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Thursday, June 24, 2021

UPDATE: Hancock Fire Department offers update on June 24 fuel spill on US-41

This map shows the areas in Hancock that were evacuated today, June 24, because of the fuel spill caused by a gasoline tanker that tipped over near Santori's Corner on US-41 this morning. (Map courtesy Hancock Fire Department)

UPDATE: 9:46 p.m. Thursday, June 24: The Hancock Fire Department is lifting the evacuation order that was in place. Residents are encouraged to return home. The Western U.P. Health Department, with assistance from the Hancock Fire Department, provided printed guidance to residents who will be reoccupying their homes. Air monitoring will continue to take place over the coming days.

Beaches along the canal will remain closed until further notice.

Highway 41 will remain closed overnight into the morning. It is likely the highway will not be open for traffic until Saturday. Detours will remain in place through at least tomorrow morning. See Traffic Detours below.

Due to the petroleum release and the heavy equipment operating in the area, residents are still requested to avoid the area if possible.

The next briefing will come out tomorrow when more information is known.

The following article was posted earlier today:

HANCOCK -- The Hancock Fire Department, through the City of Hancock, has sent the following update on today's fuel spill, marked in blue on the map above.

Around 8 a.m. today, Thursday, June 24, a gasoline tanker tipped over at Santori’s Corner on US Highway 41 in west Hancock. The tanker immediately started spilling gasoline. It was carrying about 8,500 gallons. Currently, it is unknown how much spilled. There have been no injuries caused by the accident and spill. Drinking water has not been affected.

The spilled fuel can be seen here moving east along the Portage Canal toward the Portage Lift Bridge. (Photo courtesy Superior Search and Rescue) 

The Western Upper Peninsula Health Department (WUPHD), working in conjunction with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), issued a public health advisory for the Portage Canal and beaches near Houghton/Hancock due to the fuel spill that discharged into the Portage Canal in Houghton County.

Evacuations are in place in west Hancock from Santori’s Corner on South Lincoln Drive (Highway 41) to Michigan Street, Michigan Street up to Elm Street and down to the Jutila Center, and Minnesota and Ohio Streets between Ethel Avenue and Michigan Street. See above map. It is currently unknown when residents will be allowed to return to their homes. An update on that will be given later tonight if possible.

Traffic Detours: Through traffic is requested to use alternative routes, with northbound traffic asked to follow M-203 toward McLain State Park and southbound traffic asked to take Airport Park Road through Dollar Bay. This is especially true for tractor trailers. Local traffic is open, and White Street in Hancock is currently open to two-way traffic because of the incident. Traffic is not expected to return to normal until late tonight, at the soonest. There is a potential it will be closed overnight, possibly affecting the morning commute. [See traffic update above.]

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), and Region 8 Hazmat Team is on scene to advise on cleanup efforts. Various contractors are on site and on route for cleanup efforts.

Cleanup efforts at Santori's Corner on US-41 require the highway to be closed to through traffic. (Photo courtesy Superior Search and Rescue)

Due to the petroleum release and the heavy equipment operating in the area, residents are requested to avoid the area if possible.  

Updates as the day goes on and photos and videos from the scene will be posted to the City of Hancock Facebook page or can be found here.

Health Department issues Public Health Advisory, Precautionary Canal and Beach Closure due to fuel spill discharge into Portage Canal

HANCOCK -- The Western Upper Peninsula Health Department (WUPHD), working in conjunction with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), is issuing a Public Health Advisory for the Portage Canal near Houghton/Hancock due to a fuel spill that discharged to Portage Canal this morning, June 24, in Hancock.

A fuel tanker truck overturned on U.S. Hwy-41, Santori’s Corner, in Hancock and released gasoline fuel to the ground surface. Fuel discharged to a storm drain that outlets to the Portage Canal. The entire Portage Canal, including public access beaches and boat launches are temporarily closed for recreational boating and body contact.

The primary concern for public safety is exposure to benzene due to inhalation and skin contact. Affected residents near the spill site are being temporarily evacuated by emergency personnel due to safety concerns. The public is encouraged to avoid the affected area at the spill site and to avoid the Portage Canal for any recreational use of the water such as boating or swimming. People and pets should avoid direct body contact and avoid swallowing lake water in this vicinity, especially if fuel is visible on the water surface. Do not use surface water for any drinking water purposes. If you smell fuel, move away from the area.

This is an ongoing emergency situation. Updates will be issued as additional information becomes available.

Editor's Note:

See the on site coverage on Facebook Live by TV6′s Jesse Wiederhold.

Also, according to TV6 News online, "Homes are being evacuated from Ohio and Michigan Streets up to Summit Street and along Ethel Ave. to Ingot Street. Those needing shelter can meet at the Church of Resurrection."

TV6 also reports that, while US-41 is closed, northbound traffic in the area is being re-routed to M-203 and southbound traffic to Airport Park Road and then M-26.

Monday, June 21, 2021

City of Houghton Planning Commission to hold Public Hearing June 22 on new rezoning along Canal Rd.

By Michele Bourdieu

This map shows the area between Canal Road and the Portage Canal, most of which was re-zoned from R-1 to B-2 in February. A recent proposal by a potential buyer would include rezoning Parcels B and C to Reserve zoning for a campground and walking trail along the Canal; construction of vacation housing units in Parcel D (to remain in B-2); and a boardwalk for visitors in Parcel A (zoned R-1), through the wetland and at the mouth of Cole's Creek. The City of Houghton Planning Commission will hold a Public Hearing on the new rezoning proposal June 22. Click on map for larger version. (Map courtesy City of Houghton)

HOUGHTON -- The City of Houghton Planning Commission will hold a Public Hearing at 5:30 p.m. (EDT) Tuesday, June 22, in the City of Houghton Council Chambers, 616 Shelden Avenue, Houghton, on a proposed rezoning of part of the area between Canal Road and the Portage Waterway (Portage Canal) known as the Cole's Creek Sands -- which was rezoned recently to B-2 with conditions (commercial) to allow a wide range of development. Two parcels in that area (B and C in the map above) are now being considered for a change to the more restrictive "Reserve" (RSV) zoning because of a potential buyer's concept of a planned development. The Public Hearing will also be via Zoom (see below for access).*

The plan would include a campground and vacation housing units. In addition, the proposal includes the wetland area, including part of Cole's Creek, which would remain in R-1 residential zoning, to be used as a nature park with public access and a boardwalk for public viewing. This new development concept is proposed to have less impact on the Superfund cover, part of the Torch Lake Superfund, that still protects the greater part of this area from hazardous industrial waste, including slag -- mining waste from the former Michigan Smelter. That Superfund area was covered with only 6 inches of soil and vegetation. The parcels are presently owned by JRG Enterprises, Inc., who requested this new rezoning.

