Friday, June 17, 2016

Environmentalists applaud dismissal of Road Commission's CR595 lawsuit

From Save the Wild U.P.

This photo shows Wildcat Canyon in the potential CR 595 corridor. The proposed 21-mile primary county road, running north-south between U.S. Highway 41 and County Road Triple A, was intended to connect the Eagle Mine with the Humboldt Mill. (File photo © and courtesy Jeremiah Eagle Eye. Reprinted with permission.)

MARQUETTE -- Grassroots environmental groups including Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP), Concerned Citizens of Big Bay (CCBB), the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve (YDWP), and other environmental groups are hailing the decision of Federal Judge Robert Holmes Bell, who recently dismissed the Marquette County Road Commission (MCRC) lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

In his dismissal, Judge Bell stated that the MCRC "doesn't have a viable claim against the EPA."

From the beginning environmentalists have contended that what the Road Commission wanted to build was an industrial road -- a mining haul road known as CR595 -- but serious threats to wetlands and watersheds proved insurmountable. The proposed road would have cut across 22 rivers and streams, including the Dead River and Yellow Dog River Watersheds, the Mulligan Creek headwaters, Voelker Creek, and Wildcat Canyon. It would also have damaged or destroyed numerous wetlands.

This wetland in the proposed CR 595 corridor is one of many sensitive areas that would be impacted by the proposed wilderness road intended primarily for hauling ore from the Eagle Mine to the Humboldt Mill. (Keweenaw Now file photo © and courtesy Jessica Koski) 

Alexandra Maxwell, SWUP’s executive director, applauded Judge Bell for his decision, adding SWUP hopes this will settle the issue of the proposed CR595.

"This decision wholly validates what U.P. environmental groups have expressed all along," Maxwell said. "The EPA’s objections to the construction of this road were valid and protective of one of the world’s largest sources of freshwater."

On Aug. 28, 2012, a crowd of about 400 filled the Ontario, Michigan and Huron rooms in Northern Michigan University's Don H. Bottum University Center for the Environmental Protection Agency's Public Hearing on the proposed County Road 595. Many residents, tribal representatives and other concerned citizens voiced their objections to the road. In December 2012 EPA objected to the wetland and stream crossing impacts in the permit application and prevented permitting of the road. In January 2015 Marquette County Road Commission voted to sue the EPA. (Keweenaw Now file photo)*

Chauncey Moran, Chairman of the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve Board of Directors, said, "The 595 issue demonstrates the reason we need clear siting requirements, because there are places where Thou Shalt Not."

During the Aug. 28, 2012, EPA Public Hearing on the proposed County Road 595, Chauncey Moran of Big Bay holds up a photo showing some of the wetlands that could be impacted by the proposed haul road. (Keweenaw Now file photo)

Jon Saari, SWUP vice president, said, "Let's hope Judge Bell's dismissal stands. Big highways are destructive swathes to natural habitats and wildlife. Woods roads are good enough in the UP backcountry."

Gene Champagne, spokesperson for Concerned Citizens of Big Bay, said the MCRC has wasted energy on a fraudulent application for this road.

"Moving forward, the MCRC needs to 'Quit Whining, Drop the Lawsuit, and Fix Our Roads.'"

During their Jan. 19, 2015, meeting, members of the Marquette County Road Commission return from a closed session discussion of their proposed lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency. (File photo by Gene Champagne for Keweenaw Now)

Champagne noted the judge's decision received little coverage in the mainstream media.

"If the decision had gone the other way it would BIG news!!! The mainstream media must be getting or giving some of that 'dark money,'" Champagne said.

Jeffery Loman, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community tribal member and former federal oil regulator, said, "It should be clear to everyone now -- the Rio Tinto 'Woodland Road' proposal and MCRC’s subsequent CR-595 proposal didn't meet even the minimum requirements under the Clean Water Act. Their efforts to subvert our laws didn't work."

According to concerned citizen Catherine Parker, who has attended most Marquette County Road Commission meetings and followed federal objections to the proposed road, "MCRC doesn't have a case. Period. The evidence is right there in the files I received through Freedom of Information Act requests."

Horst Schmidt, Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition (UPEC) president, said the UPEC Board has authorized the following statement:

"The court’s decision promotes sound land stewardship by preserving the unique natural resources, including the wetlands and wildlife habitat along the proposed CR 595 corridor. The Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition acknowledges the persistent efforts of SWUP in supporting the EPA's original decision along with the diverse group of local citizens, businesses and other organizations that rallied behind SWUP and the EPA in support of the rule of law designed to protect our people and our fragile environment here in the U.P." 

Kathleen Heideman, SWUP president, said Judge Bell made the right decision.

"The facts never supported the Road Commission’s claims," Heideman noted.

