Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

More counties returning roads to gravel

Capital News Service

LANSING – As Michigan’s economy continues to crumble, so does its roads and some hard-pressed counties are grinding up asphalt rather than repaving them.

In 2009, that includes 2.5 miles of Fenwick Road, a 5-mile section of Lake Montcalm Road and a 1.7-mile section of McBrides Road all in Montcalm County according to the County Roads Association of Michigan (CRAM).

Montcalm County is one of 24 counties to decide to turn some roads to gravel. Over the past three years, the number of county road agencies returning paved roads to gravel has more than tripled.

At the same time, 79 of the 83 county road agencies have reduced maintenance, preservation or construction programs, CRAM said.

According to surveys, at least 100 miles of paved roads have been returned to gravel statewide, including about 35 miles in 2009 alone.

In 2010, half of Michigan’s county road agencies will face such decisions.

Monica Ware, the CRAM public relations specialist, said one aspect of deciding to turn roads to gravel is safety.

“If a road can be saved and safe for drivers to drive on, then we won’t gravel it,” Ware said.

Some residents want roads to stay paved but the state doesn’t have enough funding to keep repairing all roads, Ware said.

Gas taxes have declined, decreasing money for roads. Taxes for transportation are less due to better fuel consumption and less driving for commuters leaving less money for roads.

The price of road construction materials, such as steel, concrete and asphalt, has greatly increased. The price of salt has doubled.

In Kalamazoo County, the road commission isn’t looking to turn roads into gravel.

“It cost money to put roads to gravel, too,” said the general superintendent of the road commission, Travis Bartholomew.

Once roads go to gravel, maintenance continues, Bartholomew said. So to say it saves money isn’t entirely true.

Gravel can cause safety, nuisance and cost problems, he said.

Keith Ledbetter, director of legislative affairs for Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association, said there is a lack of political will and desire to make decisions to fix this on-going problem.

“Legislators and the governor don’t want to make the tough decisions to fix the problem – only short term fixes that don’t solve the problem – allowing the problem to exist for a long time,” Ledbetter said.

A crumbling road is a strong symbol of how the state is turning, to the Stone Age, Ledbetter said.

Crumbling roads add more problems to keep businesses in Michigan.

“No business is going to want to invest or relocate in a state that doesn’t invest on its’ local structure and itself,” Ledbetter said.

Many key components in the state’s economy – agriculture, manufacturing, automotive and energy – tie into transportation.

Residents who are used to driving on paved roads are not too fond on the change.

People who live on the streets aren’t happy and want the problem to be resolve, said Ledbetter.

“Right now there is no light at the end of the tunnel,” Ledbetter said.

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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Report highlights water quality challenges

Capital News Service

LANSING – Although the height of fishing season seems far away, the Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE) is working to ensure that anglers enjoy the sport without concern for toxic chemicals.

The DNRE’s Water Bureau has detailed what the state has done for water quality and what still needs to be done in its report, “Measures of Success.”

Of the five major points in the report, all goals have seen at least “fair” progress except for one: ensure fish that are safe to eat.

The study –which has measured mercury levels of northern pike in inland waters since 1984 – gave that aspect a “poor” rating, stating, “There has been essentially no change over time.”

But the question remains as to why, in more than 25 years, the ability to ensure safe fish hasn’t improved.

Joe Bohr, of the DNRE’s fish contaminant monitoring program, explained, “There hasn’t really been an overall reduction in the atmospheric deposition of mercury.”

Maggie Fields, head of the mercury division of its Office of Pollution Prevention and Compliance, said coal-fired power plants are the biggest contributors of mercury in the air.

The most direct source of mercury deposits in water, however, is dental amalgam, which dentists use for teeth restorations and dyes.

Bohr said fish with the most contaminants are in the western end of the Upper Peninsula, and that although the levels are not as high in the Lower Peninsula, they remain high enough to be a health concern for consumption.

Christine Aiello, the DNRE official overseeing the Great Lakes areas of concern for the Clinton, Detroit and St. Clair rivers in southeastern Michigan, said mercury isn’t the biggest problem facing the Clinton River, which discharges into Lake St. Clair.

Specifically, the Clinton and St. Clair rivers have PCB contaminants, which contribute to wildlife and fish degradation, or worse, their loss, according to Aiello.

“We have as much of a handle on the waste from industrial sources as we can,” said Aiello.

Industries seeking to dispose of their waste in a river need state-approved permits detailing which contaminants will be disposed of and how much.

Aiello said the department is more concerned with ways to contain contaminants from sources like stormwater runoff and sewage overflows.