Derek Bradway, a Michigan Tech graduate in environmental engineering, presented his concept of the planned development in a narrative dated April 30, 2021. In that narrative, he describes the vacation housing as follows: "Proposed development of 18 - 24 timber framed vacation houses. The houses will feature vaulted ceilings and water-facing decks. The typical house will be 2 bedrooms; 1,200 square feet. These timber framed gems will sit atop the upper level of the south end of the land, along Canal Road, facing Portage Canal."

These vacation housing units would be built on proposed Parcel D, which would remain in B-2 zoning.

Chris Woodry, a local homebuilder whose property is located in both the City of Houghton and Adams Township near Cole's Creek, opposed the original rezoning of most of the area to B-2 because of the potential environmental impacts of excavating a Superfund site for large-scale commercial construction.

"I'd still like to see an environmental study done regardless of what happens there," Woodry said, concerning the new rezoning proposal.

As a builder, he questions the developer's being able to fit everything claimed in that space, Parcel D, which is estimated at 5.56 acres.

This map shows the locations and relative shoreline lengths for Parcel A (wetland, blue line), which remains zoned R-1; Parcels B and C (green line), proposed for rezoning from B-2 to Reserve (RSV); and Parcel D (red line), which is to remain zoned B-2. Across the Canal, Hancock's shoreline shows Hancock Beach across from the wetland as well as residential and some business properties across from the other parcels. Click on map for larger version. (Map © Google Earth and courtesy Liz Gerson)

Liz Gerson, a concerned Houghton resident, offers an analysis of what the proposed rezoning and potential development would mean to her, illustrated by the Google map above: "The proposed zoning change to Reserve (RSV) involves about 11 acres (of 34 total acres for Parcels A-D), and relatively short stretches of Portage Canal road frontage and shoreline [green line on map]. Zoning for about 1/3 mile of shoreline remains in B-2 with conditions allowing for hotel, unrestricted in height [red line on map]. Directly across the Portage is primarily single family residential property in Hancock. It sounds like the prospective developer would fill this space with 18-24 two-bedroom vacation houses, which would maintain building heights comparable to R-1. If the developer's concept is realized, the daily occupancy level for the entire space will more than double what it would have been if built out at R-1.  Otherwise, the plan seems fairly benign, and I personally have no objection to the partial zoning change to RSV, but will await further information from the public hearing."

The map below includes the approximate number of acres and the shoreline and road frontage lengths for each parcel.

Click here for the June 22 Planning Commission meeting packet, p. 9, and view a larger version of this map. (Map courtesy City of Houghton)

Parcel D would remain in B-2 zoning, Bradway told Keweenaw Now, because it includes R-3, which permits multi-family residential.

Proposed Parcels B and C (about 10 acres) on these maps would be rezoned to Reserve for a campground that could include RVs as well as tents and would include a walking path.

Bradway describes this plan in his concept narrative: "Proposed development of an RV / tent campground. Planned are 46 modern, full hook-up RV sites and 23 Tent sites. Amenities include a 50' x 50' water's edge pavilion, docks for watercraft and fishing, a boat launch, and a playground. The campground will be nestled on the open, flat land. Campground construction is low-impact and minimally intrusive, thereby keeping the remediated site clean and stable. Approximately 350 trees will be planted. Green is good."

This photo shows the NW end of Parcel B, from the Fodermaiers' driveway along Canal Road toward Houghton. It is proposed, along with Parcel C, for rezoning to Reserve for the campground, walking path, and planted trees. Click on photo forClic larger version. (Photo © Google Earth and courtesy Liz Gerson)

Bradway continues, "A walk path from the south end of the property to the north end of the campground along the water will be nearly 3/4 of a mile. A very nice, beautiful stroll."

This photo along Canal Road shows a view of Parcel C in the foreground, looking toward the Fodermaier property and the wetland. Click on photo for larger version. (Photo © Google Earth and courtesy Liz Gerson)

Parcel A on the maps is the wetland bordering John and Bonnie Fodermaier's home. It includes the mouth of Cole's Creek and has remained in R-1 zoning.

This photo shows part of the wetland, viewed from the Fodermaiers' property on Portage Canal. (Keweenaw Now file photo)

In his narrative, Bradway says this about the wetland: "A raised boardwalk, 1/3 of a mile in length, with observation outposts will be constructed on the land around the mouth of Cole's Creek. This 13-acre piece of land is to preserve the wetlands while giving access to all, including the public, to its beauty. Think of it as a smaller version of the Nara Nature Park."**

Bradway noted several environmental and local concerns in a recent conversation with Keweenaw Now.

"The boardwalk will meander in a natural, organic fashion through the entire wetland," Bradway said. "The wood we're going to use for the cabins, the boardwalk and things of that nature will be wood that is locally sourced."

He is planning on more than 300 trees to be planted on the property.

"The majority will be evergreen and some deciduous trees as well," he noted. "That gives better stability for that land as well."

The walking path is to be non-motorized.

"That's for pedestrian traffic only -- or bicycles," Bradway explained, noting the DNR motorized trail is on the opposite side of Canal Road for such vehicles.

Asked about parking, Bradway said individual parking spaces would be provided at the campsites and the vacation homes. Public parking for the boardwalk in Parcel A currently exists near the mouth of Cole's Creek.

Houghton resident Bill Deephouse, former Michigan DNR fisheries biologist, told Keweenaw Now the mouth of Cole's Creek, including the parking lot, has been owned by Dave Jukuri (of JRG) for a long time but was always open to anyone who wanted to use it.

"I sure hope that it will remain open to anglers of all stripes," Deephouse said. "Many times I have seen people out at the mouth in Portage Lake casting for salmon in the fall, and others fish there in the spring for steelhead. Smelting in the spring was a tradition here. But the smelt run has been very low in recent years. The creek always had a nice population of brook trout in it but that was before the 2018 flood. I wouldn't hazard a guess what it is like now short of having the DNR do a survey to assess what is still in the creek."

As mentioned above, Bradway said he intends to keep all of Parcel A open to the public. He also told Keweenaw Now that, previous to his agreement with JRG, Parcel A was under contract to a private individual who wanted to build a house on it. Fortunately that "pending sale" did not go through and Bradway was able to include the wetland in his potential purchase.

"We were a breath away from losing access to the entire 15 acres of wetland," Bradway noted. "Now we can continue to offer the creek for public access and enjoyment, as JRG has done in the past."