Keweenaw Now attempted to contact the Marquette County Road Commission Thursday and learned their office is closed until Monday, June 20, for "staff training." We also tried to reach individual MCRC Board members today, but were not able to contact them.

A short article on TV-6 News Thursday evening (June 16) states that MCRC is asking Judge Bell to reconsider his decision.**

Editor's Notes:

* See our two-part article on the Aug. 28, 2012, EPA Public Hearing on CR595: "EPA Hearing on CR 595 permit: Part 1, Questions" and "EPA Hearing on CR 595: Part 2: Comments."

** Click here for the TV-6 article and video clip.

Portage Lake District Library to launch 2016 Summer Reading Program; Friends of the Library to hold Book Sale June 18

During the 2015 Summer Reading Program opening day, Chris Alquist, Portage Lake District Library community program director, right, explains the benefits of the program for all family members, even this family's one-year-old "reader." (Photos by Keweenaw Now)

HOUGHTON -- Portage Lake District Library will be the scene of two events on Saturday, June 18: registration and opening day family activities for the library's Summer Reading Program and the Friends of the Library Summer Book Sale.

Family fun at Summer Reading Program opening day

Parents and kids enjoy making crafts during the June 2015 Summer Reading Program opening day.

From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, the public is invited to enjoy opening day activities and registration for the Summer Reading Program. Kids are invited to make crafts and participate in activities both inside and outside the library, and everyone can create their own ice cream sundae in the community room.

Everyone enjoys creating and eating an ice cream sundae!

This "On Your Mark, Get Set…Read!" Summer Reading Program encourages everyone to exercise, be active, and read. Throughout the day, kids can use rowing machines provided by Nu Day Fitness Center, jump rope, play hopscotch and Nerf basketball, exercise with hula hoops, make sidewalk chalk art, get their face painted, and make a book, a necklace and an award medal.

Face painting at the library is popular with kids of all ages.

The program will continue through Saturday, August 27, and people may register throughout the summer. Participants will receive a reading log, book bag, and bookmark when they register and prizes as they progress through their reading lists. People who register on June 18 will also receive a water bottle. The Summer Reading Program is open to all ages, children through adults; and reading logs may include books, magazines, audio books, reading to young children, and being read to.

The Summer Reading Program includes Storytimes and programs and events for all ages. Look for programming information in the library, the media, and at www.pldl.org.

Library programs are free and everyone is welcome. For more information, please call the library at 482-4570.

Friends of the Library Summer Book Sale

The Friends of the Portage Lake District Library invite all book lovers to their annual Summer Book Sale from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, June 18.

The sale will take place in the Michigan and Local History room at the library. An excellent selection of new and gently used books, audio books, and DVDs for adults and children plus some miscellaneous items will be sold to raise money for library projects and items that the Friends provide. A half price sale will be held from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Projects that the Friends of the Library have done include buying books, furniture, computers, a work bench for staff, the Children’s Listening Center, and other materials. Proceeds from book sales also pay for annual events sponsored by the Friends of the Library -- including the Salsa Contest, the Summer’s Bounty Social, Scrabble Tournaments, Blind Date with a Book, the Friendship Tea and more. Information on how to become involved with the Friends will be available at the book sale.

For more information, please call the library at 482-4570 or visit www.pldl.org.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Michigan Tech conference trips to Isle Royale, Manitou Island, Cliff Mine and Eagle River available to community -- register now!

Ranger III will be taking passengers to Isle Royale for a trip departing from Houghton June 28, 2016, and returning July 2, 2016. Places are still available but the deadline to register is midnight on Tuesday, June 14! (See below.) (Photo courtesy Isle Royale National Park)

HOUGHTON -- Michigan Tech is hosting the International Symposium on Society and Resource Management from June 22-26, 2016, for social scientists who study society, environment, and natural resources issues. Three field trips associated with this event have room to extend opportunities to interested members of the local community. Because they are part of the conference, prices are reduced compared to what you may have seen posted for other similar trips. This is a great deal! Deadlines are looming and space is limited, so sign up right away if you are interested!

Isle Royale National Park Lodge Based Trip: June 28-July 2, 2016. $675 (per adult age 12 and over); $300 (per child age 7-11); ($255 under age 7). This is a reduced cost way to get out to the island! Rate includes round trip boat fare to/from the island on Ranger III, room and board for 4 nights (must share a room, double occupancy), boat tours to the historic Rock Harbor Lighthouse, Edisen Fishery, and Bangsund Research Station (home of the Isle Royale Wolf-Moose Project) and Hidden Lake and Lookout Louise (spectacular views of Isle Royale's northshore and Canada). Participants could also engage in hikes to Scoville Point and Suzy's Cave; book a fishing charter; and enjoy park interpretive programs within the Snug Harbor area that serves as the main entry point for visitors to Isle Royale National Park. You must reserve before midnight Tuesday, June 14! Click here for more trip details, including a less expensive backpacking option.

