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.

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.

State regulators sent a violation notice this week to the company managing construction of a new Meijer store in Acme Township near Traverse City. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality says silt runoff from the 160-acre site is spilling into a nearby creek and Grand Traverse Bay.

Brian Jankowski runs the Water Resource Division in the DEQ’s Cadillac office. He says there are no plans at this time to seek a fine against the company.

There are plenty of questions about how we’ll generate electricity in the U.S. in the next century. But the problem is particularly pressing in the Upper Peninsula. The owners of the Presque Isle power plant in Marquette are ready to close it. The agency that regulates the energy grid won’t allow that, and residents of the UP are paying millions of dollars to keep it running.

The National Park Service is ready to build a new hiking trail in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

The Kettles Trail will be on a piece of parkland that is inland a number of miles—near Maple City—and not connected to the rest of the lakeshore.

Why Are The Great Lakes On The Rise?

Oct 20, 2014

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Eric Carlson / Leelanau Enterprise

In 2012, State Representative Ray Franz said he believed global climate change was a “hoax.” When asked about the issue at the same debate Thursday, Franz responded firmly with the word “still" -- and drew some applause in the Glen Arbor Township Hall.

When it was pointed out that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had been awarded the Nobel Prize for its work on the issue, Franz shot back, saying concern about climate change is a first step toward global governance.

Stench angers neighbors of new business near Mesick

Oct 9, 2014

The owners of a large compost pile near Mesick promised to move their commercial composting pile after meeting with irate neighbors on Saturday.

The compost pile is a relatively new operation. Opened early this summer, Northern Composting accepts food waste from Traverse City restaurants, the National Cherry Festival, fast food restaurants and a number of other sources.            

A lot of us are curious about the oil pipeline running through the Straits of Mackinac.

Lakes Michigan and Huron have recovered after more than a decade of low water levels.

Government scientists say the lakes rose above their historic average this month.

Just two years ago, the water was at the lowest level ever recorded.

The quick recovery has stifled an effort to engineer a solution to the problem of low lake levels in Huron and Michigan.

But proponents say it would be shortsighted to forget about the issue.

Next Boardman dam removal approaches

Sep 26, 2014
Tom Carr

The second of three Boardman River dams will likely be removed next year. As those plans move forward, some residents fear a replay of 2012.

A malfunction during the first dam removal caused a flood that swamped homes and cabins. Engineers say a repeat is highly unlikely.

At the same time, a lawsuit sparked by the flood is still moving forward.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

The water in Lakes Michigan and Huron has risen above its historic average. That ends an unusually long period of low water in the two lakes that began in the late 1990s.

Drew Gronewald is a scientist at the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory. He says historically the lakes would rise and fall over periods of five years or less.

But around 1997, the lakes dropped a few feet and didn't recover. Gronewald says that trend will come to an end this month.

A leading producer of natural gas in Michigan is pulling out. Encana is a Canadian company that spearheaded a recent boom in drilling for shale gas in the state.

Encana has drilled most of the wells in Michigan using the method known in the industry as horizontal hydraulic fracturing. It is sometimes referred to as fracking.

These wells are expensive--millions of dollars per well, rather than hundreds of thousands for conventional wells--use huge volumes of water and tap into natural gas deposits at depths that were not explored here until 2010.

David Cassleman

An oil pipeline spanning the Straits of Mackinac continues to cause concern among many groups in Michigan.

Enbridge’s Line 5 is more than 60-years-old – and critics say it needs to be replaced or removed.

Now environmental leaders are worried the pipeline could one day carry heavy crude oils – like tar sands – into the Great Lakes region.

That's a future they want to avoid.

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