Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Local residents rally on Lift Bridge in solidarity with national day of action, "Our First Stand: Save Health Care"

By Michele Bourdieu

More than 150 local supporters walk across the Portage Lift Bridge on Sunday, Jan. 15, in solidarity with a national day of action to Save Health Care. Click on photos for larger view. (Photos by Keweenaw Now unless otherwise indicated)

HOUGHTON -- The sun finally appeared with some warmer weather -- about 30 degrees F -- on Sunday, Jan. 15, well timed for the crowd of more than 150 local residents concerned about health care who marched across the Portage Lift Bridge with a variety of signs expressing support for Medicare, Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act and Planned Parenthood. The Houghton event, organized by the Houghton County Democratic Party, was one of many rallies around the country participating in a day of action, "Our First Stand: Save Health Care," called for by Democratic Congressional leaders led by Bernie Sanders.

Health care supporters walk across the Portage Lift Bridge on Sunday, Jan. 15, many displaying signs to express their concerns about potential Republican threats to privatize, eliminate or de-fund Medicare, Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Planned Parenthood. Click on YouTube icon for larger picture. (Video by Keweenaw Now)

Valorie Troesch of Houghton, one of the organizers of the Houghton event and an active member of the Houghton County Democratic Party, said she was really pleased with the large turnout.

"It shows how much people in the community care about health care issues," Troesch said. "It's not just the Affordable Care Act. It's Medicare, Medicaid and Planned Parenthood."

Troesch noted 99 percent of Planned Parenthood's funding goes to pay for health care for poor women.

Valorie Troesch, one of the organizers of Houghton's day of action to Save Health Care, displays a sign reminding concerned citizens to call newly elected First District U.S. Congressman Jack Bergman (R) and Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan to let them know Medicare should not be privatized or de-funded.

"The big point I want to make is our job isn't done with this rally," Troesch added. "It's just beginning. The most important thing people need to do is to contact their representative in Congress, in particular Bergman and Ryan. People have to inundate their offices with phone calls."*

Troesch said it's important to make these calls to Congressmen, who think about their chances of re-election, to communicate the message that large numbers of people want to save public health care.

Janeen Stephenson of Houghton said she would like to participate in a march like this every weekend.

Janeen Stephenson, left, and Keren Tischler pause for a photo on the Portage Lift Bridge during Sunday's Save Health Care rally.

"I don't want to see the Affordable Care Act gutted," Stephenson said. "I'd like to see our country invest more resources in health care for all."

Stephenson said she believes we all have a responsibility to act on this issue.

"My heart is broken because people will die if they start gutting this," Stephenson added.

Hilary Virtanen, Finlandia University professor of Finnish Studies, said she was concerned about Congress taking away or de-funding existing health care programs without letting the public know the plan for what they'll do next to replace them.

Hilary Virtanen, Finlandia University professor of Finnish Studies, right, and Keith Troesch, husband of organizer Valorie Troesch of Houghton, display their signs near the Lift Bridge during the Save Health Care rally.

A large banner announced the concerns of Moyle construction employees, who recently went on strike in 2016 to convince the company to offer health care. The company then offered individual health care plans, but the present policy is not for families.

A group of employees and former employees of Moyle Construction Co. display a large banner expressing their need for family health care.

"We're hoping for family health care in the future," said Troy Haapala, a former Moyle construction employee.

Bill Wanhala, a Moyle employee who participated in the strike, said he was called back to work for two weeks and then laid off.

Also helping carry the banner was visitor Clark Palmer of Bemidji, Minn., who was supporting the Moyle employees.

Among the younger participants in the rally were Daphne Maki and Mya Johnson, juniors at Houghton High School. Wearing pink hats, they said they learned about the event from Daphne's Mom, Katie Maki of Houghton. They also hope to accompany her to the Women's March in Washington, DC, on Jan. 21.

Daphne Maki, left, and Mya Johnson, Houghton High School juniors, said they learned about the Save Health Care rally from Daphne's Mom, Katie Maki, of Houghton. Both are hoping to accompany Katie to the Women's March in Washington, DC, on Jan. 21, 2017.

Katie Maki told Keweenaw Now she marched in the bridge rally on Sunday because she believes health care is a human right.

"We should all have access to great care no matter our finances nor pre-existing conditions," Katie said. "The Republicans have not come up with any replacement for the ACA. The ACA needs improvements and is not perfect, but going backwards only hurts everyone."

Katie Maki took this photo of Daphne, right, and Mya, who carries a sign with statistics on how much health care Planned Parenthood provides each year. (Photo © and courtesy Katie Maki)

David Hall and his wife, Dana Van Kooy, of Houghton said they were very impressed with the great turnout at the bridge march on Sunday.

"It is obviously important to a lot of people in this area that we need to preserve the Affordable Health Care Act," Hall said. "We cannot return to the time when millions of Americans were uninsurable due to preexisting conditions and when women paid higher premiums, just because of their gender. The Affordable Care Act has allowed millions of us to have health insurance, regardless of income, and has saved families from bankruptcy due to high health care costs. Our freshman Congressman Jack Bergman seems to be out of touch with the needs of our community. He has voted to kill affordable health insurance, and we need to let him know we are displeased. Access to affordable health insurance and health care is a human right. Health insurance should be universal. A healthy community is a vibrant community."