John and Bonnie Fodermaier, whose house is between Parcels A and B, are supportive of the rezoning proposal for Parcels B and C and Bradway's plan for the wetland adjacent to their residential property.

In a May 14, 2021 letter to the City of Houghton, Fodermaier writes, "The proposed zoning amendment is extremely compatible with the existing property surrounding the proposed site. The use of the land for an RV Park is in concert with the existing R-1 homes in the area. In addition, the Cole’s Creek
Wetlands would become a nature area open to the public with boardwalks and benches. This would preserve the wild bird nesting area and the trout stream in the best possible way."

Fodermaier notes also that he believes Bradway's proposal for the area will not have an adverse effect on property values. He lists benefits of the rezoning to include lower traffic levels than under B-2, lower light and noise pollution, seasonal impact (May to September only), and no large-scale excavation of the Superfund cover or potential exposure of hazardous materials.***

Also in support of the potential project are John and Suzanne Sanregret, who own property at the south end of Parcel D. In a May 24 letter to the Planning Commission, they state their support for the proposed campground and vacation lodging, noting these will be attractive to tourists with the proximity to the waterway as well as Downtown Houghton businesses and entertainment.

The City of Houghton's packet for the June 22 Planning Commission meeting lists Derek Bradway as manager of Gold Metal Rentals LLC in a May 15, 2021, document signed by F. Michelle Halley, the applicant's attorney.

In the Introduction to this document, Halley states, "JRG and Gold Metal Rentals currently have a Purchase Agreement with rezoning the property being a contingency of the sale. The Reserve District is designed for 'lands bordering the Portage Waterway.' Div. 10, § 98-127.

"Principal permitted uses include one-family dwellings, vacation cottages, and private or commercial recreation areas.  Id. at 98-129. The Applicant’s proposed uses align with these allowed uses."

This document also includes discussion of 17 factors that are considered to determine whether the rezoning meets the goals of the City Zoning Ordinance and the Master Plan.

Some examples are Factor #5, which discusses the need for more camping facilities and vacation homes in the City of Houghton and Factor #9 on whether the physical characteristics of the site are appropriate for this proposed zoning amendment.

In answer to Factor #9, Halley writes,"The land is approved for development by both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Michigan Division of Energy, Great Lakes and  (EGLE). The applicable deed restrictions have been accounted for in this use proposal.

"Furthermore, campgrounds are low-impact and essentially non-invasive developments. The plans show 350 trees to be planted, which will enhance and stabilize this beautifully reclaimed land."****

Houghton City Manager Eric Waara presented the rezoning proposal from JRG to the Planning Commission at their May 25, 2021, meeting. According to the minutes of that meeting, Planning Commissioners made the following comments:

Kristine Bradof said she feels this is a good use of the property as it will not require a lot of digging and this is what Reserve is made for.

Jennifer Julien asked if it would create any problems by only rezoning Parcel B and Parcel C of the development and leaving Parcel A as R-1 and Parcel D as business. City Manager Waara said Parcel D can stay zoned as B-2 to fit the cabins. He does not see a problem with the smaller area rezoned to Reserve.  
He said it is OK to only rezone the areas that need to be Reserve so it will not muddy the zoning.

Bill Leder asked if Mr. Bradway will add a deed restriction on Parcel A so that it remains open to the public. Mr. Bradway said he does not want to put a deed restriction on Parcel A. It is his plan to keep it open to the public. 

At that May 25 meeting the Planning Commission voted unanimously to set a public hearing on this proposed Ordinance 2021-321 for Tuesday, June 22, 2021 at 5:30 p.m.
(See below for access to the June 22 meeting via Zoom.)*****

Bruce Woodry, a concerned Copper Country resident who was among the local citizens opposed to the original zoning change to B-2, told Keweenaw Now he had opposed the February rezoning to B-2 that would allow greater development on this Superfund property because of the strong potential for pollution from the construction site that could migrate to both ends of the Portage Canal. He agreed that this proposal for a campground and walking path in Parcels B and C would have less environmental impact. However, he remains concerned about public participation in the City of Houghton's decisions. He believes the City of Houghton officials do not always follow their own guidelines and procedures in approving zoning and do not respond appropriately to FOIA requests.

"They're not following their own rules," Bruce Woodry said.

He added that the Zoom meetings held because of COVID have helped to involve the public and he hopes all the meetings can continue to be on Zoom permanently to improve public participation.******

Attend Public Hearing via Zoom:

Join Zoom Meeting at https://us02web.zoom.us/j/84937327074
Meeting ID: 849 3732 7074
One tap mobile:
+13017158592,,84937327074# US (Washington DC)
+13126266799,,84937327074# US (Chicago)

Dial by your location:
+1 301 715 8592 US (Washington DC)
+1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)
Meeting ID: 849 3732 7074

Notes:

* Click here for the June 22 Planning Commission Agenda.

** See p. 10 of the Agenda Packet for the June 22 meeting for Derek Bradway's complete narrative on the proposed development.

*** See p. 16 of the June 22 Agenda Packet for the Fodermaiers' full letter.

**** Attorney F. Michelle Halley's document is on pp. 11-14 of the Agenda Packet linked above. 

***** The minutes for the May 25 Planning Commission meeting are on pp. 2-4 of the Agenda Packet linked above.

****** See the Bylaws for the City of Houghton Planning Commission, which include items on public participation. See also the 2019 City of Houghton Public Participation Plan, prepared by WUPPDR (Western Upper Peninsula Planning and Development Region).

Saturday, June 12, 2021

UPDATED: Portage Lake District Library, Hancock Library launch Summer Reading Program

The Portage Lake District Library (PLDL) and the Hancock School Library will launch their 2021 Summer Reading Program with events on June 17 and June 26. (Image courtesy PLDL)

[New Update: The Portage Lake District Library has CANCELLED the Community Paddle event that was re-scheduled for June 24, because of predicted weather. An August paddle event may be scheduled later.]

HOUGHTON -- The Portage Lake District Library (PLDL) and the Hancock School Public Library are thrilled to launch
the 2021 summer reading program, Tails and Tales. The program will see both libraries engage students and residents in summer reading activities all season long.

Each year, libraries across the country host a summer reading program to keep children and families reading throughout the summer and to help prevent what educators call the summer slide. The summer slide is described as the tendency for students to lose reading achievement gains made the year prior if they are not reading over the summer.

Pre-registration for the reading program will open on Thursday, June 17, alongside an outdoor storytime event, Books Of A Feather, hosted by the Hancock School Public Library from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Hancock Tori and Farmer’s Market on Quincy Green.

