Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Push on to cut diesel exhaust

Capital News Service

LANSING — Its smell is suffocating. It makes eyes water and throats itch.

Breathing diesel exhaust is unhealthy, and it does more harm than simply irritate organs.

According to a new study, it is increasing the risk of cancer at an alarming rate, and the Michigan Diesel-Clean Up Campaign wants the state to do something about it.

“There are few things that we can instantaneously clean up when it comes to the environment,” said Susan Harley, policy director of Michigan Clean Water Action, the parent group of the Diesel Clean-Up Campaign.

She said that diesel exhaust is a serious problem with a relatively easy fix. Her group is pushing to get control technologies, like filters, required on all diesel engines and to limit the amount of time diesel vehicles can idle.

Since the economy is the biggest obstacle to new diesel regulations, Harley said her organization is pressing for policies that are feasible in the current economic climate. Requiring filters on diesel engines is expensive, so this year the Clean-Up Campaign is focusing on idling restrictions.

Harley said that more than half of the states have local or statewide limits on engine idling time. She said that there has been momentum behind legislation that would most likely set a 5 minute-per-hour limit.

“This is a very lost-cost thing that we could move forward and still see really great reductions,” she said.

Harley said her organization is working with several lawmakers to get this legislation introduced in the coming weeks.

Last year, however, a similar bill died in committee.

Walter Heinritzi, executive director of the Michigan Trucking Association, said he does not comment on legislation until it has been introduced. He said that his organization did not oppose similar legislation last year, but that there were concerns with the language involving alternative power units, or substitute power sources, for idling engines.

If the proposal becomes law, the number of premature deaths and asthma attacks in the state wouldn’t decrease as fast as they would if more dramatic changes were enacted, Harley said.

According to the Clean-up Campaign, 443 people died prematurely due to diesel exhaust in 2010, 648 suffered nonfatal heart attacks and 15,004 suffered asthma attacks.

Cancer risk is also a major health threat posed by diesel fumes, according to the Clean Air Task Force (CATF).

Nationwide, the average lifetime cancer risk from diesel exhaust exposure is 159 times greater than the Environmental Protection Agency’s acceptable level, according to the task force, a national group that advocates reducing air pollutants.

The task force also found the risk to be more than three times greater than the risk of all types of toxins tracked by the EPA combined.

CATF estimated the cancer risk with data from the EPA’s most recent National Air Toxics Assessment and a cancer risk factor developed by the California Air Resources Board.

Harley said some people don’t understand the full implications that diesel exhaust has for their health.

“Instinctively you look at a truck that’s billowing black smoke and you think that can’t be good for me, but you don’t always think that’s raising my cancer risk by an unacceptable level. If I have asthma or if I have some other cardiovascular issue, it’s really putting me at risk of death,” she said.

According to the Diesel Clean-Up Campaign, diesel contains carcinogens such as benzene, formaldehyde and acetaldehyde.

Shelly Kiser, advocacy director for the American Lung Association in Michigan, said that while the carcinogens in diesel exhaust are harmful, particulate pollution from burning diesel is one of the most dangerous air pollutants.

Particulate matter, or very tiny particles, can easily invade the body and get deep into the lungs and cause serious damage, Kiser said. Often those particles carry other toxins from the exhaust, according to the Clean-Up Campaign.

“There are so many people that are in the groups that are immediately affected by particulate matter. If you consider everyone in Michigan that is elderly, that is young, that has lung disease or heart disease — that’s a huge amount of people,

“It’s not something that they have to be exposed to for an extended amount of time, like with cancer. Particulate matter immediately impacts people and causes hospitalization and death,” she said.

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.


Filed under: Health Care

Website launched to promote regulation review

Capital News Service

LANSING — The Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) is unveiling a new website with hopes of better collaboration with businesses and the public to simplify licensing and regulatory activities.

The department’s transition from Energy, Labor and Economic Growth includes creation of the Office of Regulatory Reinvention.

Director Steven Hilfinger said it will review rules, see if health professionals meet federal standards, create committee stakeholders and check to see if any regulated businesses have become obsolete to the department.

“Our goals are focus more on direct licensing, and get more business and public opinion, which is reflected in the new website,” he said.

Rob Nederhood, deputy director, is heading creation of the website.

“It serves two purposes: to enable public participation by providing an opportunity to comment on rules and sharing information about the advisory rules committees, and to serve as a portal to the Michigan rulemaking process,” Nederhood said.