More photos ...
Displaying their signs on the bridge are, from left, Miguel Levy and Anita Levy of Chassell and Lois Jambekar of Houghton.

From left, Michigan Tech Professor Sarah Green, Jill Burkland of Houghton and Becky Darling of Chassell soak up the sunshine while walking across the Lift Bridge for Health Care.

Libby Meyer, Michigan Tech music professor, holds a sign that acknowledges Bernie Sanders as the leader of Sunday's Save Health Care rallies across the country. Behind her is her husband, Evan McDonald, Keweenaw Land Trust executive director.

Rally participants display "Honk 4 Health Care" signs inviting passing motorists to sound their horns in support, which many did. (Photo © and courtesy Katie Maki)

More participants with their signs line the length of the Lift Bridge. (Photo © and courtesy Katie Maki)

Joan Chadde, director of Michigan Tech's Center for Science and Environmental Outreach, waves while crossing the bridge with the crowd of health care supporters.

After walking across the bridge from Houghton to Hancock, the marchers stood peacefully along the bridge displaying their signs and then returned to Houghton. 

For background on the Jan. 15 day of action to Save Health Care, click here.

*Editor's Note: Call House Speaker Paul Ryan at  (202) 225-3031. Call U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman at (202) 225-4735.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Battle Heats Up Over Enbridge Pipelines in the North

John Bolenbaugh, Enbridge whistleblower, speaks to a full house at the Black Cat Café in Ashland, Wis., Jan. 9, 2017. (Photo © and courtesy David Joe Bates)

By Barbara With*
Posted Jan. 12, 2017, on Wisconsin Citizens Media Cooperative
Reprinted here in part with permission

ASHLAND, Wis. -- Enbridge whistleblower John Bolenbaugh recently made a series of appearances around Lake Superior, speaking about his experiences with an Enbridge oil spill in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in 2010.

Bolenbaugh’s truth-telling forced Enbridge to re-clean several dozen areas that had been approved as 100 percent clean by Enbridge, the EPA and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. His exposure forced Enbridge to re-clean the cover-up areas and re-dredge the river at an estimated cost of $600 million.

Bolenbaugh traveled through the Chequamegon Bay region for three days, bringing his message to packed houses. From the Bad River Lodge and Casino Conference Center, to Blue Wave and Black Cat in Ashland, through Washburn, Bayfield, and Red Cliff, people crowded into venues to hear his first-hand account of the Enbridge oil spill that happened in his back yard, and his efforts to bring it to light.

Bolenbaugh brought the documentary videos he made during the oil spill in Kalamazoo showing the oil company not just covering up the damage from the spill, but harassing him as he attempted to bring the truth to light. He stressed to audiences that all pipelines leak, no matter what the oil companies say, and that the oil running through the pipelines is being shipped overseas and is not for domestic use. ... CLICK HERE to read the rest of this article and see a video interview with John Bolenbaugh.
See also: "Bad River Band Denies Renewal of Enbridge Line 5 Grant of Easement," posted Jan. 5, 2017, on Wisconsin Citizens Media Cooperative.

* Author Barbara With is a citizen journalist from La Pointe, Wis.

2017 Green Film Series begins Jan. 19 at Michigan Tech

HOUGHTON -- The 2017 Green Film Series begins this Thursday, Jan. 19, with two films: After Coal (60 minutes) and Half Life (12 minutes). The films in the series will be shown at 7 p.m. in G002 Hesterberg Hall in Michigan Tech's Forestry Building. A facilitator will lead a discussion after the films -- usually until 8:30 p.m.

After Coal profiles individuals building a new future in the coalfields of central Appalachia and Wales. Welsh coalfields were shut down in the 1980s, eliminating more than 20,000 jobs while Appalachian coalfields lost 20,000+ mining jobs from 1994 -2014. Both regions have survived disasters associated with mining production and waste disposal, and each has explored strategies for remembering the past while looking to the future. What lessons does this film have for us today?

The second film, Half Life: America's Last Uranium Mill, describes the Ute tribe's concern that toxic and radioactive contamination from the White Mesa Mill in SE Utah threatens their water supply and way of life. Why is this a common outcome of so many mines and/or mineral processing facilities? How can we change the ending?

The films are free and open to all, with a suggested $3 donation. Enjoy coffee and dessert after the film(s).

Coming films in this series include the following:

Feb. 16 -- Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story (75 minutes)
March 2 -- Death by Design: The Dirty Story of Our Digital Addiction (73 minutes)
March 23 -- Last Call at the Oasis (105 Minutes) -- Part of World Water Day
April 13 -- City of Trees (76 minutes)
May 18 -- The Messenger (99 minutes) -- Based on the award-winning book Silence of the Songbirds, by Stutchbury.

Click here for details on these films.

The Green Film Series is cosponsored by Lake Superior Stewardship Initiative, Michigan Tech Great Lakes Research Center, Keweenaw Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, and Keweenaw Land Trust.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Michigan Tech to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day Jan. 16

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. poster courtesy Michigan Technological University.

HOUGHTON -- Michigan Technological University will celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with events planned for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Monday, Jan. 16. Again this year Michigan Tech students will read stories about Dr. King to elementary students in local schools.