PLDL will host a Summer Reading kick-off event from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, June 26, at the library. At the kick-off event, participants can sign-up for the program and enjoy ice cream, face painting, and other summer reading themed crafts and activities. The Library Book Bike will also be onsite to share further information about the program and the library.

This year the library will once again offer the ability for participants to register online using the Beanstack app. The online registration portal will allow users to track their summer reading progress from a PC, laptop, or other mobile device. There will also be paper registration available for those who do not wish to participate in the online program.

Summer Reading Program participants will receive prizes and incentives as they reach different reading benchmarks throughout the program. Prizes this year include a free book and a $5 voucher to the Downtown Houghton Farmer’s Market.

The 8-week program will also include outdoor events throughout the summer, such as free paddling programs, live music and outdoor storytime programs. The program ends on August 14.

NEW UPDATE: Community Paddle CANCELLED. See above.

On Thursday, June 24, a community paddle is being hosted by the Portage Lake District Library, Keweenaw Land Trust, and Michigan Tech's Outdoor Adventure Program. This date has been changed because of weather predicted for June 17.

Bring your own boat or boats and instruction will be provided. The paddle will depart from the East Houghton Waterfront Park. Youth paddle (ages 12-17) will be from 3:30-5:30 p.m. and an adult only paddle will depart after 5:30 p.m.

Minors must have a parent present at drop-off to sign a liability waiver. Registration is required and can be found HERE.

The Summer Reading Program is free and open to all. Online registration is also available. Visit the PLDL website at www.pldl.org to learn more.

PLDL and the Hancock Library are open for limited, in-person services with regular hours.*

Based on updated guidance and Emergency Order from MiOSHA and MDHHS, PLDL has made the following changes to their pandemic related policies:
-- Patrons who are not fully vaccinated are required to wear a face mask while in the library.
-- Library employees who are not fully vaccinated are required to wear a face mask while in the library.
Click here for details.

* For PLDL regular hours, click here. For Hancock School Library hours, click here.

Thursday, June 03, 2021

KORC hosts inaugural Keweenaw Clean-up

By Nicholas Wilson*

Keweenaw Outdoor Recreation Coalition (KORC) volunteers assemble after their May 22, 2021, Keweenaw clean-up. Click on photos for larger versions. (Photo © and courtesy Nicholas Wilson)

COPPER HARBOR -- On a warm morning in late May, volunteers gathered in Copper Harbor to participate in the first annual Keweenaw Outdoor Recreation Coalition (KORC) Keweenaw Clean-Up. More than 40 volunteers spent the morning and early afternoon of Saturday, May 22, 2021, collecting garbage from State of Michigan forest and park land, roadsides, and other public areas near Copper Harbor.

Despite unseasonably warm weather and the emergence of Keweenaw’s infamous mosquito and black fly hordes, volunteers succeeded in removing an estimated ton -- 2,000 pounds -- of trash. Garbage was collected from locations including the Mandan Road, High Rock Bay Road and beachfront, West Schlatter Lake Road, Manganese Creek Bridge parking lot, and the Clark Mine.

Beginning at 9:30 a.m., Ben Ciavola and Erika Vye greeted volunteers in the parking lot of The Mariner North to distribute trash bags and maps and to guide volunteers to clean-up locations. DNR volunteer waivers/door prize forms were also collected.  Grant Township Supervisor Scott Wendt provided orange township trash bags, and Ace Hardware in Calumet provided a generous supply of heavy-duty garbage bags in several sizes.

This KORC Clean-Up check-in tent was provided by the Copper Harbor Trails Club. (Photo © and courtesy Gina Nicholas)

Prior to the clean-up, KORC Steering Committee Members Gina Nicholas and Don Kauppi scouted the area for trash and marked roadside cleaning locations to better coordinate volunteer efforts. Maps displaying local landmarks and cleaning locations were developed by Keweenaw Community Forest Company (KCFC) with help from Daniel Lizzadro-McPherson at Michigan Tech and printed courtesy of The Print Shop.

This map, developed by Keweenaw Community Forest Company (KCFC), with help from Daniel Lizzadro-McPherson at Michigan Tech, shows the clean-up locations (red dots) from Copper Harbor to High Rock Bay. Click on map for larger version. (Map courtesy Daniel Lizzadro-McPherson) 

Volunteers spread out along the Mandan Road and surrounding areas to bag roadside debris with the goal of removing items that could be spotted from the road. Heavy items including culverts, pipes, and other large metal objects were also extracted. Mark Ahlborn, Rich Probst and Mark Salo brought trucks and trailers to haul heavy trash bags and large items out of the woods. Don Kauppi took responsibility for disposing of the larger metal items, and other volunteers along with Grant Township paid for all trash to be disposed of without using DNR dumpsters. Recyclable cans and bottles were also collected for deposit return. 

Volunteers return with a trailer of culverts, pipes, and other large debris. (Photo © and courtesy Gina Nicholas)

Volunteers meet in the Mariner North parking lot with trailers and bags full of trash removed from nearby roadside locations. (Photo © and courtesy Gina Nicholas)

Participating volunteers represented a variety of Keweenaw communities, businesses, and recreation interests including overlanders, mountain bikers, and kayakers.


KORC volunteers pick up trash along the Mandan Road.
(Photos © and courtesy Gina Nicholas)

The Keweenaw ATV Club also participated in the event, using side-by-side ORVS to collect trash along the High Rock Bay Road.

Members of the Keweenaw ATV club are pictured here with garbage collected along the High Rock Bay Road. (Photo © and courtesy Gina Nicholas)

After the clean-up, volunteers met in the Copper Harbor Community Park for refreshments prepared and provided by Don and Peg Kauppi, owners of The Mariner North. To celebrate successful clean-up, volunteers enjoyed drinks and food including hotdogs and brats grilled by Roger Perreault.

Volunteers also had the opportunity to win door prizes donated by a variety of local businesses. Prizes included a gift certificate for dinner for two at The Mariner North, a one-night stay at the Copper King, hand painted whiskey glasses from Gail English, a framed picture from George Bailey Photography, a T-shirt and hat from the Gas-Lite General Store, and a hat from the Copper Harbor Trails Club.

The Keweenaw Clean-Up is KORC’s latest initiative to assist the State of Michigan and take practical and helpful actions to care for Keweenaw lands and improve outdoor recreation opportunities for all. KORC plans to continue holding similar volunteer clean-up events in the future. More information about KORC and its projects is available on the KORC website.**

Notes:

* Keweenaw Now guest writer Nicholas Wilson is a Keweenaw resident and free-lance journalist. See also his March 7, 2021,  article, "KORC: Community Action for Permanent Public Land."