“The public should expect a collaborative and transparent process in which their voices and the voices of other stakeholders will be heard and taken into account,” he said.

Goals for the website are to simplify the state’s regulatory environment and allow businesses to create more jobs, Nederhood said.

John Groen, a department communications representative, said the website will help create jobs by making regulations more fair and efficient. That will reduce the cost for business.

The committees are a large part of creating the website in response to people interested in working with LARA, he said.

“Some committees will deal with occupational licensing lists, but we haven’t started that phase yet,” Groan said. “The website will see if licensing is still appropriate in the professions and if they are helping anything in the state.”

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Transportation services for seniors under financial pressure

Capital News Service

LANSING—For many seniors who cannot drive anymore, communities provide varied transportation services, but state budget cuts may mean fewer seniors getting out and avoid isolation.

Counties have their own ways of providing transportation.

For example, the Mecosta County Commission on Aging connects with a bus system and volunteer groups to take seniors to malls, supermarkets and appointments.

Commission director Claudia Lenon said buses go to senior buildings to pick up them.

Also, the county gives a grant to help pay for the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP).

“People who live in rural areas and cannot take a bus sometimes use that source, but that is a very limited transportation source,” Lenon said.

The county also offers rides to wheelchair users for medical appointments and pays drivers for that service.

“If the seniors plan a social trip, such as shopping, they are expected to donate some money because the county doesn’t have a grant to offset the cost,” Lenon said. “But for the trip used for medical purposes, there’s no fee.”

As for the impact that the state’s budget cut will bring to seniors’ service programs, Lenon said she hasn’t thought much about it because the cuts will not take effect immediately. But she has concerns that the cuts may reduce services in the future.

In Grand Traverse County, a place that attracts many retirees, it’s estimated that around one-third residents will be senior citizens by 2020.

Brandy Hansen, a clerk at the county’s Commission on Aging, said there are two transportation programs. In one, volunteers provide cars and drive seniors. In the other, contracts are made with taxi companies, home health care companies and other transportation companies, Hansen said.

“The seniors can pay only $4 to have coupons which are valued as high as $40,” Hansen said. “They can use them when taking taxis.”

Lana Patenaude, an office specialist for the commission, said senior services in the county won’t be affected by the propsed budget cuts, because all the money come from local tax.

Marquette County provides senior transportation services for people who are older than 55, said Mary Jo Greenlund, a RSVP program assistant in the county.

Greenlund said seniors are referred by a local agency. Volunteers go to seniors’ homes to pick up them, drive them to the doctor’s office and then drive them home.

“We get local donations from the county and the seniors. The money goes to pay the gas for volunteers,” Greenlund said.

Last year, the county fulfilled 664 of 694 requests for rides. Cancellations and volunteers’ unavailablility account for the unmet requests, she said.

Greenlund said since most of county is rural, seniors need those kinds of services. The services focus on medical transportation now, but there’s tremendous need for grocery shopping trips.

As for the impact of budget cuts, the county recently held a meeting for seniors and legislative liaisons to express their concerns. Participants said they worried that reduced funding and higher costs may lead to the reduction of services.

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Filed under: Transportation

Nature group expands preserves

Capital News Service

LANSING – A lot has changed since the Michigan Nature Association (MNA) started creating nature preserves in 1960, says Steve Kelley, the organization president.

Just more than 50 years since MNA bought its first property, the Louis Senghas Memorial Nature Sanctuary in St. Clair County, its holdings have increased to more than 10,000 acres across the state.

Kelley said that most of the Williamston-based group’s early acquisitions were purchased, often in secrecy.

Now, however, some wealthy donors have given environmentally valuable properties to MNA, such as the Roach Point Nature Sanctuary in Chippewa County.

Monetary contributors make other acquisitions possible.

The J.A. Woollam Foundation in Lincoln, Neb., has donated “millions and millions of dollars” to conservation groups, including the MNA, Kelley said.

Other donors include the Consumers Energy Foundation and REI, a major outdoor gear retailer.

Kelley also said his association occasionally receives grants from the state for stewardship operations at its 170 preserves.

The 10,000th acre was added when MNA acquired 580 acres in Oscoda County in February that resulted through a partnership with the Nature Conservancy and the J.A. Woollam Foundation.