The fight for Michigan’s water quality is not over, according to Fields. She said the department has seen a reduction of mercury emissions, but not enough.

For instance, a 2008 law will require dentists to discharge dental amalgam into a separator that is at least 95 percent efficient when it takes effect full effect in January 2013.

Moreover, although mercury in products like thermometers, thermostats and medical instruments is now prohibited, it remains in older equipment.

A 2008 law says state agencies should avoid purchasing products containing mercury or mercury compounds, but only if an alternative exists or isn’t too costly.

Aiello said the Clinton River Watershed Council submitted four funding proposals to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a project overseen by the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration.

“The projects are mostly for habitat restoration and stormwater education about the best management and practices,” said Michele Arquette-Palermo, watershed and stewardship director of the council.
Arquette-Palermo also said the council would use the money to implement a remedial action to remove contaminants from the Clinton River.

“A dam removal project is planned for the North Branch of the Clinton River to restore 93 miles of fish passage by reconnecting the main stream of the river to the headwaters,” said Aiello.

She added that streambank restoration and soil control measures have been implemented in the watershed to help restore fish and wildlife habitat.

DNRE’s Bohr said much is left to do in the regulation and containment of mercury emissions before water quality can get any better.

“Even if local sources are reduced, we still have mercury falling out from other sources,” Bohr said. For example, even though fly ash from coal plants is being contained, if it gets reused in cement it will re-emit mercury into the atmosphere.

And Fields said, “There’s a lot of interconnection with mercury. For example, if dental amalgam isn’t separated from water, it may settle into a sludge on land, which will continue to emit into the atmosphere and so on.”

Legislation to regulate, reduce or eliminate the use of mercury-containing products passed the House, but is stalled in the Senate Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs Committee.

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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Casinos would fund scholarships under Senate proposal

Capital News Service

LANSING—Some senators are attempting to seek more scholarships for students—even from casinos.

A bill would allow school districts to establish college scholarships for students and graduates from money the districts receive under gaming compacts between the state and Indian tribes. It would also allow school districts to use the money for operational expenses.

Sen. Ron Jelinek, R-Three Oaks, said, “My idea came from a school district where an Indian tribe has won a casino and got a big amount of money which could make the school district’s budget solid.

“People in that district wanted to use the money to support their high school seniors but it’s not allowed by law at present,” said Jelinek, the chief sponsor.

If the bill passes, public schools would be able to receive money from tribes that run casinos in their districts to make up for the loss of property taxes.

The co-sponsors are Sens. Gerald Van Woerkom, R-Norton Shores and Mike Nofs, R-Battle Creek.

“The bill won’t take money away from other state purposes because the money is from casinos, not the state,” Jelinek said. “We have raised $1 million so far, and it would help students in postsecondary institutions with their tuition and living expenses.”

The state interacts with tribes on a government-to-government basis and has signed treaties allowing casino gaming in recent years. They are regulated by the National Indian Gaming Commission and the government of the tribal communities, the Michigan Gaming Control Board said.

Twelve federally-recognized tribes operate 19 casino locations in Michigan.

The state doesn’t have general regulatory authority over them, but does oversee compliance with the state-tribal compacts, according to the board.

The tribes are required to pay 2 percent of their “net win” for local governments.

“We believe it’s a good idea to support some schools especially in the Upper Peninsula, where a lot of schools are having lower headcounts of students,” said Tony Mancilla, tribal attorney for the Hannahville Indian Community in Wilson. “It would offset the negative image of gambling.”

Jelinek said he doesn’t think the proposal would encourage casino gambling by students. “It’s just a matter of helping students to pay their college expenses.”

Peter Spadafore, assistant director of government relation of Michigan Association of School Boards, said, “Students would be aware of the source of their scholarships, but it doesn’t necessarily promote casinos.”

The bill is pending in the Senate Committee on Appropriations.

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Buoys propel Great Lakes research

Capital News Service

LANSING — The map is a Battleship board without gridlines.

Red, yellow and blue squares on online maps mark where research scientists Steven Ruberg and Guy Meadows deploy techno-savvy buoys to measure nearshore conditions in the Great Lakes.

“The government buoys that are out in the center of the lake are wonderful, but they don’t tell what’s happening in the coastal zone, and most of the people live and play and work in the coastal zones,” said Meadows, a University of Michigan naval architecture and marine engineering professor in the atmospheric, oceanic and space science department.

Meadows is also director of the university’s Marine Hydrodynamics Laboratories.

Ruberg is a researcher at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor.