The 28th Annual MLK Banquet will be held at 6 p.m. in the Memorial Union Building Ballroom. The doors open at 5:30 p.m. This year's keynote speaker is Robert Scott. Dr. Scott is the director of the Center for Engineering Diversity and Outreach at the University of Michigan.

Tickets for the banquet are free but registration is required. While tickets for the banquet are currently all reserved, check with Zach Rubinstein at 906-487-1195 or email him at zlrubins@mtu.edu since seats often open up.

The theme for the 2017 Martin Luther King, Jr. banquet is Strength In Community. Following the banquet, at 8 p.m., all are welcome to attend an open community discussion on ways to understand, build and develop strength and community. Bucky Beach, pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Houghton, will lead the discussion based on the following:

In 1967-1968 King wrote a book called Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? That question can continue to guide us. Phrasing it differently, how do we go from here at this time in America? How are we "strong?" How are we "community?" How do we listen to, and be heard by, those who are ideologically different? What are our guiding principles?

Martin Luther King Jr. Day events are sponsored by Michigan Tech's Center for Diversity and Inclusion.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

"What's the Deal with Solar?" presentation to be Jan. 12 at Orpheum Theater; Keweenaw Climate Community holds December discussions on Local Climate Action

By Michele Bourdieu, with information from Robert Handler, operations manager for Michigan Tech's Sustainable Futures Institute*

The Keweenaw Climate Community and Keweenaw Young Professionals will present "What's the Deal with Solar?" Thursday, Jan. 12, at the Orpheum Theater in Hancock. (Poster courtesy Keweenaw Young Professionals.)

HANCOCK -- The Keweenaw Climate Community (KCC) and Keweenaw Young Professionals will host "What's the Deal with Solar?" from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 12, at the Orpheum Theater in Hancock.

Joshua Pearce, Michigan Tech associate professor in Materials Science and Engineering and in Electrical and Computer Engineering, will explain the science behind solar and will discuss the benefits and challenges of using solar in the Keweenaw and what the future holds.

Pearce has done extensive research on solar energy, sustainable development, sustainability education and much more. He heads the Pearce Research Group, Michigan Tech's Lab in Open Sustainability Technology.**

Terance McNinch, who has lived more than 30 years off the grid with low-cost solar, will share his experience. He will speak about how he has seen the costs associated with solar setups change over the years.

Each guest speaker will give a presentation and answer questions afterwards.

The event is free and open to the public. Pizza will be served. BYOB. For more information contact the Keweenaw Young Professionals Board at info@keweenawyp.com.

Inset photo of Joshua Pearce courtesy Michigan Tech University. Photo of Terance McNinch courtesy Keweenaw Young Professionals.)

December Climate Café: Groups discuss "Taking Local Climate Action"

Solar energy was among the topics discussed at the Keweenaw Climate Community's December 1, 2016, Climate Café, the fourth in a series of community discussions on climate change held at the Orpheum last fall. The December event attracted more than 75 community participants. Following some brief presentations by experts, the attendees broke into groups to discuss various options for local climate action. These included renewables, energy conservation, health impacts, education, local policy, and land adaptation.

"It was great to see such a strong turnout for our final event of the fall, and people came with a lot of good ideas about how we can address climate change in our local area," said KCC's Robert Handler, operations manager for Michigan Tech's Sustainable Futures Institute and master of ceremonies for the event.

Introduced by Handler, Dave Camps of Blue Terra Energy spoke about his work helping customers with solar and with LED lighting:

Dave Camps of Blue Terra Energy speaks about some solar alternatives to the grid, now that UPPCO (Upper Peninsula Power Company) no longer offers full net metering to residential solar customers. He also explains some advantages of LED lighting for commercial as well as residential use. (Videos by Keweenaw Now)


During the breakout session, Camps, along with Seamus Crane, helped lead a group discussion on renewables. Participants in that group discussed the following solar topics:
  • Solar -- wait until next year for legislation changes
  • Understand your house’s electricity demand and how it varies
  • Start with system design, consultation to see if it is worth the investment
  • Make people aware of solar as an option in this area, integration with storage (Tesla power walls, etc.)
  • Solar panel costs are decreasing every year
  • "Black on black" panels (black frame, black panel) are good for this area
  • Manual position changes are fine, 2x per yr
  • Microinverters make each panel its own power plant and can reduce effects of shading; individual panels can be swapped out if needed.
During the breakout session at the KCC December meeting on local climate action, Dave Camps leads the group discussion on renewables. (Photos by Keweenaw Now unless otherwise indicated.)

Energy Conservation

Melissa Davis, energy manager for the Houghton Energy Efficiency Team (HEET) and managing director for New Power Tour, spoke about HEET's accomplishments during the two-year period of competition for the Georgetown Energy Prize.

Melissa Davis, energy manager for the Houghton Energy Efficiency Team, speaks about local projects of energy conservation, including home insulation and LED lighting programs the group has been working on for the Georgetown Energy Prize and beyond.

Melissa Davis, along with Andy Roth and Parth Bhatt, led the energy conservation group discussion. This group discussed tying energy production to transportation. They talked about the feasibility of a regional public transit system with both long distance and local routes. An example might be transport twice a week from Houghton-Hancock to Iron Mountain or Marquette. They noted the need for community education on public transit.

Melissa Davis, second from left, facilitates the group discussion on energy conservation while Parth Bhatt, standing, takes notes.