** Some of the KORC members mentioned in this article were also quoted this week in the June 2, 2021, Bridge Michigan article, "In tiny Copper Harbor, a mountain biking boom causes growing pains."

Monday, May 31, 2021

Hancock Salvation Army coordinates local donations to help Calumet fire victims

By Michele Bourdieu

Hancock Salvation Army Director Pete Mackin, right, is assisted with sorting clothing donations on May 24 at the Salvation Army office in Hancock. Volunteers pictured here with Mackin are Joe Burglio of Hancock, left, and Cart Spicer, Salvation Army Service Extension Field representative from Crystal Falls. (Photos by Keweenaw Now)

HANCOCK -- The Salvation Army in Hancock has received a great number of donations of clothing, water, food, finances and more for those displaced by the May 21 fire in Calumet. According to a Hancock Salvation Army Facebook post last week, the group is working closely with Calumet Village, the Red Cross and many other state and community leaders to coordinate this effort of assistance, relying mostly on volunteers.

"We’re all set on clothing. Toys, toiletries and financial contributions are still being collected," Pete Mackin, Hancock Salvation Army director, said recently.

According to their Web site now, the greatest need is monetary donations.*

A May 28 post on their Facebook page stated, "We had a great meeting with the Calumet residents displaced by the fire. We’re now steering all of your donations toward helping them rebuild and bless their lives. It is so humbling to be entrusted with stewarding your faithful gifts to help those suffering. This truly is God’s Country."

Last Monday, May 24, during Keweenaw Now's visit to the Hancock Salvation Army, Laurel Maki, president of 31 Backpacks, and her daughter, Melissa Maki, 31 Backpacks vice-president, delivered donations that had accumulated at the Americinn of Calumet. The motel had sheltered some of families left homeless by the fire and stored many of the donations, especially food, and had asked the public to take clothing donations to the Hancock Salvation Army.

Melissa Maki, center, vice-president of 31 Backpacks, delivers donations left at the Americinn in Calumet to Hancock Salvation Army Director Pete Mackin on May 24. Pictured in the doorway is Mimi Boley of Chicago, who recently moved to the Copper Country and works as a volunteer receptionist and secretary in the Hancock Salvation Army office. An unidentified donor, far left, drops off a large number of items.

31 Backpacks is a non-profit organization that provides food for at-risk children on weekends and school breaks. According to Laurel Maki, 31 Backpacks president, the group works with all the K-12 public schools in the Copper Country Intermediate School District. They deliver over 1700 meals a week.**  

Laurel Maki, right, and her daughter, Melissa Maki, of 31 Backpacks are pictured here with some of the donations they delivered to the Hancock Salvation Army on May 24 for the families displaced by the May 21 Calumet fire.

Another community organization that is assisting the Calumet families impacted by the fire is Love INC of the Copper Country. According to David A. Whitaker, Love INC executive director, this group has been collecting food, personal care items, household items, furniture, beds, couches, lamps and more for the 43 victims of the fire.

In a May 28 post on the Hancock Salvation Army Facebook page, Whitaker writes, "Love Inc is now collecting these items, but they must be approved and screened and must be by appointment. You are not permitted to just drop items off without permission. If you don’t have these items to donate, you can send a financial gift to 2801 W Sharon Ave, Houghton MI 49931. Write gift to Love Inc of the Copper Country and designate it Fire Victims."***

In his post, Whitaker also praised Mackin for his work, saying, "Team work makes the DREAM work!! Some awesome things are happening in the Copper Country! Peter Mackin is doing an amazing job coordinating efforts across the county."

Notes:

* To donate money for the fire victims through the Hancock Salvation Army, visit their Web site. You can also donate on their Facebook page. See also a TV-6 video report from the Americinn in Calumet recorded on May 22.

** Learn more about 31 Backpacks on their Facebook page or email 31backpacks@gmail.com.

*** Learn about Love INC of the Copper Country on their Web site.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Concerned students, local residents demonstrate in Houghton for a free Palestine

By Michele Bourdieu

A participant in the May 22 Demonstration for a free Palestine at Veteran's Memorial Park in Houghton displays a sign expressing a reaction to the recent violence between Israelis and Palestinians. (Photos © and courtesy Gabriel Ahrendt)

HOUGHTON -- A group of concerned citizens -- students and community members, including families -- gathered at Veteran's Memorial Park in Houghton on a very hot Saturday afternoon, May 22, for a Demonstration for a free Palestine.

"Palestinians are at best third-class citizens living in an apartheid state. At best," said Gabriel Ahrendt, co-organizer of the event and a member of Keweenaw Youth for Climate Action, a group that invited the public to participate in the demonstration.

Addressing the demonstrators, Ahrendt gave a brief historical background for the recent violence that has included extensive bombing of Gaza -- paused only a few days ago by a cease fire. He noted the following recent acts of aggression by Israel against Palestinians:

  • During the holy month of Ramadan, the Israeli state implemented some cruel laws on the people of Palestine and East Jerusalem and banned prayer at Damascus gate.
  • Israel has supported planned evictions of Palestinian families in the Shiek Jarah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, part of a larger effort to push Palestinians out of that area and to settle the West Bank in a checkerboard fashion, removing geographical and communal continuity from the Palestinians and allowing police and military to expand their jurisdiction into Palestinian communities, further colonizing their land.
  • State and civilian violence against Palestinians included a police Raid on the Al Aqsa mosque, while people were inside the mosque praying on a particularly holy night of Ramadan. 
  • This has led to an exchange of missiles between Israeli defense forces and Hamas -- a conflict which historically has been and continues to be wildly asymmetrical in terms of power on the Israeli side and casualties on the Palestinian side.

"This is not a conflict, it is an occupation," said Ahrendt. "It’s time we call a spade a spade and look at this for what it is -- a soft genocide of the Palestinian people."

A demonstrator displays a sign toward traffic passing Veteran's Memorial Park.

Ahrendt also mentioned the view that Gaza is the world's largest open air prison, left without access to or in control of key infrastructure, basic needs like food and clean water, and even things like the internet -- an example of how Israel is silencing the Palestinian people.

"This latest barrage has killed 230 Palestinians, destroyed the Palestinian COVID response headquarters at Gaza’s largest hospital, and killed 11 children who were being treated for trauma related to IDF’s (Israel Defense Forces') last 'mowing the lawn' in 2016," Ahrendt said. "The cruelty of this latest attack echoes the inhumanity of the whole Israeli settler project."

