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Saturday, March 22, 2008

World Water Day: March 22, 2008

MARQUETTE -- Today, March 22, 2008, is World Water Day. an international day of observance and action to draw attention to the plight of those without access to safe drinking water.

How clean is our water? Martin Auer, Michigan Tech University professor in environmental engineering, specializing in surface water quality engineering, shows a young visitor how to examine samples from Portage Lake during an educational boat ride on MTU's research boat Agassiz during the Strawberry Festival in Chassell last July. (Keweenaw Now file photo © 2007 Michele Bourdieu)

According to the World Water Day Web site, "For more than a billion people –- about one in six people on earth -- getting safe water each day is no easy task. Women and children around the world walk 200 million hours every day for water -- water that often comes from a polluted source."

In Tamil Nadu, India, more than 20,000 women will attend the Gramalaya World Water Day Celebration. Gramalaya in association with WaterPartners International and WaterAid, UK, is organizing this event to highlight the importance of water conservation, sanitation and hygiene practices among rural and urban communities.

Here in the Keweenaw, surrounded by our large fresh-water lake, perhaps we can reflect today on ways to conserve water and keep our beautiful watershed clean.

Thanks to Save the Wild UP for this reminder.

Visit the World Water Day Web site to learn more.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Vertin Gallery exhibits "Butterflies in Snow"

"Butterflies in Snow," by Carrie Flaspohler, is part of an exhibit at the Vertin Gallery in Calumet.
(Photo courtesy Keweenaw Krayons)

CALUMET -- "Butterflies in the Snow" is the theme for the March Show at Calumet ’s Vertin Gallery. The opening reception, featuring artist Carrie Flaspohler, will be from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, Mar. 21.

Flaspohler uses nature as a metaphor, striving to communicate the beautiful, fragile and ultimately resilient nature of the human experience.

"In many of my paintings, the central iconic image represents composure, strength and hope," she stated.

Flaspohler, who has two butterfly in the snow paintings in the show, uses butterflies, birds and dragonflies as symbols of the human capacity to adapt to changing circumstances. In these paintings, she places the butterfly or bird in adverse environments such as fires, thorns or ice.

“Essentially, my work is about hope and rising above adversity,” she explained.

Kerri Corser, gallery associate for the Vertin Gallery in Calumet, has had the thought of butterflies in the snow for at least a year.

"What a miracle it would be to actually see a butterfly in the snow, when many are craving bright colors after months of snow and ice," Corser said.

Flaspohler’s paintings will be joined by brightly colored butterflies and snowflakes, created by Melissa Hronkin’s Ontonagon School ’s elementary art classes.

"These will be hanging in the side windows of the gallery during the exhibit," Corser noted.

Current hours at the Vertin Gallery, which is located on the corner of Oak and Sixth Street in Calumet, are Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. More information may be obtained by calling the Vertin at 337-2200.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Hancock Council to consider land purchases, Gov't Lot 5 recommendations Mar. 19

By Michele Bourdieu

HANCOCK -- The City of Hancock will hold a Public Hearing at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Mar. 19, 2008, in the City Hall Council Chambers, 399 Quincy St, to consider public comments on several proposed property purchases and the purchases and acceptance of easements. The Hearing will be followed immediately by the regular monthly meeting of the Hancock City Council. A work session will be held at 6:30 p.m., before the Hearing. These are all open to the public.

The Agenda for the meeting includes considering a motion to approve these eight real estate transactions.

Also on the Agenda for the Mar. 19 meeting are two recommendations from the City Council Ad Hoc Committee on Government Lot 5, which was appointed in November 2007 after considerable public input last summer and fall in the Council's discussions of a potential sale of parcels near Swedetown Creek.

City proposes eight acquisitions of land, easements

The first seven of the proposed acquisitions (as described in the Public Notice for the Hearing) are related to Hancock's current water project. They include a proposed 3.0 acre parcel in Government Lot 7, Section 35, for $45,000; a .12 acre parcel, also in Government Lot 7, Section 35, for $5000; a 20-ft. wide easement along the eastern boundary of Lot 13, plat of Naumkeg Shores, Portage Township, located North of the Houghton Canal Road, for $21,000; and several other easements in Section 35 and one in Section 9, with prices not indicated.

