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. “

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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.

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.

Western Wind Farms & Urban Farming in Detroit

  • Wind turbine near Pigeon, Michigan (Flickr photo by user ~jettagirl~).

There’s been a lot of talk in West Michigan lately about how wind power could boost the region’s economy. As Lindsey Smith reports, the area could be home to several potential wind projects:


There’s been a lot of talk in West Michigan lately about how wind power could boost the region’s economy. As Lindsey Smith reports, the area could be home to several potential wind projects.

About 60 people gather at an auditorium in Saugatuck – a tourist town on the Lake Michigan shore. Farmers, business owners, and residents want to learn more about the wind farms that could begin to pop up in the region both on and offshore. These are large scale wind farms with industrial turbines that would tower 300 to 400 feet tall.

Mike Obrien has worked for companies looking to build offshore in the Great Lakes. For years he’s been trying to convince governments, businesses and residents that Michigan’s manufacturing base is perfect for the wind power industry:

“We ought to own this. We ought to own it in the Great Lakes because we can ship this stuff by water much more effectively than we can by trucks and rails. So we ought to own that. And we ought to put people back to work. It’s not the only reason we should do wind, but it’s a hell of an important one.”

But there are still a lot of people like Michael Johnson who don’t feel that way. Johnson lives and owns businesses in Saugatuck:

“I don’t think anybody would argue with you that we need this renewable energy. The only problem is I don’t want it in my backyard.”

Ann Erhardt is with the West Michigan Environmental Action Council. She admits getting people to think regionally about energy has been a struggle:

“There’s those governmental borders and entities not wanting to work together. You know, ‘this is my pond and that’s your pond, keep your fish over there.’”

Erhardt says people and governments have to be more open to work together to bring wind farms to the region. Otherwise, she warns the jobs and economic investments won’t come.

Right now, the city of Holland is testing wind conditions at a potential site in Allegan County. Muskegon County has already tested land it owns and is now taking proposals for a wind farm there.

As for any offshore wind farms… those are likely a long way off because Michigan lawmakers still have to approve regulations for them.

For nearly two years, entrepreneur John Hantz has been working to turn a blighted swath of Detroit into what he calls “the world’s largest urban farm.”

But as Sarah Cwiek reports…the project’s been slow to get off the ground, which shows Detroit’s mixed feelings about the project…and the whole idea of city farming:

City officials have just approved a deal to let Hantz Farms buy 20 city lots—about five acres—adjacent to their headquarters.

The company plans to clean up the land and create some small orchards. There are some pretty big catches, though. For starters, they can’t sell anything they grow there.

Also, large-scale farming would require re-zoning for agriculture. That brings the Michigan Right to Farm Act into play.

That law is meant to protect farmers from people who complain about the sounds and smells of regular farming. But some people worry it would give Hantz Farms’ neighbors little recourse if there are problems.

Then there’s Mayor Dave Bing’s effort to create a master land use plan for Detroit. Until that’s finalized…the city is being tight-fisted about its vacant land.

And then, there’s fairly widespread skepticism about the idea of large-scale urban farming. Councilman Kwame Kenayatta is one of the skeptics.

“I understand that we got a lot of land. And some of that land can be used as greenspace, that’s true. But this whole idea of turning vacant Detroit into an urban farm is not necessarily one that I have bought into.”

Hantz Farms hails the land acquisition as “a milestone.” They also say it’s “just the beginning.”

Greenovation: A Hot Roof and a Cool Attic

  • Ann Arbor based Meadowlark Energy sprays foam onto Matt's attic ceiling creating a "hot roof" which ironically keeps the attic much cooler in the summer. (Photo by Matt Grocoff of

What happens if you seal up the leaks in your house… add a bunch of insulation… and then find out it’s too tight?

For a while now, we’ve been telling you about an attempt to make a 110-year old house in Michigan the oldest net-zero home in America. Net-zero means it uses no more energy than it produces. Lester Graham has the latest installment in our ongoing story.