Ancient Lava Flows on Manitou Island: Sunday, June 26, 2016, full day. $110/person. This trip is led by geologists Erika Vye and Bill Rose. It focuses on the Keweenaw’s deep volcanic past and the relationship between copper, lavas and the subsequent passage of people that came here with the purpose of mining. Participants will travel by van from Houghton to Eagle Harbor to board the Michigan Tech RV Agassiz and travel past lava reefs and shipwrecks on the way to Manitou Island, one of the most isolated and pristine places in the Keweenaw.

Michigan Tech's Research Vessel Agassiz will take passengers to Manitou Island for a geology adventure on Sunday, June 26, 2016. (Keweenaw Now file photo)

 A number of features tell the story of the Keweenaw such as grand ridges of conglomerate rock, the boxlike harbor created by lava flows at the lighthouse, a massive calcite vein that disappears into the depths of Lake Superior, and high energy beaches. The group will enjoy a boxed lunch together on the island before departing for Copper Harbor where they will explore curious rock formations at the Hunter’s Point nature preserve and visit the Greenstone lava flow -- the largest lava flow on Earth!  To cap the day the group will stop at Brickside brewery, before returning to Houghton. This trip covers a lot of ground and affords the opportunity to visit one of the most remote places in the peninsula. Be prepared to be outside all the time and carry clothing for all weather conditions. 

Wilderness, Industry and Tourism: Public Archaeology at the Cliff Mine and Eagle River: Wednesday, June 22, 2016, full day. $45/person (includes lunch). Michigan’s Copper Country has seen ten millennia of human mining communities, technologies, and ecological relationships. Trip participants will explore the landscape of the Cliff mine, a National Register Historic Site, and nearby Eagle River where Michigan Tech researchers have conducted a public archaeology project for the last six years engaging communities with history and the research process.

This 2010 photo shows part of the Cliff Mine site at the time Michigan Tech researchers were beginning their archaeological project. (Keweenaw Now file photo)

Come to explore this picturesque historic ruin and spend the morning hiking over the three square miles of the mine and town. The site includes ruins interspersed through wooded terrain and wetlands both atop and below the 200-foot greenstone bluff that runs along the spine of the Keweenaw Peninsula. Hiking will be self-guided over unimproved walking trails where the terrain ranges from moderate to advanced. MTU archaeologists and graduate students will wait at discovery stations where they can share pictures, research stories, and explain the site’s history and heritage stories. After the hiking, the group will take a short ride to Eagle River for a beachside catered lunch at the iconic Fitzgerald’s Restaurant at the Eagle River Inn (with a cash bar), followed by another walking tour of the quaint antebellum community of Eagle River. Must reserve before midnight Monday, June 20.

To Register for any of these trips:
Go to http://www.iasnr.org/
From there, look for "Login and Register" on the right side of page. You will need to create a free account. Then, you can go to the "Marketplace" and scroll down through the various conference options to the field trips at the bottom. Select the field trip you'd like to join, add to your shopping cart, and purchase it online. Spots are limited, so sign up fast! 

If you have difficulty navigating the system or you just have questions and want to know more, please contact Jill Fisher at jhfisher@mtu.edu or call 906-487-1095.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Students learn environmental stewardship through planting, monitoring, birding at Torch Lake Superfund site

By Michele Bourdieu

Lake Linden-Hubbell High School science teacher Nick Squires shows his biology students how to  plant dark-green bulrush and red-osier dogwood near the shore of Torch Lake during their field trip in May 2016. (Photos by Keweenaw Now unless otherwise indicated)

LAKE LINDEN -- Despite some chilly, windy weather and predictions for snow in mid-May, Lake Linden-Hubbell High School 10th grade students spent an afternoon on the shores of Torch Lake planting red-osier dogwoods and dark-green bulrushes, bird watching and installing nesting boxes for birds, and playing disc golf just for fun.

This is just one of several hands-on, outdoor activities their science teacher, Nick Squires, offers his students each year so they can learn about the local ecology and stewardship practices in an area that has been disturbed by mining waste and remediated as a Superfund site. Earlier in the year these students monitored the Lake Linden Village Sands (where the Torch Lake Superfund covered stamp sand from mining with vegetation) and collected data for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In addition, Squires had his eighth graders monitor the Trap Rock River at four different sites.

For the spring field trip, sponsored by the Lake Superior Stewardship Initiative, students were divided into three groups and spent a half hour or more on each of the three activities.  

Linden-Hubbell High School students plant red-osier dogwoods near the shore of Torch Lake on May 13, 2016.

As he demonstrated to his biology students how deep to plant the red-osier dogwoods, Squires noted one area near the shore presented challenges.