The eighth proposed acquisition is a 140-acre parcel in Section 23, which includes a small part of the Maasto Hiihto ski trail (leading to the Churning Rapids Trail) and waterfront on Swedetown Creek, which runs through the property. The official description of this parcel in the Notice of the Hearing is as follows: "...a 140 acre parcel of real property located in the NW 1/4, except the S 1/2 of the SW 1/4 of the NW1/4, and except the Soo Line Railroad right of way, in Section 23, T55N, R34W Quincy Township for $120,000."

The Railroad right of way is actually a Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) snowmobile trail (see map below).

This map shows the location of the 140-acre parcel in Section 23 (Tourangeau property within dotted lines in center) being considered for purchase by the City of Hancock. Click on image for larger version. (Map courtesy City of Hancock)

Some local residents, including members of the Keweenaw Nordic Ski Club (KNSC) and members of the Hancock Citizens' Forum, have expressed their interest in knowing whether the City has specific intentions for the use of this 140-acre parcel, should the purchase be approved.

"The City is proposing to buy it for future opportunities," Hancock City Manager Glenn Anderson said.

Anderson did not indicate the City had any specific plans for residential or other development. He said he was aware of the KNSC interest in the property.

At their February meeting KNSC board members discussed the possibilities the parcel offers for extending the Maasto Hiihto Ski Trail along the Swedetown Creek gorge.

Members of the Hancock Citizens' Forum, who met recently to discuss residents' priorities for the future character of Hancock, including public open space as an asset for both residents and visitors, have expressed their wish to see the City acquire this parcel with Michigan Natural Resources funding rather than with a cost to Hancock taxpayers.

Participants in the Hancock Citizens' Forum, held Feb. 26, 2008, at Lakeview Manor in Hancock, discuss their priorities for the City, from open space and recreation to walkability to exploring ways to reduce the City's carbon footprint. Pictured here, clockwise from left, foreground, are Joe Kaplan, Ann Pace (standing and writing list for the group), facilitator Susan Burack, Allyson Jabusch, her daughter Renata Jabusch (who is working on a Master's Degree in urban and regional planning at the University of Michigan), Kim Duffy and Vern Simula. Not visible are Keren Tischler and Jay Budd, who also participated. (Photo © 2008 Michele Bourdieu)

Ann Pace, a participant in the Hancock Citizens' Forum, said she hopes the City is open to the possibility of working together with citizens to acquire this property without spending $120,000 of taxpayers' money.

"We hope the City embraces this opportunity to join other communities in the Keweenaw that have successfully secured recreational lands through the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund. We feel this parcel is a perfect match for the Trust Fund program and could be acquired by the City of Hancock at minimal cost."

Council to consider making Government Lot 5 parcels City Park

Part of Government Lot 5 has traditionally been used for recreation at the mouth of Swedetown Creek, where it flows into the Portage near M-203.

The City had expressed interest in selling parcels in Government Lot 5 for residential development -- a proposal that met with considerable public opposition at both City Council and Hancock Planning Commission meetings last summer and fall.*

At their September 2007 meeting, the City Council was made aware of the 1941 deed through which the City acquired Government Lot 5 from the Michigan DNR that conveyed the property to the City for $1 with the understanding that it be used solely for park and recreational purposes. The deed included a reversion clause that provided for returning the land to the State of Michigan should it not be used for park and recreational purposes. In 2003 a Quit Claim Deed reversed the reverter clause of the original deed, but the City is still expected to use the land for recreation while owning it. The City can sell the property for fair value when the city no longer needs the land, but sale proceeds are to be handled by the County Treasurer with a full account given to the State of Michigan.

At that September meeting the Council directed Anderson to do some research on the property's potential for becoming a public park. He requested information from the City's attorney, Don Hiltunen. In a letter to Anderson dated Sept. 26, 2007, Hiltunen wrote, "Section 14.3 of the (Hancock City) Charter indicates that all property purchases or sold by the City must be approved by 5/7 of the council. This section also states that no existing park after adoption of this Charter (August 2, 1988) may be sold unless approved by the majority of electors."**

Hiltunen adds that he understands no new parks have been created by the Council since August 2, 1988, so the only parks in existence now would be those that existed at the time of the Charter.

"Since the Charter or Ordinances have no mention or section on how land is to be a park, this matter would be left to determination of the City Council by majority vote," Hiltunen concludes.