A site where you can find an authorized energy auditor for your home

Matt Grocoff’s website, Greenovation TV

Tips on adding attic insulation from Energy Star

A Greenovation Story: New Storm Windows

A Greenovation Story: Fixing Old Windows

A Greenovation story: Spray Foam Your Home


Matt Grocoff is getting close to his goal. He’s been sealing up his drafty old house, restoring and tightening the windows, insulating everywhere possible. But he’s got to make a change. The house is so tight, he now needs an air exchanger to get some fresh air circulating, otherwise, the air would get too stale – too much CO2 and not enough oxygen.

He kinda knew eventually he’d have to have one, but wasn’t exactly sure what kind or where he’d have to put it. It turns out the attic is going to be the best space because of easy access to return air ducts. Since this project is all about energy efficiency, the air exchanger is a fancy energy-saving unit. We’ll talk about it more in our next report.

But first the attic has to be insulated at the roofline.

I’ve climbed up a stepladder to lift myself into the attic and peek at what’s going on. A guy in a hazmat-like suit and filter mask is spraying insulation foam on the underside of the roof.

If you think of the attic as the triangle shape at the top of the house… you’d usually insulate the bottom of the triangle to keep the rooms below warm. But, because of the new equipment Matt will be installing… the angled sides of the triangle need to be insulated. This is called a ‘hot roof.’

Doug Selby is with Meadowlark Energy. He’s the contractor for this job.

DS: “With a ‘hot roof,’ what we’re able to do is to insulate the actual roofline itself. So, it creates a conditioned space in the attic and what that does for us is seal a lot of the places where a house leaks naturally and it also creates a space where we can run our mechanicals without fear of losing a lot of that energy to the atmosphere.”

We’ll get to why that’s important in our next report on the energy efficient air exchanger that they’re installing.

But for now… let’s just say… it’s kinda cool to see this sticky foam sprayed on the underside of the roof… expand for a bit… and then harden into a sort of styrofoam that’s sealed every nook and cranny. Matt Grocoff says this is easier than it might sound.

MG: “You’re right, we’re spraying it into the rafters rather than laying the stuff onto the floor. And if you look for Greenovation TV on our Facebook page, you’ll be able to see some photographs that we’ve got up there and you’ll be able to see exactly how this stuff is installed and sprayed in and what it looks like when you’re done.”

It’s making a whole new usable space out of an attic that was not usable for much of anything.

Matt can finish it off with drywall, paint it, and then put down a floor. Voila! New space.

MG: “Well, that’s one of the cool things, is that we’re kind of fantasizing now about what we’re going to do with this extra space. And what we think we’d like to do is just have this little cozy space, we’ll put a little pull down ladder up in the attic and have a little yoga space or a little place with some cushions where we can read and stuff like that. And just make it a really cozy, quiet getaway up there in the attic that will be conditioned.”

LG: Matt Grocoff the Greenovation-dot-TV guy, doing yoga in his attic. Alright, thanks, Matt.

“My wife is the real yoga expert.”

We’ll look at the new air exchanger the Grocoffs will install in a small part of that attic space… next Tuesday on the Environment Report. I’m Lester Graham.

If you’re wondering how to make your house more energy efficient…. Matt recommends first getting an energy audit to find out where the leaks are in your house. You can find out how to do that and you can catch up on Matt’s adventures on our website: environment report dot org. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Mixed Feelings About Drilling for Natural Gas

  • Natural gas drilling rig in Wyoming (Photo courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management).

By now, you may have heard that Northern Michigan is poised for a boom in natural gas production. Developers have paid a record amount of bonuses for drilling rights on state and private land. At first, property owners focused on what is fair payment, but, as Bob Allen reports, they’re now questioning how drilling will affect their land and water.


It’s mostly large landowners, especially farmers, who’ve been approached to lease their mineral rights. Ed Krupka grew up on this 80 acre farm in Leelanau County, and he’s weighing the pros and cons of the leasing offers he’s received.

“I have four contracts sitting on my office desk right now. All look very similar.”