Miguel Levy, Michigan Tech professor of physics and co-organizer with Ahrendt of the demonstration, spoke to the group about the role of the U.S. government in Israel's aggression against Palestinians.

Miguel Levy, right with megaphone, addresses the participants in the May 22 Demonstration for a free Palestine at Veteran's Memorial Park in Houghton.

Levy, who is one of the organizers of the Indigenous People's Day Campaign, a community group concerned about human rights for all indigenous peoples, sent an email message to members of that group following the May 22 demonstration. 

"Israel would not be able to commit these genocidal crimes against the Palestinian people without the backing of the US government," Levy wrote. "In September 2016, the Obama administration signed a 10-year memorandum of understanding on military aid to Israel. Under this agreement, the United States pledged to provide $38 billion in military aid to Israel. This amounts to 10 million dollars a day of military aid to Israel by the United States.  In 2018 Trump signed into law a $515 million aid package to Israel, the largest ever."

Levy added that President Biden has proposed selling to Israel more of the so-called "precision-guided weapons" that have killed many residents of Gaza.

"Thus, it is important for us, in the belly of the beast, to oppose and organize against US support for Israel. Biden is giving full US support to these crimes, the same way Trump and Obama did before," Levy added. "The Palestinian people ARE the Indigenous people of that land, from the river to the sea. That means all of present-day Israel. And they have the right to resist. This is not a 'conflict' between Jews and 'Arabs,' nor between Hamas and Israel as posed by the mainstream media. Israel's ethnic cleansing of Palestine long predates the existence of Hamas and is directed against the Palestinian people as a people. This is settler colonialism on the part of the Zionists. It is genocide, enabled and with the full military and political support of the United States. And we should not allow it."

A demonstrator holds the words to a chant that the group sang together during the May 22 Demonstration for a free Palestine in Houghton.

Valorie Troesch, retired attorney and active member of the Houghton County Democratic Party, also participated in the May 22 demonstration.

"The Palestinians -- especially in Gaza -- have been largely abandoned by the rest of the world as we allow Israel to violate UN policies, kill innocent people, and take Palestinan property decade after decade with impunity," Troesch told Keweenaw Now. "Worse, the United States often provides the money -- our tax dollars -- that serve as an imprimatur of the Israeli government's actions. With Biden's election and leadership, this is an opportunity for the US to effectively advocate for a two-state solution and to provide humanitarian aid to the Palestinians. The Free Palestine movement is strong and I am grateful to the people who organized it here in Houghton."

Friday, May 14, 2021

Opponents of Back 40 mining project welcome Aquila's withdrawal from two contested permits but remain vigilant as company announces new plans

By Michele Bourdieu
This map of Aquila Resources' proposed Back 40 mining project shows wetlands in the area of the mine site, which is only 150 feet from the Menominee River. Aquila recently withdrew from its appeal on the January 2021 denial of its wetland permit. Click on map for larger version. (Map courtesy Kathleen Heideman of the Mining Action Group)

The Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin and environmental groups opposed to Aquila Resources' Back 40 mining project near the Menominee River welcomed news on May 11 that Aquila has determined (1) not to proceed with its appeal of the January 2021 decision by Administrative Law Judge Pulter to deny the Wetlands Permit previously issued for the Back 40 and (2) not to proceed with the contested case of the amended Part 632 Mining Permit for the Back 40 -- a projected open-pit sulfide mine for gold, zinc and other metals.*

However, groups opposed to the project remain vigilant and concerned about potential pollution of the Menominee River, wetlands and ecosystem as well as damage to the Menominee tribe's historical and cultural resources, including Native burial mounds and prehistoric gardens located in the area of the proposed mine site.

This ancestral burial mound is among the archaeological sites near the Menominee River that could be impacted by the proposed Back 40 mine. (Keweenaw Now file photo)

Environmentalists have long pointed out that Aquila's permits are for an open-pit mine with an estimated life of 7 years while the company has presented the project to investors as including an underground mine that would lengthen the life of the mine to  16 years. This underground "phase" is not included in the permits granted so far by Michigan's Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) or EGLE's predecessor, the former Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

Opponents of the mine in both Michigan and Wisconsin have presented many reasons why Aquila lacks a social license to operate a mine that would be located only 150 feet from the Menominee River, which forms a natural border between the two states and which the Menominee people consider the cultural origin of their tribe.**

Menominee Tribe defends cultural sites near proposed mine site

"The position of the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin has consistently been that approval of these permit applications is inappropriate without an understanding of the true impact of a proposed mine right next to the Menominee River, and we are glad to see the permits withdrawn," said Gunnar Peters, Chairman of Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin. "The proposed project site is sacred to the Menominee people and should remain protected from destruction."

The tribe has been in litigation against Aquila, with the assistance of Earthjustice attorneys, joining with other opponents of the mine in contested cases over the Michigan permits.

"This victory follows five years of fighting on behalf of the Menominee Tribe to protect the river and the Tribe’s cultural heritage, including the last intact Menominee agricultural village complex remaining in the state of Michigan," said Earthjustice Attorney Gussie Lord. "The state of Michigan should realize that Aquila Resources has never been honest, nor transparent, about its plans, and that this project cannot be built without pollution, impairment and destruction of the Menominee River and its ecosystem.

This photo of the Menominee River was taken near prehistoric garden sites located on State of Michigan land near the proposed mine site. Archaeologists have estimated the gardens date between 1100 and 1300 A.D. (Keweenaw Now file photo)

Menominee tribal member Wayne Swett, co-organizer of two annual four-day canoe trips down the Menominee River to call attention to the Back 40 -- in July of 2019 and 2020 -- told Keweenaw Now he sees Aquila's withdrawal of the appeal on the Wetlands permit as a victory. Moreover, their new plan could be long and costly.

"I guess they are going back to the drawing board to present a whole new plan that would be for an underground mine as I understand," Swett noted. "I would imagine everything up to now concerning the permits would be null and void and they would have to start the whole process over again. This would mean a long drawn out process. Aquila will never get a social license and the needed permits to start a mine. They are fighting a large costly battle on many fronts. You could say they are fighting the 4 directions: Tom Boerner, The Menominee  nation, the Coalition to Save the Menominee river and Earthjustice. It's going to be costly to fight on these fronts. Aquila stock isn't doing very good and investors are shying away; they don't want to lose money on a company that's not making forward progress.

"I would like to commend the parties involved in keeping Aquila from progressing and to the justices hearing these cases. Politicians can be bought and swayed but the court is the one with common sense to hear this case. We are gradually wearing down Aquila and like what happened in the Penokees with GTAC, we are going to chase them (Aquila) out of the area. Common sense tells ya to pack up and move on but I guess Aquila doesn't even have that."