Buoys are these scientists’ toy soldiers, strategically positioned to relay nearshore conditions to Web sites.

The nearshore of water bodies typically extends into 30 feet of water from the shoreline.

The race to provide real-time data about Great Lakes nearshore weather and water conditions is one that both scientists have worked on for five years. The goal, Meadows said, is to compile a long-term data set. By characterizing typical conditions, scientists will be better equipped to predict changes to the ecosystem and water quality.

The scientists’ buoys differ in form more than function. Their equipment measures anything from wave direction and height, air temperature and pressure, wind speed, humidity, water temperature and algae.  “We’re essentially providing observations from the surface of the water to the bottom,” Ruberg said.

While Meadow’s buoys are placed primarily in Grand Traverse Bay and Little Traverse Bay, Ruberg’s fleet spreads across lakes Michigan, Huron and Erie.

Most are powered by solar panels and chained to a weight. Meadows’ buoys use cell phones to report information to his Web site every six minutes and to the U.S. Government’s National Data Buoy Center in Mississippi, which provides information from buoys around the world.

But buoy wars don’t come without risk of casualties. For example, ice and winter storms prevent the teams from leaving their buoys out to study lake conditions during the coldest months.

“The winter season is when the most severe storms are and some of the greatest changes that the lake undergoes are during winter when all that heat that’s been stored up all summer long has dissipated,” Meadows said.

Also, ice sheets can move buoys, causing them to take on water. “Biofouling” – the buildup of algae or microbial organisms on buoys and sensors, lightning storms and boat traffic – threaten the technology as well.

Risks aside, a shot at collecting good data drives scientists to join the buoy arms race.

“You can get long-term continuous day and night data sets which are pretty much impossible to obtain by conventional means of humans going out into the lake on a boat,” said Tom Consi, an associate scientist at the Great Lakes Water Institute in Milwaukee. “You just don’t have access to a boat 24 hours a day and a person able to do that kind of sampling or measuring.”

Consi has seven buoys in his Great Lakes Urban Coastal Observing System fleet.

Two of them can study chemical, biological and physical lake processes for up to a year, while the rest monitor nearshore conditions for weeks at a time.

They’re designed to study interactions between Milwaukee Harbor and Lake Michigan and radio data back to one of two stations on shore.  From there, the data reaches the water institute via the Internet.

Public access to online buoy data is in the works.

Meanwhile, Ruberg said he looks forward to the day when robots can take over for humans.

“In the long term, what I would like is a mobile buoy that you don’t have a big expensive boat to deploy,” Ruberg said. “You can tell it to go to a location and just sit there and provide observations. Many, many years from now, that might be what we see.”

Kimberly Hirai and Sarah Coefield write for Great Lakes Echo.

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Rising claims swamp Human Services Caseworkers

Capital News Service

LANSING – Long lines and wait times are now common-place as the Department of Human Services (DHS) faces growing numbers of people seeking assistance.

Michigan has a record-high 1.8 million people on Medicaid and 1.7 million on food assistance, according to Edward Woods, director of communications for DHS.

The largest increase has been in food stamp recipients, indicating more people are having trouble meeting basic needs. Since 2008 there has been a 24.6 percent jump in the monthly average number of households receiving food assistance per month

That’s why DHS employees are facing increasing caseloads.

According to Woods, the average caseworker handles more than 700 cases, more than double the number in 2002.

Even so, DHS hasn’t added significantly to its staff.

“They know people are going without and that affects workers emotionally, because they know there’s suffering out in the community,” said Ray Holman, legislative liason for the United Auto Workers Local 6000, said., which represents the caseoworkers.

Holman also said that workers frequently deal with threats from clients. In November, seven workers testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Human Service that they had been threatened or assaulted.

But, Holman said there have been several instances of workers being attacked with guns and knives.

Meanwhile, the department has responded to the demand by allowing more people to sign up for services through its online program known as MiBridges.

“Our main concern is making sure we’re serving these vulnerable citizens during these challenging economic times,” Woods said.

But, Holman says the system that workers use to help clients, known as Bridges, actually slows them down because it wasn’t designed to deal with so many cases.

Woods said that DHS has taken steps to ease the burden on its staff, they are still working long hours.

Holman says it needs to hire an additional 700 people to deal with the caseload.

Tim Kelly, director of the Lenawee County DHS, said caseworkers in his office are busy from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

“It’s really is a monumental task to keep people’s benefits going, given today’s economy and that information changes so rapidly,” Kelly said.

The Lenawee office will soon add four workers but will still confront a high number of cases, he said.