If a gas well were to be drilled on his land, he says, it would mean scraping away the topsoil and removing fruit trees from about seven acres, but aside from loss of productive land he’s also worried about his water.

Drillers will use a technique called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to get at natural gas trapped in tight rock formations as much as two miles down.

Fracking pumps millions of gallons of fluid into a well under high pressure to force open the rock and capture more of the gas.

Drillers say they take numerous precautions to protect drinking water, but for the last couple of years, stories have emerged about erupting gas wells, contaminated water and people and animals getting sick.

Ed Krupka says an article in Vanity Fair magazine about a family in Pennsylvania got his attention.

“Their drinking water turned brown. Their daughter started feeling nauseous after showers. And it just makes you wonder, you want some guarantees or you want to know as much information about what they’re going to do on your land as you possibly can.”

People in the oil and gas industry say none of those things are likely to happen in Michigan. Darel Willison is with Superior Well Services in Gaylord. He was in charge of the frack job for the first well in Michigan drilled to what’s called the Collingwood Shale formation, and he told a meeting of landowners these gas wells are so deep that the fracking fluid cannot make its way back up through layers of rock to contaminate drinking water.

“It’s an impossibility people. Too many rocks in there. The frack job down here in the Collingswood will never reach the fresh water zones. Cannot happen.”

That reassures some landowners who prefer to stress the positives of a potential new gas play.

Glen La Cross says it will create more jobs and economic activity at a time when that’s sorely needed. He owns Leelanau Fruit, a company that processes cherries and apples near Suttons Bay.

“I am 100% supportive of it. The hydraulic fracturing I think is being blown up quite a bit. I think that until it’s proven this is doing some damage I think we have to be positive and move forward and explore these resources.”

If this new gas play takes off and pays big, the extra revenue could help some older farmers keep their land instead of selling it off to pay for their retirement.

Ed Krupka likes that possibility, but he still worries about the impacts not just from drilling new wells but from the pipelines and processing plants and waste disposal that also goes with it, and he recognizes that the region’s economy, and not just the farm economy, depends on clean fresh water.

“We live here in the middle of water, and you can’t do too much without affecting the water here.”
Bob Allen, The Environment Report.
Rebecca Williams: By the way, leases for drilling on state land will be going up on the auction block at the end of October. The spring auction brought in a record amount of money.

A Gold Rush for Natural Gas

  • If land leases are any indication, Michigan will be seeing a lot of these things dotting the landscape. A horizontal drilling rig in Appalachia. (Creative Commons photo by user Meridithw)

Michigan is getting ready for a potential new boom in drilling for natural gas, and some people say: what’s not to love? It’s home grown fuel. It can mean new jobs. It’s much cleaner burning and emits less carbon dioxide than coal or oil.

Listen to a Michigan Watch series on natural gas drilling

An investigative series by ProPublica

The EPA’s fracking page


Doug Houck is a spokesman for EnCana Corporation. That’s a Canadian company that’s been exploring for gas in Michigan.

“You know, natural gas is the cleanest burning fossil fuel we have, it’s very plentiful. Natural gas is going to be a key part of our energy portfolio for many, many years to come.”

Okay, so he’s a gas guy… so you’d expect him to be talking it up. But a lot of scientists and even some environmentalists agree with him.

Hugh McDiarmid is with the Michigan Environmental Council.

“There are lots of benefits to this in terms of using homegrown energy that we extract and you know, natural gas is a less polluting fuel than some of the traditional fossil fuels.”

But he’s watching this latest buzz around natural gas with some caution. We’ve been drilling for gas at shallow levels in Michigan for 80 years… but there’s a new game in town.

It’s because of gas reserves that have been discovered much farther down. The gas is trapped in tight shale rock formations. To get to the gas, drillers use something called horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or fracking for short.

Horizontal fracking pumps millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals into a well under high pressure to force open the rock and extract the gas.

Hugh McDiarmid says he’s worried about that.

“It’s going to use a lot more water, it’s going to require the transport of a lot more dangerous chemicals. And a lot of these endeavors are exempt from a lot of the pollution laws other industries have to follow.”