One result is that other nonprofit organizations have gotten involved in purchasing and protecting wildlife habitats, he said. “There has been a large number of other groups that do complementary work. The ultimate goal is to have these places protected.

“It’s not critical to us to own everything ourselves,” he said.

One concern is the amount of maintenance required due to invasive species and human interference, Kelley said.

“In the old days, we’d buy places and just put them aside,” he said. “Now we realize we have to do monitoring and stewardship. We spend a lot of money on protecting existing property.”

Kelley said the ratio of money spent on maintenance compared to acquisitions has dramatically changed. While the association once spent $19 on purchases for every $1 used for stewardship operations, now it spends $2 to maintain properties for every $1 for adding new habitats.

Maintenance problems chiefly come from dealing with invasive species and human abuses.

Since its preserves are generally open to the public, Kelley said visitors could damage habitats. To visit environmentally sensitive habitats, MNA requires a tour arranged in advance, though trespassing still occasionally occurs on such properties.

Recently MNA has focused on adding land around existing preserves to better keep out invasive species.

Kelley said that his group might seek out property for conservation purposes, but doesn’t pressure landowners.

He cited an example where MNA wanted to obtain land to protect a local species of snake, but the owner wasn’t willing to sell.

Kelley said the group’s approach is to educate owners about its goals, but not go beyond that.

“They may not appreciate what they have, but they can always change their mind later,” Kelley said.

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Bill seeks to lift lid on homemade food vendors

Capital News Service

LANSING — Entrepreneurs who sell homemade food products may soon be allowed to increase the amount of money they earn without undergoing health inspections and licensing.

A bill by Sen. Joe Hune, R-Hamburg Township, would expand the state’s cottage food law, which currently exempts entrepreneurs who have gross sales less than $15,000 a year.

It applies to those that make food items from their home, including pies, cookies, granola and jams.

The limit would reach $75,000 under Hune’s bill.

The 2010 law allows producers to sell directly to consumers at farm stands, markets, or directly out of their homes. They can’t sell through the Internet or by mail.

Hune said his bill would protect entrepreneurs from governmental interference and help cottage food businesses grow.

“Hopefully this will get more people involved, which will strengthen our rural economy,” Hune said.

According to Hune, cottage foods allow consumers to buy local products and interact with those who produce their food.

“This is what our economy was built on years ago,” Hune said. “and hopefully we are coming back to it.”

Arika Lycan, outreach manager for Growing Hope in Ypsilanti, said that most people like the idea of buying directly from farmers, and producers would welcome the higher cap.

Lycan said that the law helps individuals get involved in the industry, and extends farmers’ capacity to sell different products.

The Ypsilanti farmers market, which Growing Hope manages, has seen farmers use cottage food to supplement their income during tough economic times, Lycan said.

According to Lycan, a higher gross sales cap would allow producers to earn more profit.

“It would be helpful in a practical way to those trying to make a living from selling cottage food products,” Lycan said.

Tonia Ritter, state governmental affairs manager for the Michigan Farm Bureau, said that it’s too early to talk about an increase in the revenue cap.

The cap could be looked at in the future, but there needs to be a “little more time and a little more information about how it’s working,” she said.

Ritter said that an increase could hurt those who invested in capital and paid licensing fees to make their products before the law passed.

“We have to be careful about making sure that we don’t negate that investment by raising the cap too high,” Ritter said.

Ritter said that while cottage foods are generally safe due to labeling and other restrictions, commercial kitchens provide better food safety.

Home kitchens are uninspected. “That’s why they are limited in volume and what products they make,” Ritter said.

Hune said that there haven’t been health problems reported under the present law, and a higher cap shouldn’t change that.

The bill is pending in the Senate Agriculture Committee.

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Bill would free up ‘building’ funds for other school needs

Capital News Service

LANSING – Public schools may soon have more flexibility in purchasing new buses, computers and software.

Currently schools can raise revenue from a voter-approved millage, which is then set aside in a so-called sinking fund. The money can be used only to purchase real estate, construct or repair buildings and install non-equipment technology, like broadband wiring.

A bill by Rep. Mark Meadows, D-East Lansing, would allow districts to use the money to buy buses, computers and software.

Rep. Greg MacMaster, R-Kewadin, who co-sponsored the bill, said many teachers and superintendents have asked for more flexibility in using such funds.

With the impending cuts to school budgets, lawmakers need to “help schools, and this is one way to do it,” MacMaster said.