It’s also possible that the department will lose staff due to Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s proposal to encourage state workers to retire.

Judy Putnam, director of communications for the Michigan League for Human Services, expressed concern that not only would the state lose experienced people, but that retirees might not be replaced, leading to increased strain on those who remain.

“That means a lot of people with experience will be leaving state government, and these are really complicated programs and tough to administer,” said Putnam. “In the past, when we’ve had early-out provisions and there’s been a lot of expertise lost, we’ve seen error rates go up.”

The expected impact of the proposed retirement incentives won’t be known until Feb. 11 when the Granholm administration propose it’s budget to a joint meeting of the House and Senate Appropriation committees.

Kelly said, “I have to wait and see how that’s going to impact people further as far as getting their jobs done. It’s way too premature to even speculate about that.”

In contrast to DHS, the Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth has taken more aggressive steps to deal with the 6.3 percent increase in unemployment cases in the last year, according to Norm Isotalo, a department specialist.

The department has opened two temporary problem resolution offices and hired 500 new staff members. The Unemployment Insurance Agency has extended hours, expanded online services, and increased phone capacity by 40 percent.

According to Woods, DHS plans to expand online services to ease some of the workload and make it easier for clients to get assistance. The specifics of the change are expected to be announced in April.

Until then, Kelly says his employees are working around the clock to meet demand.

“More things are asked of them and they just find a way to get them all done,” said Kelly. ”Maybe as not as fast as they could before, but they’re still getting them done.”

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Term limits too limiting, some incumbents find

Capital News Service

LANSING – Many government officials and experts agree – the state needs to consider restructuring the current term limits for lawmakers.

Rep. Tim Bledsoe, D-Grosse Pointe, is the sponsor of a resolution that would allow legislators to serve 14 years between the House and Senate any way they desire. Lawmakers are currently limited under a 1992 constitutional amendment, which limits senators to serving two four-year terms and representatives, three two-year terms.

If passed, the measure would be on the August 2010 ballot.

“More than ever, we need capable and experienced leadership in Lansing,” Bledsoe said. “Yet due to term limits, we continually replace one group of inexperienced leaders with another, with none gaining the skills and knowledge needed to pull Michigan out of its economic crisis.”

Former Rep. David Palsrok, who served three terms from 2003-2007 said restructuring would be a step in the right direction but cautioned present members from allowing themselves to benefit from the proposed change.

“With the current term limits, the House and Senate are too quick to legislate. There’s not enough thought that goes into it,” said Palsrok, R-Manistee. “It’s sort of ram-and-jam these days, and I think that’s very bad.”

Palsrok, now vice president of government relations for the Small Business Association of Michigan, said voters would be more receptive to extending limits if the change affects only future legislators.

“That would send a strong message to the voters that their interest is in the institutions of the House and Senate rather than their own personal benefit,” Palsrok said.

However, former Rep. Leon Drolet, who served three terms from 2001-2006, strongly opposes any change. He says the current limits put in place by voters are there for a reason.

“Extensions rarely mean anything good for citizens,” said Drolet, R-Macomb. “I can’t imagine why the extensions would be of any value to citizens. I can see why it would be of value to politicians.”

Drolet, who now chairs the Michigan Taxpayers Alliance, said limits effectively break formerly unbreakable long-term alliances between legislators, special interests and lobbyists.

“Term limits force lobbyists to continually make their cases, over and over again to a larger group of people rather than establishing a single relationship,” Drolet said. “It makes it a lot harder for lobbyists to influence lawmakers.”

In addition, Drolet argues that before the current term limits, legislators were more vulnerable to the corruption and comforts of the political arena.

“It’s painful for a lot of lawmakers when they’re taken out of that environment and they realize they have to pick up their own dinner check,” Drolet said. “They realize all those lobbyists in Lansing weren’t really their friends and they have to fend for themselves in Michigan’s economic climate, just like anyone else.”

Critics of the current limits claim that they undermine the people’s right to determine who holds public office and cost their legislative districts influence based on longevity. Senior members frequently chair committees and exert greater clout over legislation and appropriations.

However, Drolet contests that all candidates run for office asserting that they are capable and ready to lead.

“If they are now arguing that I was absolutely clueless for five years, but now I’m figuring it out, what does that say about what they were telling people when they first ran for office?,” Drolet said.

Proponents of change also warn that high turnover, which tops 70 percent in some elections, diminish the Legislature’s ability to operate efficiently.

In the 2010 election 29 Senate incumbents – 76 percent of the members – are term-limited – while 33 incumbent representatives – or 30 percent – are term-limited.