Gas companies don’t have to tell us the exact chemicals they’re pumping into the wells. The Environmental Protection Agency is trying to get that information. Officials are asking the companies to just tell them, voluntarily.

And even the EPA doesn’t know what the risks are to drinking water. It’s just now starting to study that.

Even with any risks, some experts say natural gas is the best way to go for energy security and jobs.

Terry Engelder is a professor of geosciences at Pennsylvania State University. He thinks drilling for these new gas reserves deep underground is worth it. But he says the industry needs to do more to reassure the public.

“What we need is a situation where industry understands the public has zero tolerance for pollution, particularly water pollution. This is a heavy industry that will have an effect.”

So he says if you decide to lease your land for gas drilling… you’re going to notice it. Some trees will be cleared from your land and there will be a lot of noise and truck traffic.

And some people say although natural gas IS cleaner than coal or oil… it’s still a fossil fuel. So we’re still burning a fuel that’s releasing carbon dioxide… and adding to the global warming problem.

Cyndi Roper is the Michigan Director of the group Clean Water Action. She says she’d like the U-S to get off fossil fuels. But she’s not completely against using natural gas as a bridge away from coal and oil… moving toward more wind and solar power.

“So we’re willing to look at this as a part of a plan for moving away from the dependence. In order to do that we want to make sure it’s safe and we are not putting these communities and the people in jeopardy.”

State officials say we’re ready for this new kind of drilling… and it can be done safely.

But Cyndi Roper says before a drilling boom happens… she wants to make sure the regulations that are in place will be strong enough.

On Thursday, we’ll hear from landowners in Northern Michigan who have mixed feelings about gas drilling.

Greenovation: Solar Panels Hit Some Red Tape

  • An artists rendering of the solar panels to be installed on Matt Grocoff's historic home. Matt is working to make his home the oldest net-zero-energy house in America, but he had to get by the historic district first. (Image courtesy of Matt Grocoff)

We’ve been following Greenovation TV’s Matt Grocoff recently in his attempt to make his home the oldest net-zero-energy house in America. That means the house would use no more energy that it produces. Reporter Lester Graham found out that Matt recently faced a big hurdle.

National Trust for Historic Preservation’s position statement on solar

American Solar Energy Society

More from the Greenovation Series


Matt Grocoff already has done a lot to make his home energy efficient. He’s insulated, tightened, and installed really efficient heating and cooling in his 110 year old house in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Having reduced his energy use, he was ready to start installing a way to produce energy: solar panels.

But Matt faced an obstacle. His home is in a historic district. Before he could install solar panels, he had to get permission from the historic district commission.

Historic district commissions across the country have really balked at solar panels on the roof. Generally, they frown on modern elements that can be seen from the street. Matt wated to cover almost all of his south-facing roof with solar panels, and yes, they would be visible from the street.

He did his homework and sent detailed drawings and illustrations to the commission. Got the least obtrusive (and more expensive) kind of solar panels, and got the historic district’s attention. Lisa Rozmarek was the first commissioner to speak:

“It’s good for the environment. It’s good for our city. And I think we should promote sustainable building practices within our historic districts. It’s the only way we can move forward into the future instead of being accused of staying in the past.”

When Matt go up to testify, it was looking pretty good. He knew the commissioners were concerned about how it would look, but they seemed open to the idea of allowing renewable energy installations:

“And I’m really excited because not every historic commission has been this progressive. There have been some cases where historic commissions have demanded that someone remove a $60,000 system from the roof.”

The commissioners had some pretty good questions about different types of solar panels and their appearances and Matt had brought along the solar panel sales guy to handle some of those questions.

After the vote, the solar panels were approved. I caught Darren Griffith with Mechanical Energy Systems in the hall and asked are all historic district commissions were that receptive:

“I think as more commissions around the country realize that the energy savings really add money to preserve more structures, I think you’ll begin to see change loosening a little bit from some of the commissions.”

That might be a little optimistic, but the homeowner, Matt Grocoff, was pretty happy boy.