That change would also help schools stay up to date in the pivotal area of technology, according to MacMaster. “We are in a technology-driven society, and we need all the help we can get.”

Eight years ago, voters approved a 5-year millage for Cheboygan Area Schools, which was later renewed. Currently the district is in its third year of the second millage, according to Superintendent Mark Dombroski.

A district can collect up to 5 mills for its sinking fund.

A mill is $1 for every $1,000 of taxable value of real estate. An owner of property worth $100,000 would pay an extra $250 per year in property taxes with a 5-mill increase.

Dombroski said the district has used its sinking fund for large building projects and repairs.

“It’s invaluable dollars to school districts right now with everything going on,” Dombroski said.

According to Dombroski, the proposed change would fill an important need if his school district could spend some of the money on technology and buses.

“We have several buses that have gone beyond their 6-year life use and our technology is 6 to 10 years old,” Dombroski said. “We are really outdated.”

Cheboygan has more than 700 computers that need to be replaced, according to Dombroski.

Since technology is a big part of the way schools educate students, an expansion in how sinking funds can be used is needed, according to David Martell, executive director of the Michigan School Business Officials.

Martell said allowing the purchase of buses would also ensure student safety despite cuts in state funding,

Many districts, including Wyoming Public Schools and Davidson School District, are asking for a sinking fund millage on May 3.

Martell said a sinking fund is a “much more efficient way to set aside money for a purpose,” compared to bonds for which taxpayers must pay principal and interest.

Cheboygan’s Dombroski said his district will ask for renewal of the millage once it expires in two years.

While local voters have been supportive in the past, Dombroski said he doesn’t know if the millage will pass again. “Right now, while everyone is strapping for every dime they can save, it’s a big question mark.”

The bill is pending in the House Tax Policy Committee.

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Filed under: Education

Wanted: Organ donors to help meet transplant needs

Capital News Service

LANSING — Four months after Spectrum Health System’s heart transplant center in Grand Rapids opened, a patient received a new heart. Less than a year later the institute has performed eight transplants and expects to raise that number to 12 by the end of this summer.

If that plan works, three people will be left on the center’s waiting list — if more people aren’t added, an unlikely prospect given that approximately 100,000 people need life-saving organ transplants in the U.S.

“We need millions of people in Michigan to register as organ donors,” said Bruce Rossnam, media relations manager at the health facility.

Although organ donations and transfers are coordinated nationally, they are limited by time and proximity.

“The more donors we have in our region, the more organs are potentially going to be available for people in Michigan,” he said. “Physically transferring an organ from California to Michigan is just not the practical way.”

The Spectrum Health donor was among more than 2 million people listed on the state’s registry.

“He didn’t just give his heart. Three others received his liver and each of his kidneys,” said Betsy Miner-Swartz, a communication specialist from Gift of Life Michigan, an Ann Arbor-based organization that coordinates organ and tissue recovery.

The number of registered donors in the state grew by 32 percent last year after a campaign drive, which Miner-Swartz says was “the most successful effort” in Michigan’s history.

“Unfortunately that didn’t make that much of a difference,” she said. “Latest studies show that we ranked 46 nationally in the percentage of adults registered as donors.”

Before then, Michigan ranked 42 among the states with an average adult registration rate of 27 percent. The national average is 41 percent, but Gift of Life hopes participation will improve, according to Miner-Swartz.

Secretary of State Ruth Johnson has announced an initiative that directs her department’s employees to ask customers to join the donor registry.

“Before, the onus was on the customer to ask if they could register,” said Tim Makinen, the corporate communications director at Gift of Life. “But some customers weren’t aware that they had that option and many times they are busy trying to do a bunch of things at the office. It’s easy to forget.”

Other changes range from putting donation information on customer forms to a new version of the driver’s license without the sign-up portion on the back. That was done to eliminate confusion because many people thought that they were automatically registered once they filled in their information at the back of their licenses, which is not the case, Miner-Swartz said.

“This new policy and Secretary Johnson’s efforts will save more lives,” said Richard Pietroski, chief executive officer of Gift of Life Michigan.

As part of its National Donation Life month donor drive, Gift of Life is also urging people to sign up through its website,, by calling 800-482-4881 or visiting any Secretary of State office.

About 3,000 people in Michigan are on the waiting list for life-sustaining organs. Eighty percent of them need kidneys.

African-Americans make up 45 percent of those who need kidneys because of chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension.