They also discussed ways to assist low-income households with energy conservation by extending HEET group home weatherizations; including more advertising such as pamphlets listing benefits; going door-to-door talking to people; and recruiting volunteers from service organizations, high school and college groups, religious groups, etc. Engaging with renters was also discussed.

Health Impacts

Ray Sharp of the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department spoke about potential public health impacts of climate change in the not-so-distant, if not immediate, future.

Ray Sharp of the Western Upper Peninsula Health Dept. talks about potential dangers to public health that could result from warmer temperatures caused by climate change -- including mosquito-borne illnesses.

The message for the group discussion on health effects was to be on the lookout for things likely to increase, such as issues from warmer water temperatures or heavy rains: algal blooms, swimmers' itch, E-coli in water, etc. Communities should strengthen beach monitoring programs, promote more well testing and drain still-water areas where mosquitoes breed.

Ray Sharp, right, listens to participants in the group discussion on health effects.

As for diseases now common in the tropics that could spread north, local action can include raising awareness in local health care providers so they may increase testing and treatment capabilities.


The group discussion on education, facilitated by Andi Vendlinski and Stephen Handler, attracted a large number of participants, including children.

A variety of age groups are represented in the education group discussion.

Some of the many issues discussed included these:
  • Providing opportunities (and grants) for kids to learn what's going to happen with climate change, such as connections with  Michigan Tech organizations like the Sustainable Futures Institute, Green Campus Enterprise, and others
  • Tangible local projects, including recycling and incentives to reduce paper
  • Possibility of solar panels at schools
  • Educational opportunities for a variety of areas -- science, engineering, trades, etc.
  • Learning labs and electricity production
  • Opportunities for kids to engage in activism, such as writing letters to elected officials after they learn about a related issue -- energy, trash, recycling, renewables
  • Interact with small groups of students, after-school clubs
  • Introduce Earth Day activities
  • Find a group of teachers to pilot ideas
  • Get parents involved
Local Policy

Grayson Morrow of Wakefield spoke about the Citizens Climate Lobby.

Grayson Morrow of Wakefield speaks about his experience with the Citizens Climate Lobby.

Morrow also participated in the group discussion on local policy, led by Richelle Winkler, Michigan Tech associate professor of sociology and demography in Social Sciences.

Michigan Tech's Richelle Winkler (third from left in red) facilitates the group discussion on local policy. Standing at right is Nancy Langston, environmental historian and Michigan Tech professor in Social Sciences, Forestry and the Great Lakes Research Center.

Participants in the policy group discussed the need to understand what is in current versions of an upcoming energy bill and lobby to exert pressure for an increase in renewables, net metering, etc. (possibly through the Citizens Climate Lobby).

Other ideas they discussed were quite progressive, some raising questions to be researched:
  • Hancock could be an ideal location -- a whole town powered by solar. UPPCO would be reluctant. The City would need to create a municipal utility.
  • Explore the feasibilityof becoming a municipal utility. Do this as a negotiation tactic with UPPCO? Be familiar with the Michigan Public Service Commission and become aware of the issues.
  • REA/local co-op might be more realistic. Could REA members be convinced not to pay their bills (as protest)?
  • Does Keweenaw have local regulations inhibiting wind power installations? Small scale or large scale?
  • Partner with HEET and Keweenaw Community Foundation
  • Form a local chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL)
  • Re-connect with person from Traverse City about forming CCL
  • Reduce number of school buses, promote walking and biking and plowing sidewalks
  • Promote non-motorized travel more generally
  • Serve on planning boards and other local government groups
Land Adaptation

The land adaptation group, led by Todd Ontl and Kristin Schmitt, discussed sustainable agriculture -- how it affects the water table and soil carbon. They mentioned the importance of best practices, e.g., mulching gardens in the fall, planting cover crops, adding compost or other organic amendments.

Participants in the Land Adaptation group discuss a variety of topics related to sustainable agriculture. at far right is Todd Ontl, one of the coordinators of this group. 

Other topics included the following:
  • Wetlands -- preservation and remediation
  • Low impact development, how we will change our infrastructure
  • Climate change impacts to historic mining sites (e.g. extreme precipitation and mine tailings)
  • Invasive species, insect pests, tree pathogens: how they will affect our forests
  • Forest management for adaptation; particularly lack of sustainable forest management practices
  • Biomass for energy production; use of forest biomass in municipal energy production (L’Anse?)
  • Infrastructure compatibility
  • Wind power and agriculture
  • Michigan Public Service commission
  • Try to get net metering rules changed!
  • UPPCO won’t set up any more net metering for customers, won’t change unless they are made to change.
The group also discussed contacting the conservation districts (Houghton/Keweenaw and Marquette) about distributing info on climate change and forests during their annual tree sale, e.g., importance of wetlands, maintaining biodiversity, etc.


* KCC's Robert Handler, operations manager for Michigan Tech's Sustainable Futures Institute, served as Master of Ceremonies during the Dec. 1, 2016, Climate Café and compiled notes from the discussion groups summarized in this article.

