regain those markets and now we have another catastrophic freeze event,” he said.

And this time around, there are no reserves. Because the last two harvests have been lean ones.

“There’s nothing in the inventory pipeline to supply our customer bases,” LaCross said.

Getting creative with the few cherries available

So that means LaCross is going to have to import cherries for the first time in order to keep his customers.

“We are trying to be creative to how we can stretch what little of a crop there is out there,” he said.

And LaCross isn’t alone.

In Traverse City shoppers are tasting the 15 dozen cherry products sold at Cherry Republic. Here you can find chocolate covered cherries, cherry peanut butter and cherry salsa to name a few.

Owner, Bob Sutherland said he is creating new products this year to stretch the few cherries available by mixing more cranberries, nuts and chocolate into the company’s treats.  

“For the first time we have a truce with cranberries. And the war with cranberries is on a one year off,” Sutherland said.

And like LaCross, Cherry Republic will also be importing cherries for the first time in the business’ history.

“Our first choice is Michigan but I want to keep my bakers baking, my jammers jamming and our driers going so we do need to source cherries wherever we can,” Sutherland said.

That means when people start seeing cherry products from Michigan companies this year, a lot of those cherries will be coming from places like Poland and Turkey.

What's next for cherry growers

But back on Leelanau peninsula, cherry farmer Ben LaCross is hopeful there will be a good harvest next cherry season.

“There’s an old saying in farming that, ‘we’ve had two good years in the cherry business, 1991 and next year.’ So we can’t wait for next year at this point,” he said.

The government is working on ways to help farmers like LaCross. Low interest loans are available to farmers this year and the federal Farm Bill could give growers more help, like adding crop insurance for boutique fruits like tart cherries.  In the meantime, farmers will hope Mother Nature will produce a fruitful crop next year.

Emily Fox- Michigan Radio Newsroom

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.

Michigan Sen. Stabenow: Stop the Asian Carp

  • Michigan Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow says we need to move quickly to stop the threat of the Asian Carp on the Great Lakes' eco-system. (Photo: Kate Gardner, Flickr)

By now, you’ve probably heard all about the Asian Carp.

The invasive species is making its way up the Mississippi River and there’s concern that if the fish are able to get into the Great Lakes that they could drastically change the waters’ eco-system.

Michigan Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow and Michigan Republican Congressman Dave Camp introduced the Stop the Asian Carp Act last year. The legislation required the Army Corps of Engineers to create a plan to permanently separate the Mississippi River and Lake Michigan.


Stopping the Carp

I spoke with Senator Stabenow this week and asked her where things stand with the Army Corps of Engineers’ plan. “The Army Corps of Engineers is working on a plan to give us specific recommendations on how to separate the waters… The problem is they say they won’t have this done until 2015. And, so, what we’re trying to do is push them to get this done much quicker,” Stabenow explains.

The Mississippi River: Not the only entry point for the Carp

A lot of attention has been paid to the Mississippi River as the main entry point where the Carp could get into the Great Lakes. But, Stabenow explains, “We also, now, are looking more broadly than just the Illinois River and the Mississippi River going into Lake Michigan. We’ve found that there have been some fish seen going across Indiana – in the Wabash River. At certain times, during the year, it connects to the Maumee River in Ohio and then actually goes into Lake Erie. And, so, this is a real challenge for us. There is, I believe, nineteen different tributaries and ways to get into the Great Lakes – that’s my biggest worry.”

Chicago shipping interests

Recently, we’ve been hearing more about the idea of permanently separating the waterways rather than a temporary solution. “I believe that we ought to be closing the [Chicago] locks until we get to a permanent solution. But, there is a lot of pushback from Illinois and Chicago,” Stabenow says. Those who work in commercial shipping in Chicago are against the idea of closing the locks. They say it would hurt their multi-million dollar business interests. “Personally, I’d say the other side’s interests are – not that we don’t respect them – but they’re small in terms of economic impact compared to what could happen having the fish go into the Great Lakes.

How to pay for it?

A question remains regarding closure of the waterways: who would pay for a permanent solution?  

“No one knows exactly how much it would cost to shut down the Chicago shipping canals and replace them with something else. But, the price-tag would be big, it could run into the billions of dollars, “Rick Pluta, Lansing Bureau Chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network explains.

Michigan Republican Congressman Dave Camp, Chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee told Pluta, “I think there’s enough money certainly in the Great Lakes Restoration Fund that we could use to help with that problem.”