Dawn Wilber, Menominee tribal member and teacher of Menominee language and culture at the Menominee Indian High School on the Menominee Reservation, was co-organizer, with Wayne Swett, of the canoe trips. She also participated in the Menominee women's ceremonies to protect the water during those trips.

"I was very pleased to see the notice about the withdrawal but still remained a little hesitant to actually celebrate because of Aquila's new plans," Wilber told Keweenaw Now. "We must still stay vigilant in our work for our Mother Earth and our Water."

Aquila announces new Feasibility Study to include underground mine plans

Aquila's lack of transparency is evident in the fact that only now is the company publicly admitting their plan for an underground mine to be extended from the open pit mine described in the permit applications.

In their May 11, 2021, press release, Aquila states they are engaging Osisko Technical Services (OTS) to lead an optimized feasibility study that will include their plans for the underground mine, which were left out of the original permits.

"By incorporating the underground mine plan in the Feasibility Study and modifying the Project footprint, the Company expects to demonstrate substantially reduced surface impact, including wetland impacts, and a longer mine life for the benefit of all stakeholders," Aquila states in the press release.

Aquila appears to depend on the feasibility team to come up with a new design that will include the underground mine -- a study to be completed in the fourth quarter of 2021.***

Coalition to SAVE the Menominee River, activist experts, continue Back 40 opposition

Dale Burie, president of the Coalition to SAVE the Menominee River, issued this statement in reaction to Aquila's announcement:

"The Coalition to SAVE the Menominee River is pleased that the decision of the Administrative law judge will stand and our hard work and efforts have contributed to the protection of the Menominee River and the surrounding wetlands from the detrimental effects of the proposed Back Forty mine. While we expected to prevail before the review panel, it is a welcome development.

"However, as is always the case, the fight goes on. Aquila indicated in its request to abandon its appeal of Judge Pulter’s decision, that it will be submitting a new mine application, later this year, that will for the first time include underground mining. Of course, we always expected going underground to be part of Aquila's long-term plan. While Aquila will try to spin this as a new strategy to avoid or minimize wetlands impacts, we intend to remain diligent in our efforts and have significant concerns that extensive underground mining and the corresponding groundwater drawdown will have as much or even more impacts on the watershed and could be an even greater threat to the health of the Menominee River. Our Coalition and our partners remain steadfast in our resolve and will continue to fight to protect the Menominee River for all to enjoy."

Dr. Al Gedicks, executive secretary of the Wisconsin Resources Protection Council and professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, who has warned of the dangers of the huge tailings dam that the Back 40 project would place close to the Menominee River, shares the Coalition's concerns that Aquila's new plan could have even greater destructive impacts on the environment. He sent the following comments on Aquila's new permitting plans to Keweenaw Now:

"After Aquila's decision not to appeal the denial of their wetlands permit they reaffirmed plans to submit a new Mining Permit application that will include  both the open pit and underground mine plans," Dr. Gedicks writes. "To minimize the cost and delay of submitting completely new mining, wetlands, air quality, wastewater discharge and dam safety permit applications, the company would like to submit a consolidated mining permit that would 'compress the timeline to permit issuances.' This would place an unfair financial burden on citizens and the Menominee Tribe to review the thousands of pages of technical studies in a short time period. A sequential permit process that allows adequate time for scientific review of each permit, as has been the case in the past, would allow for greater public participation and transparency in the process."

Dr. Gedicks added his concerns that the impacts of the combined open pit and underground mining project would be unacceptable.

"The expansion of the scope of the mine operation means that every aspect of the project has the potential for significant and unacceptable impacts to the wetlands, air and water quality, groundwater, sacred sites and the safety of the enormous quantity and toxicity of the mine waste in the tailings dam," Gedicks notes. "The mine expansion will increase the amount of mine waste in the dangerously unstable upstream construction design of the tailings dam. Aquila's assertion that an expanded mine operation will avoid direct impacts to wetlands is scientific nonsense. These issues cannot be addressed in a rushed and haphazard manner  to accommodate Aquila's promises to its investors."

This photo shows a diagram of the proposed Back 40 tailings dam as it would be placed next to the open pit in the center. If an underground mine is added, the tailings dam (which presently has a dangerous, unstable design) would have to hold even more mining waste. (Photo courtesy Kathleen Heideman)

Kathleen Heideman of the Mining Action Group, who has studied Aquila's permits in detail, also commented on Aquila's lack of transparency.

“Since 2015, Aquila has been telling investors and Canadian regulators that the Back Forty would be a 16-year mine, using both open pit and underground methods," Heideman writes. "But they told Michigan regulators it would be a 7-year mine, open pit only. Now the whole design of the project will be changing again, if you believe the latest corporate press release. Aquila knowingly misrepresented the scope of the project in their permit applications, which is against the law."

Heideman also questioned Aquila's recent claims concerning their NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) permit and their Air permit.

"Currently Aquila claims they can 'keep' their NPDES and AIR permits -- but these claims appear baseless, since both permits depend on specific pollution calculations related to size of mine, amount of water to be treated, mill capacity (throughput), duration, type of mining operation (emissions from fugitive dust? ventilation stack?), facility layout, etcetera -- none of which remains accurate," Heideman said. "Both the NPDES and Air Permits expire this year, and ought to be voided or rescinded."

Heideman offered a positive note for those opposing the Back 4O: "It is a really great win for those who have been fighting the Back Forty project and a fitting end to a very bad wetland permit," she said. "Lawyers cost money, which Aquila clearly doesn’t have."

Coalition member Tina Lesperance confirmed that financial statement, noting, "Their (Aquila's) stocks have been steadily falling. They are having a hard time keeping it at .07."

Lesperance, who has worked closely with Menominee leaders of canoe trips on the river to protest the Back 40 and with Coalition community activities calling attention to the dangers of the Back 40, also expressed determination to continue the fight.

"We knew from the beginning that Aquila planned to mine underground, even as far as possibly going under the Menominee River," Lesperance said. "Aquila has been trying to get this mine going for almost 20 years and failed. Times have since changed. People are more aware of the dangers to the environment and how we have to protect our water. Governments around the world are realizing the importance of changing our ways and protecting the environment. We have Water Protectors who will never give up their fight to protect our waters and Mother Earth. Aquila's attempts to mine on the Menominee River failed for 20 years and will continue to fail, as we will never give up the fight to protect our precious river!"