** Click here to learn about the Pearce Research Group, Michigan Tech's Lab in Open Sustainability Technology.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Call to action rally to SAVE HEALTH CARE to be Jan. 15 on Portage Lift Bridge

The Portage Lift Bridge, seen here today from the Portage Lake District Library, will be the scene of a SAVE HEALTH CARE rally on Sunday, Jan. 15. Concerned citizens will cross the bridge on the sidewalks from Houghton to Hancock and back, carrying signs to protest proposed changes to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Medicare, and Medicaid. Participants will gather at 1 p.m. on the lower (covered) level of the parking ramp in downtown Houghton and walk together onto the bridge. All participants are welcome. Dress warmly and invite friends and neighbors. (Photo courtesy Portage Lake District Library)

HOUGHTON -- The Houghton County Democratic Party will host a SAVE HEALTH CARE rally at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 15. Marchers will cross the Portage Lift Bridge (on the sidewalks) to protest proposed changes to the ACA (Affordable Care Act), Medicare, and Medicaid. The intent of the march is to raise awareness that the Republicans -- including newly sworn-in First District Representative Jack Bergman -- intend to attack and destroy programs that so many residents and voters in this community rely on for their health care.

Republicans in Washington, DC, are working to immediately repeal the ACA, which provides health insurance for over 20 million Americans. And they don’t plan to stop with the ACA. House Speaker Paul Ryan has announced his intent to convert Medicare to a privatized voucher system, to reduce funding for Medicaid, and to de-fund Planned Parenthood. In response, Democratic Congressional leaders (led by Sen. Bernie Sanders) have called for a day of action, "Our First Stand: Save Health Care," on Jan. 15. The Houghton event will be one of many rallies to be held around the country to vigorously oppose the Republican plan to end Medicare as we know it and throw our health care system into chaos.

Donald Trump promised that he would "not cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid." This is an opportunity to hold Congress and the President-elect accountable. One purpose of the rally is to target Rep. Bergman to let him know concerned voters are watching him and will remember his vote on health care when he runs for office again in two years.

Participants will gather at 1 p.m. on the lower (covered) level of the parking ramp in downtown Houghton and walk together onto the bridge. The goal is to line the bridge with marchers. Ask your friends and neighbors to join you. Invite people who you think should be on the bridge, including not only recipients of these programs but people who have family members who rely on these programs and people whose livelihoods depend on the programs -- nursing home employees, doctors, nurses, etc. All are welcome, especially people whose own health insurance will be affected if these programs are cut, which includes almost anyone with employer-provided health insurance.

If possible, bring a sign that is large, with few words, and easy to read. (Some suggestions: NO HEALTH CARE CUTS! SAVE MEDICARE! REPUBLICANS - DON'T CUT MEDICAID! HEALTH CARE NOT WARFARE! or your own words.)

For more information, contact Valorie Troesch at vtroesch@gmail.com.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Prominent U.P. environmental groups merge

In September 2016, friends of Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP) and the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition (UPEC) gather at the historic Peter White Camp as the planned merger of the two environmental groups is announced, creating the Mining Action Group within UPEC. (Photo courtesy UPEC)

By Michele Bourdieu
With information from Save the Wild U.P. (now Mining Action Group) and the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition 

MARQUETTE -- Two of the most respected environmental organizations in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula have joined forces! Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP) and Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition (UPEC) recently completed a year-end merger, resulting in the formation of a Mining Action Group (MAG) within UPEC. The merger became effective on Jan. 1, 2017.

"This merger brings together five decades of leadership and grassroots effort," said Horst Schmidt, UPEC president. "We are now truly speaking with 'One Voice' to protect the environment of the Upper Peninsula. We could not have done it without the dedication of board members of both groups."

Kathleen Heideman, SWUP’s outgoing president, said the two groups have joined to create an active, far-reaching and inclusive environmental advocacy group for the U.P.

"We are combining our strengths and building on our cooperative efforts to protect clean water, healthy ecosystems, and wild places," Heideman explained. "This transformation enables members of the Mining Action Group to remain focused on the grassroots work of defending Upper Michigan's clean water and wild places from the threat of sulfide mining. We're not getting bigger, we're getting better."*

Concerned citizens are encouraged to support the work of the Mining Action Group by becoming members of the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition.*

Save the Wild U.P.'s activism

According to Alexandra Maxwell, SWUP’s outgoing executive director, SWUP's activism took many forms during the past year.

"From the first hours of 2016 until the last, we worked tirelessly opposing Aquila’s Back Forty proposal for an open-pit sulfide mine and mill on the bank of the Menominee River," Maxwell said. "We hosted forums to discuss the proposed mine, held trainings for concerned citizens, facilitated a red-flag review by the Center for Science in Public Participation, prepared evidenced-based comments for the DEQ, and more."

Poster for one of the forums on the Back Forty mining proposal held by Save the Wild U.P. last year. Front 40 is a citizens' group working with SWUP on educating the public about the dangers of sulfide mining. (Poster courtesy SWUP) 

"We also worked to raise awareness about wetlands and wildlands threatened by the controversial County Road 595 proposal; we hosted cultural events and boots-on-the-ground experiences including musical events and poetry readings, opportunities to explore wetlands, waterfalls and native plant habitats; and we participated in a U.P. Environmental Stakeholder Group in order to provide meaningful input on sulfide mining permits to Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality," Maxwell added.

Even before 2016, Maxwell and Heideman worked on collaboration with other community groups to gain support for their work, and the recent merger with UPEC is the most recent development in that effort.