In a second letter to Anderson, dated Oct. 23, 2007, Hiltunen discusses the 1941 deed and reverter clause and a lease dated Sept. 12, 1956, under which the DNR used the land (a 1.25 acre parcel at the mouth of Swedetown Creek) for a fishing and boat launch site. The site is still being used for this purpose (and, according to Anderson, the DNR still picks up litter there) despite the fact that the lease expired in 1986.

Hiltunen adds, "It appears that this property is not listed as a park under the City's Park and Recreation Committee jurisdiction."

Hiltunen's Oct. 23 letter includes attachments of paragraphs from Public Act 451 of 1994, authorizing the DNR to release the reverter clause from deeds granted earlier. Hiltunen also mentions the Quit Claim Deed of 2003 that released the City from the reverter clause.

"This would free up the property for other public uses in the event they desired," Hiltunen writes. "It also allowed the City to sell the property if it determined the City no longer needed any portion of the land for public purposes."

At the September meeting, Pat Toczydlowski had mentioned the point that "need" was not defined and could serve as a basis of a lawsuit should the land be sold for other than park and recreational purposes. Hiltunen did not, however, comment on how the City would determine it "no longer needed" the land for public use. He did include in this letter the same points
Toczydlowski had brought up at the September meeting concerning the fact that the proceeds of such a sale would go to the County Treasurer to be distributed to various public units, with the City receiving a portion.

Ad Hoc Committee meets Mar. 10, 2008, for recommendations on Government Lot 5

In November the Council appointed an Ad Hoc Committee of three Council members -- Ted Belej, Tom Gemignani and Lisa McKenzie -- to discuss Government Lot 5 and to make a recommendation to the Council. That committee, after some postponements, finally met on March 10, 2008. They decided to recommend making the City-owned portion of Government Lot 5 a City Park. They also recommend making the Wright Addition/Lake Street 500 ft. waterfront parcel, 2.5 acres, a City Park. These recommendations are to be taken up by the City Council at their Mar. 19 meeting.

During the Mar. 10 Committee meeting City Manager Glenn Anderson gave the committee extensive background on Government Lot 5, including the information from Hiltunen's letters and research Anderson himself did last fall concerning precedents of municipalities returning land sale proceeds to the County for distribution to government units.

Members of the Hancock City Council Ad Hoc Committee on Government Lot 5 meet to discuss the possibility of making the remaining Government Lot 5 parcels, including land at the mouth of Swedetown Creek, a park. Pictured are, from left, Councilors Lisa McKenzie and Ted Belej, Keren Tischler and Joe Kaplan of the Hancock Citizens' Forum, Councilor Tom Gemignani and City Manager Glenn Anderson. (Photo © 2008 Gustavo Bourdieu)

Anderson found the 1941 Tax Records in the Michigan Tech Archives which indicated City land sale proceeds would be distributed thus: 15.34% to the County, 36.40% to the School and 42.25% to the City, assuming the City did not charge for maintaining the lands for protecting public health and safety.

However, after consulting with DNR staff and the Houghton County Treasurer, Anderson found that "there doesn't seem to be a lot of information saying communities have done that (returned sale proceeds to the County for distribution)."

Anderson added that further research might find some municipalities have turned over such proceeds for County distribution.

The 1941 DNR Tax Reverted Deed included 10 parcels for the City. Despite being designated for park and recreational use, six of these were sold, including some for the old hospital built in the 1950s; one was a partial sale; and three are still City-owned, one of which is the Pine Street Park.

The Committee also heard from Anderson that the recent survey of Government Lot 5 indicated a house on the land was formerly included in a May 2, 2000, deed for 22.89 acres, including 13.7 acres of a city cemetery parcel in Government Lot 8. Should Government Lot 5 become a park, some negotiations with the owner would be needed to solve the problem of the house, which was formerly believed to be in Government Lot 8.

Anderson brought the Committee up to date on the history of Government Lot 5, including an August 2004 recommendation by a City Council Committee that a survey of Government Lot 5 be done to determine feasibility of residential lot sales (The 2004 committee had identified for the Council in 2004 a number of city-owned areas that might be sold). Anderson also mentioned the Hancock Planning Commission recommendation last summer to sell Parcels A and B for residential development, reserving a buffer of public land near Swedetown Creek. Anderson added the issue of the portable Sintkowski shed on the property, but noted Sintkowski seemed willing to move it should the city decide not to sell the land.