In January, 46 House lawmakers or 42 percent of the membership took office. Forty-four of those seats were open in last year’s election because incumbents were term-limited.

Supporters of the current system say that limits bring new ideas and people to government, cause politicians to do what’s right rather than what’s popular, control the influence of interest groups and keep politicians more in touch with their constituents.

“Changing term limits won’t solve all of our problems, but it is another piece to the puzzle,” said Rep. Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City.

Schmidt, a first-termer who began his tenure last month, said he’s never favored term limits.

“I believe it’s up to the voters to decide who they want in office,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt said he joined a freshman caucus in favor of extending term limits and is cosponsoring Bledsoe’s resolution. Twenty-nine freshman legislators are co-sponsoring the resolution some of which include: Fred Durhal, D-Detroit; Vincent Gregory, D-Southfield; Joe Haveman, R-Holland; and Matt Lori, R-Constantine.

“Term limits have especially hurt us in terms of leadership,” Schmidt said. “The budgets are very intricate so you don’t have the knowledge, you don’t have the context within various departments, and you also don’t have the relationship amongst legislators on either side of the aisle or even within your own caucus.”

Bledsoe’s resolution is pending in the House Ethics and Elections Committee.

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New sulfide mining proposal sparks criticism

Capital News Service

LANSING — The state has already approved one controversial mine in the Upper Peninsula, and other companies are poised to start the lengthy permit application process.

The Department of Natural Resources and Environment approved a permit for the Kennecott Minerals Co. Eagle project in the Yellow Dog Plains earlier this year, and now the company awaits a permit from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

In the meantime, Aquila Resources Inc. is considering a large zinc deposit in Menominee County and intends to submit a permit application later this year or in early 2011.

Aquila is an exploration company based in Stephenson that has partnered with a Canadian mining corporation called HudBay Minerals, Inc. The two are in the early stages of planning a mine called the Back Forty Project, and in January announced a budget of $18.5 million.

The proposed mine would be similar to the one Kennecott hopes to operate in the Yellow Dog Plains.

Aquila and HudBay want to extract zinc, gold, copper and silver from the sulfide rock deposit, according to Tom Quigley, Aquila’s president

But Rita Jack, the Cleanwater Program director for the Sierra Club, said there are serious environmental consequences.

“If that mine goes through, it would be a combination deep-shaft mine and also a surface mine,” Jack said. “There’s a lot more risk of acid mine drainage. Unless they build a heck of a roof over the top of the whole thing, they can’t keep rain and snow from getting inside.”

Some U.P. residents are worried about potential environmental hazards the new mine could produce, and a group calling itself the Front Forty has assembled to fight the Back Forty proposal.

“Approximately seven or eight years ago, Aquila started doing exploratory drilling along the banks of the Menominee River,” said Ron Henriksen of Lake Township, a Front Forty member. “Local citizens found out about this and were concerned with the history of sulfide mining and its impact on water and the environment.”

But Quigley said that all mines have the potential to hurt the environment, if not operated carefully.

“Modern mining companies operate responsibly with improved technology and understanding of environmental issues,” he said. “Mining regulations require responsible mining. Failure to demonstrate this will lead to no permit being issued.”

Under Michigan mining law, companies submitting a permit application must include an “environmental impact assessment,” detailing how the mine will run with minimal effect on the surrounding environment. The application also requires a plan to prevent hazards, such as acid drainage, and to show how the company will handle any accidents.

Henriksen said that the state has done a poor job of enforcement.

“It’s nice to have a law,” he said. “But a law’s only good if it’s enforced and, unfortunately, with every law you have the law and then the rules that are followed.”

Steven Wilson, supervisor of the minerals and mapping unit of the Michigan Geological Office, said that sulfide mining can be done safely if the proper steps are taken. Otherwise, it can have devastating effects on the environment.

“If sulfide gets in contact with water and air, acid can be produced,” he said. “If you were to take any of these ores and bring them up and lay them at the surface, you’re not immediately going to have acid drainage coming from them. You could pick the ore up and handle it and you wouldn’t have to worry about it. Now over time, drainage can happen.”

Henriksen said that the primary goal of his Front Forty group is to inform the public about the proposed mine and about sulfide mining.

“None of us are experts,” he said. “We just try to go out and educate people and give them information. They don’t have to believe us. We’re just a group that’s concerned with the hazards of sulfide mining.”

Jack said that while Aquila is still exploring the area, the Sierra Club is acting.