During SWUP's December 2015 gala fundraiser in Marquette, Heideman and Maxwell spoke to supporters about working with various other groups concerned about conservation and environmental protection:

During the December 2015 Save the Wild U.P. fundraiser in Marquette, SWUP President Kathleen Heideman and Executive Director Alexandra Maxwell (foreground), speak to supporters about their environmental work on mining and mineral lease issues, water and land protection -- and collaboration with other community organizations and concerned individuals. (Video by Keweenaw Now)

At that same fundraiser, SWUP welcomed noted New York filmmaker Louis Galdieri, co-producer of the film 1913 Massacre (about the Italian Hall disaster), who has taken a personal interest in current U.P. mining issues since visiting the area for the making of that film and has written about these issues on his blog.**

Filmmaker Louis Galdieri -- guest speaker at the December 2015 gala fundraiser for Save the Wild U.P. -- speaks about the importance of saving what is left of the wild and protecting it from unsustainable, destructive industrial development such as mining. (Video by Keweenaw Now)**

Founded in 2004, SWUP has become widely known for leveraging social media and providing hard-hitting public commentary on sulfide mining related permits, most recently on the proposed zinc-copper mine targeting the Menominee River and proposed expansion of the Eagle Mine in Marquette County. MAG activists will continue serving as environmental watchdogs, urging regulators to make wise decisions to protect the natural resources and public lands of Upper Michigan, educating citizens about the risks of sulfide mining and the industrialization of wild lands, reviewing permits for new mineral leases in sensitive areas, speaking out at public hearings, and working collaboratively with regional tribal nations and watershed organizations.

At a "lunch and learn" informative session on Aquila Resources’ Back Forty Project for an open-pit mine near the Menominee River, Save the Wild U.P. (now outgoing) President Kathleen Heideman points out the location of the proposed pit (red circle) and its proximity to the Menominee River.  (Keweenaw Now file photo)

Following the merger, the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition will maintain its focus on environmental education and advocacy for U.P. wild lands. The Mining Action Group, operating as a semi-autonomous arm within UPEC, will carry on Save the Wild U.P.’s legacy of informed grassroots activism.

SWUP leaders Steven Garske, Kathleen Heideman, Alexandra Maxwell, and Jon Saari will form the initial MAG team within UPEC.***

Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition: education, grants, culture changes

According to Jon Saari, who has served in leadership roles with both organizations, UPEC's perspective is broader and more historical.

"U.P. environmental groups have vacillated about the best way to do our work," Saari said. "The Hard Power wing pushes lobbying, watchdogging government and industry, relentless pursuit in crisis mode, while the Soft Power wing stresses public education, strategic grant giving, and long term cultural changes. SWUP is more in the former tradition, UPEC in the latter. Now the two approaches will be combined in one organization."

Jon Saari, right, speaks during the UPEC-SWUP event last September at the Peter White Camp. (Photo courtesy UPEC)

As a member-based organization, UPEC has been helping to protect the U.P.’s great places since 1976; activities focus on community outreach through a quarterly newsletter, the annual Celebration of the U.P. event, and grant programs in environmental education and community conservation.

"UPEC awarded $34,000 in grants in 2016," said UPEC President Horst Schmidt, "and going forward we want to enhance our presence and partnerships U.P.-wide."

UPEC's biggest annual event is "Celebrate the U.P." -- usually held each year in March at various locations. In March 2016 the event was held at the Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College and included tribal representatives among the organizers and guest speakers.

During the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition's annual "Celebrate the U.P." event, held on March 19, 2016, Jerry Jondreau, a member of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community and tribal forester, speaks about Ojibwa history and the importance of water for wild rice. The event was held at Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College in Baraga. (Video by Keweenaw Now)

Connie Sherry of Houghton, UPEC board member and chair of UPEC's Education Grants Committee, welcomes visitors to the 2016 "Celebrate the U.P." event at Ojibwa Community College. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

Linda Rulison, board member of the Lake Superior Stewardship Initiative (LSSI), helped write the initial grant for this group that focuses on environmental education about the Lake Superior watershed. Rulison is also president of FOLK (Friends of the Land of Keweenaw), an environmental group involved with mining, air pollution and climate change issues. A variety of educational and environmental groups exhibit information about their work at UPEC's "Celebrate the U.P." (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

At her 2016 "Celebrate the U.P." exhibit, Carolyn Peterson chats with Connie Julien, president of the local Peter Wolfe Chapter of the North Country Trail and UPEC webmaster, about the moose bones on Isle Royale. Peterson works on the island with her husband, Rolf Peterson, co-director of the Isle Royale Wolf-Moose study. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

Rolf Peterson is pictured here at the Isle Royale exhibit with Nancy Warren of Wolfwatchers, former UPEC president. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

The keynote speaker at the 2016 "Celebrate the U.P." was Trevor Thomas, a professional blind hiker, who told his inspiring story of adapting to blindness so that he can still enjoy outdoor activities and the natural places he loves, with the indispensable help of his guide dog.

At UPEC's 2016 "Celebrate the U.P." event, keynote speaker Trevor Thomas, professional blind hiker, speaks about how he reacted when he first learned he was going blind and wondered how he would ever be able to continue the extreme outdoor sports he loved. (Video by Keweenaw Now)

Thomas said his dog, Tennille, while accompanying him on hikes, is able to point out things that might hurt him.