He thinks one of the things that worked in his favor was this: some homeowners want to put up the solar panels first, before they do what they can to make the home energy efficient, like fixing windows, adding insulation. The want what Matt calls “green bling.” Putting up those solar panels as a statement, letting everyone see they’re green. Matt says you have to reduce your energy consumption first:

“Reduce, reduce, and then produce.”

Lester Graham: “I think one of the key elements for them wasn’t so much the aesthetics or the appearance, but the fact that you weren’t going to be doing any permanent damage to the structure.”

Matt Grocoff:“And yet there’s a lot of historic districts throughout the country now who are actually denying people permits to put solar on the roof when you can see it from the street even though it’s not a permanent part of the structure and I think it’s a really bad way to go. And it’s a great thing here in Ann Arbor that we’ve got this very, very progressive commission that’s moving forward. And frankly, I think they’re going to be setting an example for the rest of the country on this.

Lester Graham, The Environment Report.

Emotions Run High Over Dam Removal Questions

  • The Argo Dam was first built as a hydroelectric dam in 1914. Detroit Edison decided it wasn't worth the investment and sold it to Ann Arbor in 1963. (Photo by Mark Brush)

There are close to two hundred hydroelectric dams in Michigan, and almost half of those stopped making power a long time ago. Many of these dams are getting old and they need attention. The communities that own these dams are faced with a decision: pay to fix them, or pay to take them down. As Mark Brush reports it’s a decision that often stirs people’s emotions.

Map of Hydroelectric Dams in Michigan (pdf)

The Ann Arbor Chronicle on Argo Dam

The City of Ann Arbor on Argo Dam

More about Rowing on Argo Pond (pdf)

“Why remove Argo Dam?” from the HRWC

“The Ballad of Argo Dam” by Dave Barrett


(Sound of Argo Dam)

The controversy around Argo Dam in Ann Arbor started when the State’s Dam Safety Program said there were problems were with the embankment next to the dam. The repair costs were estimated to be up to $300,000.

Laura Rubin is standing next to the dam on the Huron River. Rubin is the executive director of the Huron River Watershed Council, and she wants to take this dam out. She says taking the dam out would save the city money in the long run. She says it will also return the river to a more natural state, and would be better for fish and wildlife. Rubin says when she looks at the pond made by the dam, she doesn’t see good things.

“When I look at Argo Pond I see really a stinky, stagnant, non-oxygenated pond. It’s not really functioning. Other people look at it as, you know, this beautiful pond that they go down to. And it’s really, that’s just one of perspective, and sort of your background and your training.”

The people who like the dam accused Rubin and the Watershed Council of overhyping the problems with the dam, and with Argo Pond. The people most outspoken were the members of a local rowing club.

Rubin and others in favor of taking the dam out said the rowers could find better places to row on the Huron River, and the city could pay for the move.

Mike Taft is a coach for the Huron High School rowing team. He and many of the other rowers said the other places just wouldn’t work.

“You know my kids grew up here and this is where we spent our time. So, you can find what you want on various stretches of this river, and this is a one of a kind the way it is.”

Some environmentalists accused the rowers of digging their heels in – of not considering other options. Taft feels that accusation is unfair.

“I think this is not about the rowers. I think it’s about the Watershed Council pursuing their absolute aim here, which is to take out this dam.”

People with the Watershed Council say they do want the dam out, but they say they respect the rowers concerns.

The city of Ann Arbor put together a committee to help them with the decision. They held meetings and heard from some experts. They came to agreement on a lot of other issues about the river, but on the Argo Dam they just couldn’t agree.

Steve Yaffee is an expert on ways to manage environmental conflicts. He’s written extensively about the Spotted Owl case out west and he facilitated some of the Argo Dam meetings. He says in hindsight, he felt like the process could have been better informed. He thought it would have helped to have outside experts weigh in on the questions about science and about the alternatives for rowers.

“Because I think the rowing interests weren’t convinced that there were environmental benefits. And the environmentalists weren’t convinced that there weren’t options for the rowers. And if you’re not convinced of that, why work with that.”

