Michigan Energy & Environment

IPR brings you the stories and sounds of nature Up North. Hear about our changing natural world, and the challenges northern Michigan faces with a growing economy and a fragile ecosystem.

Cass Road bridge still alive

Jan 22, 2015
Tom Carr

There may not be a “Bridge Out Ahead” sign for Traverse City drivers after all. County commissioners have backed off from a proposal to pull funding for a replacement to a Cass Road bridge.

The run-down, one-lane crossing is to be taken out when a connected dam is demolished next year. Some commissioners feel it is not worth the expense to replace, believing what is needed is a larger bridge just to the north.

Residents of northern Michigan got a surprise last summer. They found out some drilling for oil and gas can be done confidentially. That unnerved some people in Emmet County, who now want their local government to do something about it.

Spring came early in Michigan three years ago — very early — and fruit crops were later wiped out by frost. That has some researchers in Lansing asking if there's a way to delay the spring bloom in a warm year.

It's no secret what cause a cherry or apple blossom to come out in the spring — warmth. So if you want to slow down that process you just spray cold water on the tree.

Our environment laws in Michigan have become sharply more partisan in the past 14 years.

Deal would lower electricity rates in the Upper Peninsula

Jan 14, 2015
user: adamshoop / Flicker

Governor Rick Snyder has announced a preliminary agreement that would lower electricity rates in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

Rates have jumped in the Upper Peninsula to subsidize an aging coal-fired power plant in Presque Isle, which lost its largest paying customer – a mining company.

The Michigan Historical Museum has a new collection of forestry artifacts from the early 1900s. The items belonged to Marcus Schaaf, an early pioneer in the reforestation of northern Michigan. The collection includes field instruments Schaaf used, like an old wooden dial compass and a 66-foot metal surveyor’s tape.

Ken Pott is field historian for the Michigan Department of Resources. IPR’s Aaron Selbig asked Pott about Marcus Schaaf’s place in Michigan history.

Oil and gas exploration could pick up near Traverse City and Manistee this year. Late last year, a company based in Colorado called Wyotex Drilling Ventures applied for permits to drill five wells in Manistee and Grand Traverse Counties.

It’s a small sign of life for an industry that has been on the decline in northern Michigan. If approved, the wells will be drilled into a formation called the A-1 Carbonate. That layer of the earth has produced a modest amount of oil and gas in Michigan. It’s been drilled in various parts of the state for more than 30 years.

Grayling Fish Hatchery

A federal business loan will help a trout farm expand production in Grayling. The development loan approved by the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce is for $210,000.

There will be no trial over a flash flood two years ago near Traverse City that happened as a dam along the Boardman River was being removed.

 

In October 2012, the deluge swamped homes, cottages and private bridges -- forcing mandatory evacuations and road closures. 

 

Thirteen property owners sued the contractors -- and local governments. At one time, they were said to be asking $6 million. Non-disclosure agreements were signed in some cases as part if the settlement.

 

Larry McGahey / USFWS Headquarters

State wildlife officials say they’re disappointed in a court decision that restores federal endangered species protections to the gray wolf in Michigan and other Great Lakes states.

A federal judge ruled Friday that the wolf was improperly removed from the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s endangered species list. State wildlife officials say the decision not only blocks future wolf hunt seasons in Michigan, it denies farmers and dog owners the ability to kill wolves that threaten pets and livestock.

Our climate is already changing in the Great Lakes region. And people who manage our cities are finding ways to adapt.

“We’re seeing changes in our precipitation patterns; we’re seeing more extreme precipitation events, " says Beth Gibbons, the director of the University of Michigan’s Climate Center. Her group has released a new online tool for cities in the region. 

The city of St. Louis, Michigan would much rather be talked about as the geographic center of the Lower Peninsula.

Instead, there's a lot of focus on the legacy of pollution here.

The story of Velsicol Chemical in St. Louis, Michigan is quite complicated. 

This week, we’ve told you about efforts to clean up the old Velsicol Chemical plant. There’s a threat to the local drinking water supply after the first attempt to clean up the plant failed. Birds still die from DDT, decades after the plant stopped producing it.

But we haven't told you who's paying to fix it.


There are a lot of former industrial sites in Michigan that need to be cleaned up, but the Velsicol Superfund sites in St. Louis, Michigan are unusual in their size and in the amount of nasty chemicals lurking in the ground where people live, work and play.