"We're standing on rock, for the most part," he said. "You cannot over-water these once they've been planted. If we get some snow tomorrow that will help."

Micah Hornat, right, meets the challenge of digging in rocky soil as Hunter Blau prepares to plant a red-osier dogwood.

Kali La Vigne, left, digs a hoe for a red-osier dogwood plant near the shore. She is assisted with the planting by Emily Beveridge, center, and Alli Goldsworthy.

Nicole Liimatainen holds the red-osier plant in place as Ryan Heikkinen adds topsoil.

Student Laura Lyons was proud of planting the dogwood and bulrushes, which help prevent erosion along the shore and contribute to species variety.

"It's nice to give back to our community," Lyons said.

While Squires led one group in planting, Dana Richter, Copper Country Audubon Club president, led a second group of students in a birding activity -- first observing birds with binoculars and then installing nesting boxes for them in an area near both the Lake Linden water treatment ponds, where many birds gather, and the shore of Torch Lake. Richter said the nesting boxes will be used by many tree swallows in the area.

Students use binoculars to observe birds near the Lake Linden water treatment ponds (at left).

Dana Richter of Copper Country Audubon demonstrates how to dig a hole for a nesting box.

Students take turns digging the hole and installing the nesting box at the right depth -- about 18-24 inches.

Pausing for a photo after completing their nesting box installation are, from left, Sophie Codere, Jake Marcotte, Shay Holzberger and Laura Lyons.

The third group activity, disc golf, was just for fun this year, while last year it was combined with writing poetry.

Logan Muljo tosses a frisbee into one of the disc golf basket destinations.

"We're out here just having fun right now," said Logan Muljo, who seemed to be enjoying the exercise while waiting for his group to be called for one of the other two activities.

Instead of playing disc golf, these students preferred hanging out with their English teacher, Heather French, and enjoying the cake she brought for them. Pictured here, from left, are Alli Goldsworthy, Emily Beveridge, Aidan Stahl, Ms. French, Julia McFarland, Lauren Barkell and Kali LaVigne.

Additional projects: monitoring and collecting data

Nick Squires noted his 10th-grade biology class also monitored the Lake Linden Sands last fall. The project follows EPA collection procedures for Superfund monitoring. After establishing up to 25 sample plots, students center a one-meter square (PVC) quadrat on each sampling point and divide the quadrat into quarters. The sampling is done in each quarter as follows:
  • NW corner: Collect plant biomass and measure root penetration
  • NE corner: Collect soil samples for fertility testing in lab
  • SW corner: ID every plant and collect plant vouchers
  • SE corner: Estimate overall soil coverage by vegetation   
The students follow detailed instructions for the sampling collection procedures.

"We have, in the past when they wanted it, submitted this data to the EPA," Squires said.

Each year Squires' 8th graders monitor the Trap Rock River.

Lake Linden-Hubbell 8th grade Earth Science students look for macroinvertebrates in the Trap Rock River. (Photo courtesy Nick Squires)

"We get data on dissolved oxygen, copper, pH, temperature, width, depth, flow rate, velocity, and macroinvertebrate count," he explained. "Historically, out of the 4 monitoring sites, the only spot that has some minor issues is the Scales Creek (tributary of the Trap Rock) site."

Collected macroinvertebrate samples from the Trap Rock River. (Photo courtesy Nick Squires)

Squires said he believes the students' experience in EPA monitoring and planting has many positives.

"It gets them out of the classroom and into the field doing real science," he noted. "It piques their interest in research-based science. The monitoring combined with the planting gives them a real sense that they have an understanding of their local environment as well as a genuine feeling of stewardship (the goal!)."

In early 2003, EPA sought the cooperation of educators and enlisted the assistance of local high school students to continue the monitoring begun by EPA in the first year following the re-vegetation of the Torch Lake site. Students from five area schools now perform long-term monitoring of bird and plant diversity and soil fertility on post-cleanup portions of the Torch Lake Superfund site.

Coordinated by Michigan Tech's Center for Science and Environmental Outreach, along with EPA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the students’ monitoring assists EPA’s efforts in charting the progress of the vegetation cap and habitat reconstruction done under the Superfund program. This project is the first of its kind to utilize students for the collection of data for use by EPA.

"Engaging students in learning about, and contributing to, the improvement of their local environment and community, is an excellent way to create lifelong natural resource stewards," observed Joan Chadde, director, Michigan Tech Center for Science and Environmental Outreach, and a partner on the Lake Superior Stewardship Leadership Team.

Funding for the initial year of the students’ work was provided by local groups, but EPA is now paying for the remaining years of the agreement. Cooperating UP-area high schools are Hancock, Lake Linden-Hubbell, Chassell, Dollar Bay, and Calumet.