Council and Committee Member Lisa McKenzie said after reviewing all this information and giving the issue a lot of thought, she believed the 1941 deed was in force at the time the City's 1988 Charter was approved.

"That 1941 Deed states that that land is for public park and recreational use, so to me that just says it was a park," McKenzie noted. "It just didn't happen to get listed appropriately as a park."

McKenzie added that even with the 2003 reverter, the Charter still says it's a park.

"If we want to sell it, we have to go to the vote of the people," she said.

Council and Committee Member Ted Belej said he thought some of the parcels that were sold in 1941 did not have the best end result, despite good intentions.

"I think cementing this in as a park would be a good way to kind of make up for that," Belej said. "It's not worth the 40 grand or 80 grand or whatever it is that we'll end up getting out of it."

McKenzie noted she agreed.

"I don't think we can legally sell it," she said. "That's the legality of it, but I think we have to take care of it now so that there isn't this confusion."

Council Member Tom Gemignani, chair of the Committee, said he felt the Quit Claim Deed does give the city the right to sell it with a 5 to 7 vote.

"Whether it's the right thing to do, I think, is the question." Gemignani added.

Anderson said Hiltunen's letter indicates the attorney didn't think the area met the definition of a park because there was no motion of the City Council or actual record making it a park. Anderson said he didn't think there was such a record, though there could be.

McKenzie insisted the 1941 deed saying the land was for recreational use has precedence over the 2003 deed.

Gemignani said he agreed; but, since legally it is kind of a grey area, the Council needs to set it aside as a park.

"We can rectify that now," Gemignani said. "I would like it to be a park. I would like it to be a canoe and kayak boat ramp."

"It's been assumed to be a park forever," McKenzie added. "It's an important watershed, too."

Gemignani noted that if it had park status funds might be available for maintaining the site, which is often littered with trash, fires, etc. He suggested it the possibility of putting Adirondack shelters like those on Isle Royale or tent sites in the area (and perhaps eliminate tent sites from the City Campground).

Gemignani also said it didn't really need a physical boat ramp for canoes and kayaks and the area could actually be left as it is, but cleaned up.

Anderson mentioned the opposition expressed to the idea of a boardwalk that was suggested at the Planning Commission meeting.

The Committee members all seemed to be in agreement that the proximity and vulnerability of the Maasto Hiihto trail farther up Swedetown Creek was another consideration for protecting this area as a park. Committee members also mentioned other advantages of making it a park -- using it as an outdoor classroom for the schools in the area and taking advantage of the fact that the Copper Country Audubon Club is offering $1000 for helping to maintain the area if it is kept as a park.

Joe Kaplan of the Hancock Citizens' Forum, who was among visitors attending the Committee meeting, suggested there was a need for a larger process of officially identifying city properties and what their status is.

"The recommendation in 2004 was to have a survey," Kaplan noted, "and that wasn't done until there was lots of citizens' concern last fall."

Anderson agreed that the Charter lacked language (that should have been included but wasn't) stating this area was a park.

Committee makes two recommendations for City Council

The Committee finally recommended setting aside all of the remaining Government Lot 5 as a park, asking Mr. Sintkowski to move his shed and exploring the issue of the house that was believed to be on Government Lot 8 but is actually on Government Lot 5. They agreed to ask the City Council at their meeting this Wednesday, Mar. 19, to consider this recommendation and a separate recommendation to make the 2.5 acre, 500 ft. Lake Street waterfront parcel (also included in the properties of the 1941 deed not yet sold) a City Park as well.

"I believe the Ad Hoc Committee has a genuine interest in protecting this (Swedetown Creek) parcel," Kaplan said after the meeting. "They used the 1941 deed and the 1988 Charter to justify their decision, and this is in keeping with public sentiment on this issue."

Besides Kaplan, others who attended the Committee meeting included Ann Pace, John Slivon, Allyson Jabusch, Kurt Hauglie for The Daily Mining Gazette and Gustavo Bourdieu for Keweenaw Now.

Editor's Notes:
See Keweenaw Now's articles on the Swedetown Creek issue: the Sept. 17, 2007, article, "Planning Commission recommends larger buffer for Swedetown Creek" and the Oct. 16, 2007, article, "Hancock's Swedetown Creek area may become public park, following 1941 deed."