As Pluta explains, the Great Lakes Restoration Fund is used for, “Great Lakes cleanup, dredging and pollution prevention. Camp’s idea could divert funding from those purposes. But, environmentalist groups say restoring a physical separation of the two water systems, and eliminating the danger of non-native species back and forth between them, just might be worth it."

How Green Is Your Governor?

  • The Michigan League of Conservation Voters gives Governor Snyder a B- to C+.

Rick Snyder was the first Republican running for governor to be endorsed by the Michigan League of Conservation Voters (MLCV), a lobbying group that advocates for conservational and environmental laws and protection.


The MLCV has been tracking Governor Snyder’s position on environmental issues through the “How Green is your Governor” scorecard, an online evaluation that rates the administration’s environmental policy decision – green is good, red is bad, and yellow is neutral.

Michigan Radio's Zoe Clark spoke with Lisa Wozniak, Executive Director of the MLCV, about how Governor Sndyer measures up after his first year in office.

After endorsing their first Republican governor, the league decided to keep track of the administration’s environmental position. “On balance, he’s following through on some of the promises he’s made,” says Wozniak.

Notably, on December 1st Governor Snyder vetoed a bill that would have blocked state environmental regulations stricter than those at the federal level. “If we’re held to the federal law as it pertains to the Great Lakes, frankly we won’t be issuing the kinds of protections that we really need…and [Governor Snyder] knew that this was something he couldn’t let happen. So he issued his first veto, and we’re thrilled,” Wozniak says.

One disappointment for the MLVC was the administration’s support, throughout the year, of coal-fired power plants. “Coal is a very dirty energy source. What goes up comes right back down. We have mercury warnings on every single one of our lakes and streams in the state. And we happen to think that our state deserves to move in a better, clean energy direction,” says Wozniak.

Overall, Wozniak gives Governor Snyder a passing grade. “Comparing this governor to the other candidates in the field, I have to say that Governor Snyder is following his commitment to protect the Great Lakes through his veto…those kind of small but very important steps are the means that we have to protect our Pure Michigan.”

You can learn more about the MLCV’s “How Green is your Governor” scorecard at

Checking in With the Department of Environmental Quality

  • Dan Wyant, 51, is the Director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. He was appointed by Governor Rick Snyder.

As the year winds down, we’re spending some time this week on The Environment Report taking a look at the state of our environment. On Thursday, we’ll hear from the Michigan League of Conservation Voters on just how well they think Governor Snyder has been protecting Michigan’s natural resources. But, first, today, we speak with the man whose job it is to keep your environment healthy. That would be Dan Wyant, Director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.


Cutting the DEQ’s Budget

I first asked Wyant about his department’s budget. It’s been cut and cut over the past decade; just this year alone it saw a 15 percent cut. The cuts do have an impact, says Wyant, but, “it’s forced [the department] to prioritize… think about what we want to accomplish. So, we’re focused around air quality and water quality and public health… and I think we can say, with some confidence, that we are seeing more environmental stewardship, not less.”

Economic Development

Governor Snyder has said one of the goals for the DEQ is for the department to be a part of Michigan’s economic development. Both Snyder and Wyant believe the DEQ has a role in the state’s recovery. “We know that it’s our role to ensure good environmental stewardship – that’s why we were created and that’s our job,” notes Wyant. But, he also says he thinks there are certain things the department can do to help businesses grow in the state. “We want to be recognizing permit timing so that businesses can get timely decisions and… we’re looking at old and antiquated, duplicates of regulation… and we want to address culture. We want to be a department of problem solvers. It doesn’t mean that we don’t wear the black hats and that we don’t have to tell people they can’t do things… but we really want to be a full partner with those that do business,” Wyant says.

Working with Lawmakers

Director Wyant was appointed by Republican Governor Snyder but he, also, works closely with the state legislature.  The GOP majorities in both the state House and Senate sometimes disagree with both Wyant and Snyder about certain environmental issues.  One such issue is wetlands protection. Wyant says he and the Governor will continue to push the legislature to keep the wetlands program. “The Snyder Administration and myself have been advocating very strongly to keep the program… We think the resource is really important for water quality, it’s very important for habitat and natural resources." And, he notes, he thinks he and the governor now have a majority of lawmakers believing that the program should be saved.

Looking to 2012

Wyant says the goal for 2012 will be focusing on one of the Governor’s favorite phrases, “Relentless Positive Action.” “We do that”, Wyant says, by, “encouraging more environmental stewardship – not less. We want to see Michigan’s economy recover – we think that’s good for the environment. And, lastly, the governor is very focused on customer service – our customers are the citizens of Michigan.”