In 2010, 76 percent of the state’s 289 donors were white, 21 percent African-American, 1 percent Asian and 1.4 percent Hispanic.

Gift of Life has established the Minority Organ Tissue Transplant Education Program to ramp up minority participation.

“Organs are certainly color-blind as long as the blood types and tissue types match. Organs can be transplanted across people of different colors,” Makinen said. “But we just want people from all walks of life to get involved in this altruistic call.”

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Three committees to review state regulations

Capital News Service

LANSING – Workers and union groups will be part of three committees asked to review state regulations for the new Licensing and Regulatory Affairs Department, along with business and industry interests, according to Deputy Director Rob Nederhood.

While groups have not yet been selected for the department’s planned overhaul of those regulations, Nederhood said several dozen applications have been submitted for positions on these committees within the Office of Regulatory Reinvention.

The office will review regulations to assess whether they are outdated, inefficient or otherwise impede business as part of Gov. Rick Snyder’s efforts to restructure the business environment in Michigan.

The three committees will review workplace safety, environmental protection, and insurance and finance regulations.

Plans for the review process include participation by the agencies that enforce those regulations, as well as consumer and business groups whose members would be affected by changes.

Nederhood said that targets for restructuring include some worker safety-related regulations. He mentioned the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the state version of the federal OSHA, as one instance where state and federal regulations overlap.

“In the past few years, the feds have changed the rules,” Nederhood said. “Michigan hasn’t really kept up with that. It’s important that the rules that are meant to mirror federal rules actually do.”

Nederhood stressed that those affected by changes to the regulations will be consulted.

Changes proposed by the committees must be approved by the governor and the Legislature and cannot be implemented by the department itself, Nederhood said.

“Nothing will be changed overnight,” he said.

To ensure a wide range of viewpoints, Nederhood said the department may actively seek out viewpoints not represented on the committees.

“I’m envisioning a more proactive phase,” he said. “The best way to prevent one voice from being too loud is to seek out a wide variety of sources.”

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Filed under: Uncategorized

State to review licensed professions, regulated businesses


Capital News Service

LANSING — As part of Gov. Rick Snyder’s plan to focus more on licensing and regulatory functions, a revamped Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth will emphasize services to businesses and the public.

It will be known as the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA), and will refocus on licensing and regulations for health professions, said Director Steven Hilfinger.

“The department is now focusing more on direct licensing as well as administrative hearings and employment security and safety in the workplace,” Hilfinger said.

According to Hilfinger, LARA will no longer handle energy issues and will rely heavily on more public interaction during the transition.

“We have set up committees because we want to get the public more involved,” Hilfinger said. “We want the transition to be a collaborative effort, and we want input from various people, whether businesses or public.”

During the transition, the department will also look at what other states are doing with licensing and regulation to develop a competitive edge for regulating various professions, said Hilfinger.

“We are watching how other states conduct regulatory standards and we want to make sure their regulatory environment is competitive,” Hilfinger said. “Kansas and Indiana are our top states to watch, and we are constantly measuring ourselves to see how we compete with them.”

Brian DeBano, deputy director of direct licensing control and corporate licensing, said the impact of transferring the regulation of health professions from the Department of Community Health to LARA will be positive.

“In many ways, we’re moving back to where the department was prior to 2003, where it was part of Consumer and Industry Services, and handled core licensing and regulatory functions,” DeBano said. “This is what we are also trying to do in LARA.”

According to DeBano, the transfer will allow Community Health to concentrate on health care delivery, while LARA regulates the health professions.

“We have many areas that do similar functions such as professional licensing, investigation and enforcement,” DeBano said. “Our goal will be to work with staff members to learn the best practices for each task, which will eventually help the department’s goal of reducing the regulatory burden on Michigan citizens.”

Deputy Director Rob Nederhood said the department’s Office of Regulatory Reinvention is reviewing the list of the current registered and licensed professions.

“We want to see if they meet federal standards or if they have become obsolete as a professional business,” Nederhood said.

John Groen, the LARA communications coordinator, said the first thing the department is doing in the transition is focusing on environmental quality, finance and workplace safety.

Scott Marx is vice president of Marx Dental Supply in Livonia, a licensed and regulated company.

According to Marx, his company has not been notified about dental supply businesses being dropped from the department’s list of regulated industries. He said he is following the department’s transition.