“We did start a water monitoring project similar to what we have going on in the Yellow Dog Plains,” she said. “The Sierra Club has been doing baseline water quality monitoring on all the streams. If something goes wrong, our guys are going to know about it.

“We’re doing the same thing in Menominee County,” she said.

The Front Forty and other environmental groups argue it’s impossible for companies to fully prevent acid drainage, which they say would contaminate the rich supply of water sources in the U.P.

Henriksen said that there are other dangers associated with sulfide mining, such as toxic chemicals released into the air.

“You have other hazards when you grind the rock up,” he said. “Besides the minerals, you bring up arsenic and toxic chemicals.”

The Geological Office’s Wilson said mining companies use a process of bringing up the ore and moving it along the surface while being constantly covered to lessen exposure to air and water. For example, water exposed to the sulfide would be purified on-site in a plant, then released back into the groundwater supply through pipes.

He said that if companies are extremely careful, mining can be done safely.

For example, Kennecott’s 8,000-page application described in detail the steps it would take to prevent acid drainage.

He said that if Aquila can follow a similar process, the environment would not be at risk.

“Kennecott put a number of people into that report, a number of consulting companies and a number of public hearings,” he said. “Aquila doesn’t get a free ride just because Kennecott got their permit. They still have to carry their own weight and make their case.”

Aquila’s Quigley said that there would be many economic benefits from a mine in Menominee County.

“It will lead to more than 100 new, high-paying jobs, as well as many support jobs,” he said. “It will also pay taxes locally and state-wide. Furthermore, the mine will be a domestic source of important metals, rather than sourcing from other countries that may lack environmentally protective mining regulation.”

Henriksen said members of the Front Forty are willing to discuss the issue.

“We’re not just a bunch of old, crabby, retired people,” he said. “We’re always open to listen to both sides.”

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Beekeepers buzzing about embattled bees

Capital News Service

LANSING – Beekeepers are buzzing about a disease that threatens the state’s beekeeping industry: colony collapse disorder.

The disorder, known as CCD, is a scientific mystery in which bees suddenly disappear from their hives, leaving beekeepers empty-handed.

“In September and October, a beekeeper will have a lot of bees and by early December they’re all gone,” said Roger Hoopingarner of Holt, president of the Michigan Beekeepers Association. “We don’t know the cause.”

Michael Hansen, a bee specialist at the Department of Agriculture, said the problem is already a “huge threat,” but Michigan is in a fortunate position.

“Beekeepers can go south in the winter, rebuild their colonies and come back,” Hansen said. “But beekeepers can’t lose 30 percent of their population every year and still be economically viable.”

Michigan crops that rely on bee pollination include blueberries and apples. Many commercial beekeepers have pollination contracts to rent their colonies.

Hansen said there are large research projects going on nationwide to determine the causes of CCD. Most of the studies follow migratory operations since they’re affected the most by the disorder.

“They look at feeding sources, nutrition of the bees, diseases, virus activity and different parasites,” Hansen said.

Hansen said there’s not a single cause.

“A while ago, viruses on their own were not a problem,” Hansen said. “Now there may be synergism between the viruses. It’s not one problem, but a number of things working together that cause CCD.”
Zachary Huang, a bee researcher at Michigan State University, said CCD is a national trend.

“We don’t know what causes it, so there’s no way to fight back,” Huang said.

Hoopingarner said there are half as many beekeepers in Michigan as there were 25 years ago. A beekeeper near Lansing lost 2,300 colonies last fall, he said.

Beekeepers don’t have to register, but Hansen estimated the state has between 1,200 and 1,500 beekeepers and about 100,000 bee colonies in the summer. Hansen attributes the decline over the past two decades largely to the introduction of tracheal and Varroa destructor mites in the 1980s, critters that ravage bee colonies and may be CCD contributors.

Hansen said there were 6 million colonies 25 years ago. Now, there are about 2.5 million. “Lots of beekeepers lost bees and lost interest.”

Roger Sutherland, president of the Southeastern Michigan Beekeepers Association, has been keeping bees for 43 years.

“The first half of that time was great,” Sutherland said. “In the 1980s, there started to be one problem after another, starting with parasitic mites.”

Huang said beekeepers mostly use chemicals to control the Varroa mite, but other bee management techniques include sugar dusting and non-chemical methods.

“New beekeepers are learning how to combat disease,” Huang said.

Sutherland said he quit using chemicals to control mites in his colonies and now uses integrated pest management.

Hansen also said there’s a growing interest in beekeeping as a hobby, with lots of people picking it up and keeping only a few colonies.