"Positive reinforcement is all she needs," he said.

Following his talk, blind hiker Trevor Thomas answers questions from some members of the audience while his guide dog, Tennille, takes a rest. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

Thomas explained he works as a brand ambassador for multiple outdoor manufacturers. In addition to help from his guide dog, he uses his cell phone technology while hiking.

"I keep track of cadence -- walking speed -- that gives me distance, and I can match distances with the directions that are in my phone," he said.

Thomas also noted he would like to see braille signs on easy and moderate trails -- especially for people blind from birth who can't trace the alphabet on signs.

During the supper served by Keweenaw Bay Indian Community members, several people commented that they were very inspired by Thomas's talk.

Marjorie Johnston said she thought both Trevor and his dog were great.

"I'm amazed at what he does, but I'm also amazed at the training of the dog," Johnston said.

Founded in 1976, the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition’s purpose remains unchanged: to protect and maintain the unique environmental qualities of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan by educating the public and acting as a watchdog to industry and government. UPEC is a nonprofit, registered 501(c)(3) organization. For more information, call 906-201-1949, see UPenvironment.org, visit their Facebook page, or contact: upec@upenvironment.org.

The UPEC Mining Action Group (MAG) is a grassroots effort to defend the clean water and wild places of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula from the dangers of sulfide mining -- previously known as Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP). Contact the UPEC Mining Action Group at info@savethewildup.org or call (906) 662-9987. Learn more about the Mining Action Group at miningactiongroup.org or follow MAG’s work on Facebook or Twitter. 

Editor's Notes:

* Read more about the merger and see more photos in UPEC's Fall 2016 Newsletter. Visit the UPEC Web site for more information. See also UPEC's Winter 2016-17 Newsletter.

** Click here to read Louis Galdieri's complete speech at the SWUP gala fundraiser.

*** Click here for news from the Mining Action Group (formerly Save the Wild U.P.).

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

National Park Service seeks Public Comment on Draft Environmental Impact Statement to Address the Introduction of Wolves to Isle Royale

Isle Royale wolf. (Photo © and courtesy Rolf Peterson)

HOUGHTON -- Isle Royale National Park (ISRO) released for public review and comment the draft Environmental Impact Statement to Address the Presence of Wolves (draft EIS). The wolf population has declined to just two wolves in the past five years and scientists believe that natural recovery of the population is unlikely.

The draft EIS is open for public review and comment for 90 days, concluding March 15, 2017. Click here to read the draft EIS and comment on it.

The draft EIS evaluates four alternatives:  a no-action alternative and three action alternatives.  Alternative B is the National Park Service (NPS) preferred alternative. It calls for the immediate introduction of 20 to 30 wolves to the park over a three year period. The goal of the preferred alternative is the immediate introduction of enough wolves to the park to sustain a population.

Alternative A is no action. Under alternative C, the National Park Service would immediately introduce 6 - 15 wolves with the potential for subsequent introductions over a 20-year period in order to maintain a wolf population in the park. Alternative D provides continued monitoring with no immediate action to bring in wolves but the ability to do so in the future. The decision about future introductions would be based on moose population metrics and other observed changes in the ecosystem.

This slide from a July 2015 Open House presentation in Houghton by Andrew Coburn, NPS environmental protection specialist and project manager for the Isle Royale management plan/EIS, outlines the estimated schedule NPS has been following to prepare the Moose-Wolf-Vegetation Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement (plan/EIS). The Draft Plan/EIS now available for public review concerns the presence of wolves on the island.* 

"This is about more than wolves," Park Superintendent Phyllis Green said. "It’s about the entire park ecosystem and where it is heading in the future with changing conditions. This is a complex issue to address. We have sought input from subject matter experts to evaluate the situation, and we would like to hear from the public on the current draft plan."

Click here to read the purpose of the draft EIS and to see the time left in the comment period. A limited number of hard copies of the draft EIS are available at park headquarters as well as public libraries in Houghton and Marquette, Michigan;  Superior, Wisconsin; and Duluth, Minnesota.

Comments may be submitted online as indicated above or by mailing or hand delivering comments to Superintendent Phyllis Green, Isle Royale National Park, ISRO Wolves, 800 East Lakeshore Drive, Houghton, Michigan 49931-1896.**

Public Meetings, Webinars to be held in February 2017

Isle Royale National Park will host public meetings and webinars to discuss the draft EIS in February, 2017.  Meetings will be held in the Houghton area as well as other sites to be determined in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and/or Michigan.  Dates, times and locations of these meetings will be announced in future news releases, on the park’s website, Isle Royale's Facebook page, and at https://parkplanning.nps.gov/projectHome.cfm?projectId=59316.

Editor's Notes:

* See our Aug. 25, 2015, article on the July 2015 Isle Royale National Park Open House, "Public comments on Isle Royale Moose-Wolf-Vegetation Management Plan/EIS due Aug. 29; wildlife experts concerned about wolf rescue" for discussion on the wolf management issue and video clips from the presentations.