“We are still regulated under them and have been since 1995,” Marx said. “We get renewed every year.”

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Proposal would make it easier to retrieve sunken logs

Capital News Service

LANSING – Countless now-valuable logs sank to the bottom of Michigan’s lakes and rivers during the 1800s, when loggers floated their hauls on water due to lack of roads and railroads.

Now proposed legislation would make permits to retrieve them easier to get.

The goal is to eliminate roadblocks for a growing industry, said Chris Bailey, legislative director for Rep. Greg MacMaster, R- Kewadin, the main sponsor.

“Submerged logging is a small but growing industry throughout the country, with the majority of it being done in the Southern states.  Making it easier to get permits in Michigan will attract more businesses to the state,” Bailey said.

Currently, a submerged logging permit requires a $3,500 application fee and $100,000 performance bond and applies only to the Great Lakes.

“The amount of money it takes to get a permit is outrageous.  Paying the application fee doesn’t guarantee it would be approved, and no one can get the performance bond insured,” Bailey said, adding that high fees have discouraged business from applying.

The proposal would lower the application fee to $500 and the performance bond to $20,000.

Also, the proposal would deem permits approved if the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) doesn’t respond to an application within 30 days.

Its co-sponsors include Reps. Matt Huuki, R-Atlantic Mine; Frank Foster, R-Pellston; Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan; Joel Johnson, R-Clare; Holly Hughes, R-Montague; and Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City.

According to Bailey, the present law was intended to apply only to removing logs from the Great Lakes, neglecting the state’s vast inland lakes and streams.

Bailey said submerged logs are more valuable than other kinds and are popular for making high-quality furniture.

But Gary Lamberti, chair of the Department of Biological Sciences at Notre Dame University, said making it easier to remove wood from lakes and rivers would be terrible for the environment.

Lamberti said that submerged wood is essential not only to the animals that use it for habitat, but to the food chain as well.

“It jumpstarts the ecological community and it’s great for algae and the micro-organisms that start the food chain,” Lamberti said, adding that wood also plays more subtle roles, like trapping leaves that fall into the water and making sure they find their way into the food web.

According to Lamberti, many lakes and streams in Michigan have sandy bottoms that don’t support the ecosystem as well as wood.  “Sand and fine particles are poor for biological activity because it moves around too much.

“We have been working hard to get wood back into streams and lakes.  It’s shocking to think that this legislation would undo that,” Lamberti said.

He said that he has been working all over Michigan to put wood back into lakes and streams, including an effort with the U.S. Forest Service in the Upper Peninsula’s Ottawa National Forest.

“These ecosystems have a lot less wood in them than they used to.  Our objective is to replenish the wood that has been taken out over time and get the amount back up to historical levels,” Lamberti said.

Jim Milne, chief of DEQ’s Great Lakes shoreland unit, said there are multiple ways to remove submerged logs, some of which could have a negative environmental impact.

“I’ve seen people attach floats to logs to get them to the surface or attach chains to the logs and hoist or drag them off the bottom,” Milne said.

He said removing submerged logs can stir up sediment on lake and river bottoms, which could adversely impact wildlife living in the water.

“Stirred up sediment could bother fish in the area.  There could also be loss of habitat if the logs are being used by fish or other animals.  If chains are used to drag the logs onto land, they could damage stream and lake banks,” Milne said.

According to Milne, the DEQ has issued 11 permits to three people to remove logs from the Great Lakes, but none since 2003.

He said that inland lakes and streams weren’t mentioned in the law because log removal from them is considered dredging, which requires a different permit.

Permit holders haven’t been able to start removing submerged logs due to legal and administrative obstacles.

“By law, we couldn’t issue permits after 2003.  No permit holder has been allowed to start logging yet because the permits still haven’t been approved by the federal government and because of a lawsuit brought by various Native-American tribes to stop them,” Milne said.

A permit to remove submerged logs from the Great Lakes also needs U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approval.

Milne said the tribes’ lawsuit claimed the practice has a negative impact on natural resources. It has been settled, with the court siding with permit holders.

The 11 permits issued by the state are good until Jan. 1, 2013.

Notre Dame’s Lamberti said removing some wood from the water is necessary because “it can be a hazard to boats, kayakers and people using the water for recreation.  It’s not cut and dry and a middle ground needs to be found.”

The bill is in the House Natural Resources, Tourism and Outdoor Recreation Committee.

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Filed under: Uncategorized

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