“Some people are doing it for nostalgic reasons because they’ll remember grandpa kept a few colonies,” Hansen said. “Some people realize it’d be fun to do with their kids or see their neighbors having a good time with it. People going in now know they have to control mites.”

A new group called City Bees Detroit is teaching hobbyists how to keep bees in the city, according to Hansen. “They talk about how to develop a honey crop, how to work with city hall.”

Sutherland said the Southeastern Michigan Beekeepers Association has 350 members and is growing. The majority are small-scale beekeepers.

“Some just want to help the environment,” Sutherland said. “Some want a hobby that might also be a source of income later on. Lots of our members have home gardens or fruit trees and realize pollination would be of great value to them.”

Sutherland said his members are experiencing a lot of bee loss but don’t see the symptoms of CCD.
“Our bees are dying the ordinary way,” Sutherland said.

Sutherland said the honeybee lacks a good immune system and the management of commercial bees has changed significantly in recent years. He said moving bees to the south every winter is hard on the colonies.

“Bees are being asked to do a lot more these days,” Sutherland said. “It’s putting stress on the bees. They’re more likely to fall victim to virus.”

Hoopingarner said some Michigan beekeepers combat CCD by going south in the cold months.

“Beekeepers will go to Georgia or Florida or some other state, divide their colonies to get good ones and bring them back in the spring.”

Many other commercial beekeepers in Michigan transport their bees to warmer climates during the winter.

“They’re in California right now and they’ll be back to pollinate apples in April, blueberries after that and vegetables all summer long,” Hansen said.

Hansen said beekeepers with CCD in the fall build up their colonies by the spring to be able to fill all their pollination contracts. He said the state is meeting its pollination needs, but the disorder does affect individuals.

However, Hansen predicted that CCD won’t be a long-term problem if researchers continue to study good honeybee nutrition and different management techniques.

“We’re starting to whittle away at a larger problem,” Hansen said. “We’ll come out of this.”

The Michigan Beekeepers Association Conference will be held March 12 and 13 at Michigan State University.

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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Michigan will ask summit to close Chicago canal

Capital News Service

LANSING – Michigan environmental agencies hope Monday’s White House summit regarding Asian carp will prompt federal and local governments to take immediate action.

Nick De Leeuw, a public information officer for Attorney General Mike Cox, said Michigan’s goal is to get the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal closed.

We want “to keep the carp out of the lakes, protect the $7 billion Great Lakes fishery and nearly a million Michigan jobs,” he said.

The state is also worried about the damage to other species if Asian carp get into inland rivers and streams.

Ken DeBeaussaert, director of the Michigan Office of the Great Lakes, said, “We have the experience of seeing what’s happened in other river systems when the carp did become settled in those areas.  In the Illinois system, they’d crowd out the native fisheries there, overpopulate and over-compete for the food supply.

“It really upset the entire ecosystem,” DeBeaussaert said.

The Obama administration announced that the summit will include Nancy Sutley, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, along with officials from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Interior, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Coast Guard.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm, as well as Govs. Jim Doyle of Wisconsin and Pat Quinn of Illinois, will attend.
Illinois is the only Great Lakes state that opposes the closure of the canal, citing millions of dollars in shipping revenue lost as a likely result.

But De Leeuw said closure is necessary to protect Great Lakes fisheries.

He said that Illinois has 63 of about 10,000 miles of Great Lakes shoreline, “but somehow they’re still controlling the fate of the entire Great Lakes region.”

DeBeaussaert is among those who want the canal closed and said the summit will provide another avenue toward achieving that goal.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to try to get the sense of urgency that we feel about the need to act to protect the Great Lakes from the threat,” he said.

DeBeaussaert said the summit presents an opportunity for Michigan and other Great Lakes states to impress upon federal agencies the need for immediate action.

Many lawmakers in Great Lakes states are pressing for action to prevent Asian carp from entering Lake Michigan, calling the situation urgent.

DNA evidence shows that Asian carp have breached an electrical barrier on the Chicago River southwest of Chicago.

Asian carp are a nonnative species introduced to North America through Arkansas fish hatcheries and have been swimming up the Mississippi River for years.  Many scientists fear the carp will soon find their way through Chicago and into Lake Michigan.

Cox has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to close the canal for a second time.  The court rejected the state’s original request in January.

Despite that ruling, some agencies – such as the Office of the Great Lakes — are pressing for closure.
“We have called for the emergency action of closing and obviously have not been successful to this point,” DeBeaussaert said.