** For more background on this issue see this April 2016 article by Allison Mills of the Michigan Tech News: Michigan Tech News: Two Wolves Remain on Isle Royale.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Plug In for renewable energy

An example of plug and play solar. (Photo courtesy Joshua Pearce and Michigan Tech University)

By Stefanie Sidortsova*
With additional information from Joshua Pearce
Posted Dec. 5, 2016, on Michigan Tech News
Reprinted here with permission

HOUGHTON -- A new study shows a huge US market for plug and play solar energy, with billions of dollars in retail sales and energy savings. So what's holding up widespread use?

Support for solar energy is vast. According to a 2015 Gallup poll, 79 percent of Americans want the US to put more emphasis on developing solar power. Most of the same people, unfortunately, can’t afford to install solar energy systems in their homes. Even after federal tax credits, installing solar panels to cover all of a family's electricity needs can cost tens of thousands of dollars. For others, a home solar system isn’t a consideration because they rent, or move frequently.

But Michigan Technological University’s Joshua Pearce says he knows the solution: plug and play solar.

"Plug and play systems are affordable, easy to install, and portable," says Pearce, associate professor of materials science and engineering and of electrical and computer engineering. "The average American consumer can buy and install them with no training."

In a study funded by the Conway Fellowship and published in Renewable Energy (DOI: 10.1016/j.renene.2016.11.034), Pearce and researchers Aishwarya Mundada and Emily Prehoda estimate that plug and play solar could provide 57 gigawatts of renewable energy -- enough to power the cities of New York and Detroit -- with potentially $14.3 to $71.7 billion in sales for retailers and $13 billion a year in cost savings for energy users.

Sounds great, right? Well, there’s one problem: in many parts of the United States, electrical regulations don’t allow consumers to plug and play.

Small Investment, Big Return

Plug and play solar panels connect to an ordinary electrical outlet. You’re still on the grid, but you’ve become a "prosumer" -- a consumer of energy who also produces it. The panels range in wattage and are relatively affordable, with some costing just a couple hundred dollars apiece. A prosumer can start small, with just one panel, and slowly build up over time to a system that produces 1 kilowatt of energy, the equivalent of powering 10 100-watt LED light bulbs.

The panels are also portable. So, for example, if a college student buys one 250-watt plug and play panel each year for four years, reaching 1 kilowatt of energy by senior year, that student can unplug the four panels when she graduates and take them to her next destination.

 "The technology is already there. Europeans do this all the time." Joshua Pearce

Pearce estimates that plug and play systems could generate more than four times the amount of electricity generated from all of US solar last year. 

"The vast majority of this energy never leaves the home," Pearce says. "It’s the equivalent of handling a hair dryer load. We’re talking about almost nothing on the electrical grid -- but that nothing adds up. It’s an appliance with a high rate of return."

Safe, Simple -- And Largely Prohibited

In the United States, a patchwork of local jurisdictions and regulations make it difficult to figure out if and where plug and play panels are allowed.

"You can buy the panels," Pearce says, "but you might not be able to plug them in, depending on your utility."

Pearce cites the Upper Peninsula Power Company (UPPCO) as an example of a utility that prohibits this plug and play solar use.

"UPPCO has hit their self-imposed 1 percent  limit (the minimum the state mandates they allow) for all net metering of any kind," Pearce notes. "This makes both new traditional solar photovoltaic (PV) systems and new plug and play PV systems unable to connect now unless consumers  1) use a transfer switch that can switch various home circuits from grid to the solar so if you have extra solar power, you just put more load on that system, 2) use a battery back up system, or 3) simply leave the grid. The latter is possible to do economically in this region by combining solar, a small battery bank and a cogen system (a technology that produces both electricity and heat -- usually from natural gas).

"We essentially have the highest electric rates in the country and UP customers are being blocked by financing their own less-expensive grid tied solar systems to protect a short-term utility monopoly. As grid defection becomes a progressively more profitable investment for many people in the UP, utilities that follow this short-sighted strategy risk losing significant fractions of their customer base. Our earlier analysis showed 92 percent of seasonal households and ~75 percent of year-round households are projected to meet electricity demands with lower costs using their own PV+battery+cogen systems."

In a paper published earlier this year in Solar Energy (DOI: 10.1016/j.solener.2016.06.002), Pearce, Mundada and researcher Yuenyong Nilsiam reviewed all regulations in the US that would apply to plug and play systems. They found no safety or technical issues with the equipment on the market.

"This is an area where less regulation could really help renewable energy," Pearce says. "We know that the technology is safe, and the law should reflect that."

The risk, according to Pearce, is putting too much current on one circuit, so he recommends that homeowners keep their plug and play systems to a kilowatt or less. Simple precautions make this easy -- if a panel is plugged into an outdoor outlet, for example, safety plugs on all other outdoor outlets on that circuit can prevent overload.

While some jurisdictions have recognized that there are no major safety or technical issues with plug and play panels, paperwork holds up the process. Potential prosumers often have to fill out complicated forms to fulfill utility requirements, and the paperwork and associated fees vary by utility. To simplify the process, Pearce and colleagues automated it, by writing open-source computer code that fills out every possible technical requirement. Utilities can easily use the free code on their websites.

"Some utilities have embraced plug and play, and some have ignored it because they think it’s a pittance," Pearce says. "But plug and play solar is something that can help most Americans."

Inset Photo: Joshua Pearce. (Photo courtesy Michigan Tech University)

* Editor's Note: Guest author Stefanie Sidortsova is a Science and Technology Publications writer for Michigan Tech University.