** See the City Charter on Purchase and Sale of Real Property, available on the City of Hancock Web site.

MTU student engineers to host "Great Lakes Water Issues" Mar. 18

HOUGHTON -- Michigan Tech's Engineers Without Borders and the Society of Environmental Engineers are sponsoring a discussion on "Great Lakes Water Issues" at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Mar. 18, in the Forestry building lecture hall G002.

This event, part of MTU's "Popcorn and Policy" series, brings together academia, government agencies and the community for discussion on important policy issues. The public is invited.

"The Great Lakes are one of the most valuable (and beautiful) natural resources in the nation," writes Joe Dammel, MTU student in Environmental Engineering, member of Engineers Without Borders and president of Chi Epsilon National Civil Engineering Honor Society. "We live on the shores of the largest Great Lake -- a lake system facing many challenges as we head into the future. Popcorn and Policy is your opportunity to discuss these challenges with experts."

The experts who will make up the panel for this event include the following:

Dr. Alex Mayer, professor of Geological and Environmental Engineering and director of MTU's Center for Water and Society. Mayer is the principal investigator for a recently-awarded, $1.1 million grant from the National Science Foundation to assess the future value of Great Lakes water resources under conditions of land use and climate change.

Katie Alvord, freelance writer, author of Divorce Your Car! Ending the Love Affair with the Automobile and winner of the 2007 Science Journalism Award for Online Reporting from the American Association for the Advancement of Science for her series of articles about the Great Lakes, published on Keweenaw Now. Read about her award and find links to the articles.

Jay Glaser, biologist for the National Parks Service (NPS) Midwest Regional Fishery, stationed at Isle Royale National Park, whose work on aquatic invasive species, among other things, spans the "Great Lakes Network" of the NPS.

Bruce Lindgren, co-chair of the Lake Superior Binational Forum, acting president and CEO of the Coalition for Eco-Industrial Development.

More info on the Great Lakes can be found at the following sites:

Peace Vigil to commemorate "Five Years Too Many" Mar. 19

HOUGHTON -- Members of the Keweenaw Peace Community invite the public to join them from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on the sidewalk in front of Veterans' Park in Houghton to vigil on the fifth anniversary of the beginning of the war in Iraq.

Signs are provided or participants may bring their own. Parking is available east of Veterans' Park. If you have questions email

This is part of a nationwide effort. For more information visit the United for Peace Web site.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Rolf Peterson to speak on Wolf-Moose study for MTU Earth Week Mar. 20

This photo of the Middle Pack on Lake Desor, Isle Royale, was taken in February 2006 by John Vucetich, co-leader, with Rolf Peterson, of Isle Royale wolf-moose research. It is one of the 135 photos one can find in the Wolves and Moose of Isle Royale DVD.* (Keweenaw Now file photo © 2006 John Vucetich. Reprinted with permission.)

HOUGHTON -- Rolf Peterson, world-renowned researcher, will give the keynote speech, “The Wolves of Isle Royale After 50 Years,” for Michigan Tech University's Earth Week, sponsored by MTU's Students for Environmental Sustainability (SfES).

Peterson's talk will take place at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Mar. 20, in Room U115 of the Minerals and Materials (M&M) Building on campus. Free copies of his book The Wolves of Isle Royale - A Broken Balance will be given to the first 75 people to arrive, and free trail mix will be available.

"Each year the Students for Environmental Sustainability hope to increase awareness of environmental-related issues on the Michigan Tech campus and in the community," said Heather Wright, SfES member. "We feel it is important to show environmental issues, whether on a local, regional, or global scale, in a fun and exciting way that encourages other individuals to get involved."

Other Earth Week events include two movies to be shown at 7 p.m. in Room U113 of the Minerals and Materials (M&M) Building on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings.

On Tuesday, Mar. 18, the film Seasonal Forests will be shown. One of the 11 episodes of the Planet Earth series, this film tells the story of seasonal forests and plant survival. It includes areas from Siberia to Tasmania to the Upper Peninsula and footage of elusive wildlife.

Princess Mononoke, a Japanese animated film, will be shown on Wednesday, Mar. 19. It focuses on the struggles between supernatural guardians of the forest and humans who are consuming its resources. The hero, Ashiitaka, struggles to help both the humans and the creatures of the forest find balance and harmony.

MTU's Earth Week correlates with International Earth Day (March 21, the Vernal Equinox) rather than the United States Earth Day (April 22).

*Editor's Note: For more information on the 50th Anniversary of Wolf-Moose Research on Isle Royale, visit the Web site.