Yaffee says for communities facing these big controversies it’s important for all the parties to first sit down and talk broadly about what they want for their community. He says it’s also important to have some creative thinkers at the table. People who can articulate a vision for the future and can come up with solutions.

For now, the city is planning to keep the dam. If it does, taxpayers will probably have to pay close to half a million dollars in repair and maintenance costs in the next several years, and for many cities with tight budgets money is often what ultimately drives their final decision of whether or not to keep a dam.

For the Environment Report, I’m Mark Brush.

Oil Spilled While No One Reacted

  • Booms across the river to try to contain the spill. Governor Granholm has called the cleanup efforts inadequate. (Photo by Steve Carmody)

One of the biggest oil spills ever in the Midwest.
An underground pipeline that carries crude oil from Indiana to Ontario sprung a leak earlier this week. The EPA estimates more than 1 million gallons of oil have spilled into a creek near Marshall, Michigan. Now oil has flowed into the Kalamazoo River.

Government warns Enbridge of potential problems
A Pattern: another Enbridge pipeline spills oil
Background on the company


Officials are hoping to stop the oil before it gets into Morrow Lake, which is about 60 miles from Lake Michigan.

(UPDATE 6:15pm – 7/29/10: The EPA and Enbridge say the oil has not reached Morrow Lake. Several dozen homes in the area are being evacuated)

Here’s Police Captain Tom Sands. He did a flyover Wednesday afternoon to assess the damage.

SANDS: Some of the oil has gone over the dam and it’s a very light sheen at that point, once the water mixes over the dam you see a little bit of sheen on the river.

GRANHOLM: The situation is very serious.

That’s Governor Granholm. She says Enbridge Energy Partners, the Canadian company responsible for the leak, and the EPA had promised to send more resources to try to contain the spill.

GRANHOLM: And the new resources that have been provided so far are wholly inadequate.

Health officials say the area where the spill occurred is highly toxic. They want people to stay away from the river. That means no boating, no fishing, no swimming.
When I drove to Marshall yesterday, I could smell the oil from the highway. Basically everywhere you go in Marshall you can smell the oil.
Kayla Nelson lives in Marshal and she says it’s bad.

NELSON: I’m kinda scared to drink the water but I’m not sure. I haven’t heard anything but I’m just kind scared myself to drink it.

EPA officials are testing the water to see if it’s safe to drink. A county official I talked to said if people are worried about it, they should not boil the water. Instead, he recommends drinking bottled water.

Michigan Radio’s Jennifer Guerra has also been following the story. So Jen, Enbridge has promised to not only pay for the cleanup but to cleanup everything. Is that really possible?

GUERRA: Well, I talked to Peter Adriaens, he’s a professor of environmental engineering at the University of Michigan, and he says no.

ADRIAENS: We cannot restore the site to exactly to what it was before any spill occurred. All we can remedy it as much as possible, minimize the exposure of wildlife and we can minimize health effects and we can try to contain it.

GUERRA: The official cause of the leak is unknown. Enbridge did shut down the pipeline, but there are questions as to when Enbridge knew about the leak and when they reported it to the authorities.

WILLIAMS: Right, residents like Debbie Trescott say they could smell oil on Sunday. She lives southwest of Marshall.

TRESCOTT: Sunday morning I came in to get groceries and it was about 9:30 in the morning, maybe 10 o’clock and I smelled this oil. This was just horrible, and as I almost got to A drive it was just a horrible smell and I knew then that something must be wrong.

WILLIAMS: So, Trescott smelled oil Sunday morning, but the energy company says they didn’t detect the spill until around 10:30 Monday morning.

GUERRA: Right, so now that the oil is there, we wondered what the long term effects are. I asked Peter Adriaens, he’s the professor at U of M, and he said one of the many chemicals in oil is benzene. It’s a neurotoxin, which is bad, so if you have a big oil spill like the one in the Kalmazoo River in the summer, that benzene can evaporate and gets into the air quickly.