“We need to identify what our longer-term responses will be until we reach the point that we think is necessary of finally separating the systems so that we don’t have this passage of the problems of the Mississippi to the Great Lakes or vice versa,” he said.

Mary Dettloff, a public information officer for the Department of Natural Resources and Environment, said the carp present an urgent and immediate problem.

“Once it’s here, it’s here,” she said.  “There’s proved to be no way to eliminate or get rid of it.”

Dettloff said Asian carp would harm game fish such as steelhead, salmon and trout if they make it into Michigan’s river systems.

“It would cause a great deal of havoc with spawning habits over other species in those rivers,” she said.
“From an ecological standpoint, we’re most concerned with the changes that could occur with the food web.  It can out-eat every other species in the lake,” she said.

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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Great Lakes surfers hit the environmental action waves

Capital News Service

Great Lakes surfer

Source: Ingrid Lindfors

LANSING — As a father and as a Grand Haven resident, Vince Deur said it’s natural for him to care about the future of the Great Lakes.

But that’s not what brought him to Capitol Hill last year to talk about water quality.

Deur is a surfer and founder of the Lake Michigan Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, a nonprofit group linking surfers to environmental causes.

The organization has 90 chapters and 50,000 members worldwide. Deur’s chapter represents some of those who surf hundreds of miles from any ocean.

The Healing Our Waters Coalition, a group of organizations working to restore the Great Lakes, invited Deur to lobby in Washington on Great Lakes Day. He was the only surfer among 100 business leaders, lobbyists and activists discussing the restoration and protection of the lakes to members of Congress.

“The act of surfing is one of the most intimate ways of interacting with the environment,” Deur said. “Chasing waves and surfing in all kinds of weather requires you to be an amateur meteorologist, and for me, this was a natural step to want to do more things for the environment out of respect for being able to enjoy this pastime.”

Surfers working to protect a popular surf spot in California established the foundation. Today, it promotes water quality, beach preservation, and ocean and ecosystem conservation around the world.

The foundation also works on educational outreach. For example, its Respect the Beach program teaches K-12 students about coastal ecology. Another program teaches people to create environmentally friendly gardens that reduce pesticide and fertilizer runoff.

The Great Lakes attracts surfers from around the world, and there’s now an association and a magazine dedicated to the sport in the region.

“More awareness of lake surfing over the past year or more in the media has definitely increased people’s interest,” said Mike Killion of Chicago, editor of Great Lakes Surfer Magazine. “However, it does require much dedication to surf in -20 air temps, with ice in the water.”

One of the Lake Michigan chapter’s largest projects has been raising funds to test water quality during the surfing off-seasons of September through December and March through May. Members of the chapter are working with Grand Valley State University’s Annis Water Resource Institute and the Norcross Wildlife Foundation in Massachusetts on the initiative.

“We want it to be clean so we don’t get sick,” said Ingrid Lindfors, co-chair of the Lake Michigan chapter. “Most surfers are very conscious about their surroundings and nature.”

Scientist Matt Cooper at the Annis Water Resource Institute said the tests are mainly for e-coli and entercoccus, two bacteria known to cause illness in humans.

The foundation also promotes open access to the world’s beaches for low-impact use.

For example, Lake Michigan chapter was also successful at getting four Chicago beaches open to surfing. The group wrote letters and sent e-mails to city officials after a surfer J was arrested for violating the city’s 30-year ban on flotation devices, which includes surfboards, according to Deur.

Deur said he was inspired to act regionally after traveling as a filmmaker. His film “Eco-Warrior” follows surfer and activist James Pribram through the Canary Islands, Chile, New Zealand, Spain and Japan, documenting the environmental problems threatening coastlines throughout the world.

Deur saw pulp mills in Chile dumping their waste into the ocean and the construction of marinas in New Zealand and Spain harming reefs and ecosystems.

“I watched guys stand up to parliament in New Zealand to stop this marina development from ruining the estuary as well as the surf break,” Deur said. “It was the experience in covering those stories that motivated me to take action here.”

In 2005, he released “Unsalted,” a film about surfing in the Great Lakes. It has since been used by the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, the Sierra Club and Clean Water Now, a coalition for the protection of aquatic resources.

“All these groups have used the film because it is an educational piece about what is so beautiful and magical about the Great Lakes,” he said. “It takes a pretty good geographical look at the region; it’s not just a surfing film.”

To Deur, it’s obvious why surfers would also be environmental activists.

“When you connect a personal passion to a larger cause, you can see the direct benefits, and you can draw those links,” he said.

Haley Walker writes for Great Lakes Echo.
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