The company tried to contain the pollution before, but its solution didn’t work. Ask some of the community members about that original plan and they say they could have told you it wasn’t going to work.

'Pinhole' gas leak found on Enbridge's Line 5

Dec 16, 2014
David Cassleman

The company running oil through the Straits of Mackinac says it found a gas leak in another part of the same pipeline.

Last week, Enbridge discovered what it calls a “pinhole” defect in Line 5, near Manistique in the Upper Peninsula.

All this week we're bringing you stories about the chemical company responsible for the PBB tragedy in Michigan. Michigan Chemical accidentally contaminated the state’s food supply in the 1970s, but the legacy of that company is still very much with us today.

Michigan Chemical – which later became Velsicol Chemical – made more than just PBB, and it left these toxic chemicals behind in St. Louis, Michigan.

One woman insists something is wrong with the birds

    

More than 40 years ago, Michigan’s food supply was contaminated. People’s health is being affected, even now.

All this week, we’re looking at the ripple effects left behind by the company that made that tragic mistake.

In 1973, the Michigan Chemical Corporation shipped a toxic flame retardant chemical to a livestock feed plant instead of a nutritional supplement. The chemical is called polybrominated biphenyl, or PBB. It took about a year to discover the accident. 

Legislation to protect wind farms from lawsuits appears likely to die in the lame duck session.

The legislation proposed by Republican state Senator Howard Walker would make it harder for neighbors to sue if wind turbines are noisy. Critics say it’s a favor for one company based in Traverse City.

Wind farms have popped up across the state since Michigan passed a new law encouraging them in 2008. Sometimes neighbors say the noise of the turbines causes headaches and interrupts sleep. In a few cases, homeowners have sued.

A plan to increase the cost of electricity in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula has been delayed. The rate increase would have taken effect today, but federal regulators have raised questions about its fairness.

The plan would raise rates 20% to 30% for residents and businesses across the UP. In total, the region of about 310,000 people would have to come up with more than $100 million over the next year.

A two-year investigation of illegal fishing in the Great Lakes led to raids on businesses in Charlevoix and Beaver Island earlier this month. The raids were part of an undercover operation. It involved creating a fake business in the Upper Peninsula to buy and sell fish. Federal agents involved claim the business made 550 sales and 400 involved fish taken illegally by commercial fishers.

Stream quality 'average' in Grand Traverse Bay watershed

Nov 19, 2014
David Cassleman

One out of five rivers in the Grand Traverse Bay watershed has poor water quality.

That’s according to new data from the Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay.

Stefan Tucker made a head-turning discovery when doing research for his senior undergrad thesis in the St. Mary’s River. Instead of finding the sturgeon he was looking for he found wild Atlantic salmon. Previously, the species was believed not to be reproducing in the upper Great Lakes. Tucker explained to us just what this discovery means and what questions it has now raised about the salmon’s presence in the Great Lakes.

The cost of electricity could jump dramatically next month in the Upper Peninsula.

Residents there might have to start paying to keep a coal plant open that isn't entirely needed anymore. The increase will be a harsh blow to a region that struggles economically.

Brimley is a little town at the end of the road on Lake Superior’s south shore. There’s a bar, a casino and a couple motels. Brimley State Park draws campers here in the summer and into Ron Holden’s IGA grocery store.

"Basically the six weeks of summer pay for the rest of the year’s bills, " he says. On the wall of the IGA are deer heads, a black bear rug, and a flag that says, ‘American by choice, Yooper by da grace of God.’

But being a Yooper might cost more starting December 1. Holden expects his store’s electric bill will be $700 a month higher and he has no idea where he’ll get that money.

DEQ says Mesick compost pile is 'vastly improved'

Nov 3, 2014

State inspectors say a commercial compost site in Mesick is in much better shape than what they saw in July.

DEQ’s Jim Staley, a geo-environmental engineer, was at the site a few days ago and said he didn't see a single vulture or crow. That compares to last July when dozens of vultures and crows soared above the pile and stinky odors drifted into neighboring homes.

"It's vastly improved," he said. “Right at the pile, you could still smell it, but it was nowhere near what it was in July."

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Michigan voters will get to weigh in on two laws that allowed wolf hunting in the Upper Peninsula. The Humane Society just started airing ads aimed at persuading voters in the closing days of the campaign season. But whether people vote “yes” or “no” on wolf hunting, the two ballot questions are not the final word on the issue.

That’s because the ballot campaign on its own will not determine the future of wolf hunting in Michigan.

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