ADRIAENS: Inhalation of high concentrations in the air is very toxic from neurological and a number of other perspectives.

GUERRA: Again, that’s a possible long term effect.

WILLIAMS: Thanks Jen

GUERRA: Thanks.

WILLIAMS: The smell is so bad in Marshall, that a lot of people near the spill site are relocating to hotels, but now all the hotels in the area are booked, so the Red Cross has set up a shelter for people who want to leave their homes. The energy company officials say they’ll have frequent updates, but last night they canceled a press conference two minutes before it was scheduled to begin.
That’s the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Greenovation: New Storm Windows

  • Matt Grocoff’s 110-year-old house was recently painted with eco-friendly paint and new storm windows cover refurbished wood windows. Grocoff is attempting to make his house the oldest net-zero energy home in America. (Photo by Lester Graham)

We’ve been following Matt Grocoff with Greenovation.TV as he tries to make his home the oldest net-zero energy house in America. Last time we talked to him, instead of replacing his windows, he was refurbishing the 110-year-old wood framed windows. Lester Graham checked to see just how well that worked.
More from Greenovation.TV
The Clean Energy Coalition
Repairing old windows


The old windows in Matt’s house were drafty, but he didn’t like the idea of all the resources, energy and cost that replacing the windows meant. He got some help and took them apart, got them working right, painted them, and sealed the window panes the gaps. Today is the big test.

(blower sound)

Nick Helmoholdt with with the Clean Energy Coalition. He’s conducting a blower door test to see whether the Grocoff house is any tighter.

LG: “What kind of improvement did just refurbishing the old windows do for the house?”

NH: “Roughly two-thirds the air infiltration was reduced.”

LG: “Is this typical when you see a house just replace the windows?”

NH: “I have never seen this before. I am very impressed with the amount of leakage that was reduced from this repair. This is really, really impressive.”

So a 66-percent reduction in air infiltration by just fixing up the old windows.
Matt Grocoff is pretty happy.

MG: “I think it’s a lot better than new windows because we’ve proven you can make these old windows way more energy efficient and for a lot less money.”
LG: “But that’s not today’s project. Today’s project is putting these storm windows on which, I have to say, really look nice.”

MG: “It looks great! The house looks amazing right now, and especially in a historic district, putting a good storm window on is accepted by a lot of historic associations. The big bang for the buck that we’re going to get out of these storm windows is the Low-E glass that we have and a little bit of thermal insulation by creating a secondary glazing. What that means is that we have almost the equivelent of a dual-pane window.”

LG: “You mentioned Low-E glass. What’s that and what does it do?”

MG: “Low-E stands for low emissivity and what that means is that Low-E glass is just an invisible coating that keeps the heat from coming into your house and heating it up like a greenhouse. I can show you right here. If you put your hand here, we’ve got just a single pane up right now.”

LG: “Yeah, I can feel the sunshine coming through.”

MG: “And you can feel the sill, and you switch this up, pull the sill down with the Low-E glass, you can feel almost instantly how much cooler it is. You don’t get that greenhouse heat coming through.”

LG: “Cool.”

MG: “The other cool benefit is that it filters out all the UV light so it prevents your furniture from getting bleached and everything. We’ve got that red sofa over there facing a south wall. So, we could use all the help we can to help our furniture from fading.”

I don’t know about you, but when I think about storm windows, I think of those old bare aluminum windows that just weren’t all that attractive. Those days are past. Bill Trapp with the George W. Trapp Company supplied these new windows… and he says they come in a lot of colors to match paint schemes.

BT: “And we have people from all over the country calling us right now, getting storm windows in grey and red and green and all these different colors. And also, there are different levels of storm windows as well and I like to think we make the tightest one out there.”
LG: “Well, I can’t verify that, but they did pass the ole Matt Grocoff test, so Matt that’s the windows. Thanks, and I’ll talk to you on your next project on the house.”

MG: “Thank you, Lester, and here’s to staying cool.”

That’s Matt Grocoff with Greenovation.TV. I’m Lester Graham with The Environment Report.