The scenic Menominee River, not far from the proposed Back 40 mining project site. (Keweenaw Now file photo) 

Another Coalition member who says she will never give up the fight is Mary Hansen, who has been organizing regular Friday protests against Back 40 in front of the Ogden Club, a Menominee, Mich., business that supports Aquila's project.

Reacting to Aquila's recent announcement of their new plans, Hansen commented, "Their story changes yearly. Ours remains the same. No mine next to, under or near our Menominee River."

Adjacent landowner Tom Boerner says he has been participating in all the contested case hearings against Aquila's permits.

"I started opposing this back in 2002 when I discovered persons at Aquila had claimed mineral rights that didn't belong to them," Boerner said. "From that that point on I knew we were dealing with people who are less than honest. I helped write the parts 632 law as I was appointed to a work group. That went from 2003 to 2004. Unfortunately all the good work we did was negated as once we gave our language to the legislature they took it in the back room and gutted it in favor of mining. So, I've been involved in this thing from the beginning."

Reacting to Aquila's latest announcement on the permits and the underground mine plans, Boerner said he believes there is a disconnect between what Aquila tells the State of Michigan and what they tell the rest of the world and that the State "is seen as turning a blind eye to this fact, and the lack of accountability is a significant concern for the public regarding the integrity of the permitting process -- for all permits." 

Boerner added, "Now is not the time to stop or rest. Now is the time to make sure we tell the world that the State of Michigan was manipulated and thanks to a small handful of people at one group within EGLE thankfully integrity found its way into the permitting process and going forward a standard for truth has been set.

Notes:

* For background, see our Jan. 11, 2021, article, "Water protectors celebrate judge's denial of Back 40 sulfide mine Wetlands Permit."

** Click here to learn about the origins of the Menominee Tribe at mouth of the Menominee River.

*** Click here for Aquila's May 11 press release.

Gov. Whitmer lifts mask requirement for fully vaccinated Michiganders

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. (Photo courtesy michigan.gov)

LANSING -- Governor Gretchen Whitmer today announced the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) is updating the Gatherings and Mask Order to align with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest guidance on face coverings. The new order will go into effect at 9 a.m. on Saturday, May 15. Fully vaccinated Michiganders will no longer be required to wear a mask or face covering indoors or outdoors, except in certain cases.

"For more than a year, we’ve been following the best data and science to slow the spread of COVID-19 and save lives," said Governor Gretchen Whitmer. "The vast majority of us have trusted the scientists and experts to keep us safe during the pandemic, and it has worked. With millions of Michiganders fully vaccinated, we can now safely and confidently take the next step to get back to normal. The message is clear: vaccines work to protect you and your loved ones. If you have not yet received your vaccine, now is the time to sign up. This pandemic has been one of the toughest challenges of our lifetimes, but we came together as a state to persevere. We have all been working incredibly hard toward getting back to some sense of normalcy, and today's news makes all of that work worthwhile."

On Thursday, the CDC released updated guidance recommending "fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask or physically distance in any setting, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance."

"It’s critical that eligible Michigan residents who have not yet been vaccinated schedule their appointments as soon as they can," said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and MDHHS chief deputy director for health. "Getting shots in arms is the best way to end the pandemic. If you have not yet been vaccinated, it is important to continue to mask up to protect yourself and others from COVID-19."

Under the updated MDHHS Gatherings and Mask Order, Michiganders who are outdoors will no longer need to wear a mask regardless of vaccination status. While indoors, fully vaccinated Michiganders will no longer need to wear a mask, but residents who are not vaccinated, or have not completed their vaccinations, must continue to wear a mask or face covering to protect themselves and others. After July 1, the broad indoor mask mandate will expire.

"The safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine and all the hard work that Michiganders have done allows us to take a big step in returning to normal," said MDHHS Director Elizabeth Hertel. "This updated order keeps Michigan in alignment with CDC guidance that is based on the knowledge of health experts. I urge our residents to continue to be respectful of each other as we move forward."

Today's news was welcomed with bipartisan support:

"The new guidance from the CDC and the state’s loosening of the mask mandate in a safe way is very welcome to our communities -- we are excited to get back to normal," Mayor Don Gerrie (R - Sault Ste Marie) said. "We appreciate the partnership efforts throughout our state and in our local communities in following the covid-safe guidelines and making sure vaccinations are readily accessible to residents in a fast and efficient manner. I am thankful every day for the amazing health care and public safety professionals we have in Michigan."

To date, Michigan has administered 7,875,785 vaccines. According to CDC data, 55.6 percent of Michiganders ages 16 and older have received at least one dose, with more than 43 percent of Michiganders ages 16 and older being fully vaccinated. The state has also administered the vaccine to 927 Michiganders between the ages of 12 and 15.

Editor's Note: Click here to see Gov. Whitmer's short video on this latest order concerning vaccinated Michiganders, posted today on her Facebook page.

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Secretary Benson submits testimony defending freedom to vote, secure drop box access

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. (Photo courtesy michigan.gov)

LANSING -- Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson submitted testimony to the state Senate Elections Committee today, May 5, denouncing legislation from the chamber’s 39-bill voter suppression package being taken up this afternoon. Her testimony emphasized the policies and procedures that made the November 2020 election secure and successful were embraced again yesterday in local elections across the state.

"Throughout the day I saw steady streams of voters using drop boxes on Election Day and spoke with clerks and election workers still dissatisfied with the insufficient time provided under current law to preprocess absentee ballots," Benson stated. "Yet today the bills before you would ban the use of drop boxes on Election Day and continue to restrict preprocessing for our clerks."

Of the legislation being discussed in committee today, Benson’s testimony noted the impact of Senate Bill 286, which would ban the use of drop boxes on Election Day, the day they are most used and needed. Similarly, Senate Bill 273 would enable county canvassers -- who are selected by the political parties they represent -- to entirely prohibit the use of drop boxes in their counties.

Senate Bill 334 also ignores the requests of clerks and continues to provide only 10 hours for limited absentee ballot processing, despite the fact that after the November election the state Senate Majority Leader and Speaker of the House both admitted this was insufficient.

Finally, Senate Bill 311 would unnecessarily restrict the right of electronic ballot return among military servicemembers overseas to those who have a specific and notoriously unreliable military credential, and would exclude military spouses altogether.

"As I saw across the state yesterday, in every community I visited, nearly all ballots were being cast absentee and drop boxes were in use the entire day. Voters have embraced the policies that have worked so well in our elections these last two years," said Benson. "This committee risks doing tremendous harm to voters’ faith in our elections and the strength of our democracy by undoing or decreasing access to those policies."

A copy of Secretary Benson’s testimony can be found here.