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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Congressional Candidate Lon Johnson to hold 5 local Town Halls and attend Oct. 4 Candidate Forum

HANCOCK -- Next week Lon Johnson, U.S. Congressional Candidate for Michigan's First District, will be holding five Town Halls in the Keweenaw, in addition to participating in the Oct. 4 Candidate Forum in Ontonagon. Johnson, a Democrat, is running against Republican Jack Bergman  for the Congressional seat now held by U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek, who is not running for re-election.

Here is Lon's schedule:

Tuesday, Oct. 4: 10 a.m. - 11 a.m.  Chassell VFW, 42103 Wilson Memorial Dr, Chassell

Tuesday, Oct. 4: 12 p.m. - 1 p.m. Tina’s Katalina Restaurant, 59 Trimountain Ave, South Range

Tuesday, Oct. 4: Candidate Forum at Ontonagon High School Cafeteria, 701 Parker Ave, Ontonagon, MI 49953. The event begins at 6 p. m. ET with a "meet and greet," which will give voters the opportunity to meet forum candidates as well as candidates in Ontonagon County contested races. The Forum begins at 7 p. m. ET and will include 1st Congressional District candidates Lon Johnson (D) and Jack Bergman (R) and Michigan’s 110th State Representative candidates Scott Dianda (D) Greg Markkanen (R). The forum moderator is Ontonagon District Court and Probate Judge, Janis Burgess.

Wednesday, Oct. 5: 10 a.m. - 11 a.m. Carmelita’s Restaurant, 618 Oak St, Calumet

Wednesday, Oct. 5: 1 p.m. - 2 p.m. Slim’s Café, 8 Mohawk Dr, Mohawk

Wednesday, Oct. 5: 5:30 p.m. - 6:30 p.m. The Downtowner, 100 Shelden Ave, Houghton

For information about Lon Johnson and his campaign, visit his Web site:

(Inset photo: Lon Johnson. Photo courtesy Lon Johnson's campaign)

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

UPDATE: DEQ Public Hearing will take place Sept. 28; L'Anse Warden Electric Co. addresses maintenance issues

By Michele Bourdieu

This photo shows a hole in the top of the L'Anse Warden Electric Co. (LWEC) "biomass" plant in L'Anse. According to DEQ, the hole does not affect emissions. The plant is temporarily "off-line" -- not operating. This will not affect the DEQ Public Hearing scheduled for Sept. 28. LWEC is working on maintenance but not sharing the reason for not operating. (Photo courtesy Doug Welker)

L'ANSE -- Keweenaw Now received word today, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2016, that the L'Anse Warden plant is presently "off-line," i.e., temporarily not operating. Ed Lancaster, DEQ Air Quality Division environmental quality analyst, said today that the Public Hearing scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 28, with an information, question-answer meeting at 6 p.m., will take place as announced. The hearing will be held at the L'Anse High School Cafetorium.*

"The maintenance issues they're having are not related to the public hearing," Lancaster told Keweenaw Now today. 

The hearing is only about the draft Consent Form and the draft Permit to Install, he explained. Only comments on these will be taken during the hearing beginning at 7 p.m. From 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. the public may ask general questions.

Lancaster confirmed that there is a hole in the structure of the stack at the plant -- near the top, near the exit of the stack.

"It's not going to affect the emissions at all," he said.

Lancaster said he was not sure what problems caused the plant to cease operations recently.

Steve Walsh, CEO of Traxys Power Group, which operates L'Anse Warden Electric Co. (LWEC), told Keweenaw Now today he could not comment on the reason for the plant being "off-line," but the company is working on the maintenance so that operations can resume as soon as possible.

"We're in the process of getting back on line as soon as possible because we know the people of Michigan need a local source of generation to maintain good grid stability," Walsh said.

Asked if the L'Anse Warden plant supplies electricity to the local area, Walsh said, "It certainly does."

* See our article posted yesterday, Sept. 26, 2016: "Video Report: Concerned citizens challenge DEQ, EPA officials on L'Anse Warden Plant pollution; DEQ Public Hearing to be Sept. 28."

Monday, September 26, 2016

Video Report: Concerned citizens challenge DEQ, EPA officials on L'Anse Warden Plant pollution; DEQ Public Hearing to be Sept. 28

By Michele Bourdieu

Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Air Quality Division officials hold an informational meeting on the L'Anse Warden Electrical Company's "biomass" plant on Sept. 7, 2016, at L'Anse High School. The purpose of the meeting was to take questions from the public related to the recent Administrative Consent Order based on the company's permit violations of Hydrogen Chloride (HCL) emission limits and fugitive dust in the community. A DEQ Public Hearing on the Consent Order will be held this Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016. (Photos by Keweenaw Now)

L'ANSE -- The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) will hold a public hearing Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016, on L'Anse Warden Electric Company's proposed Consent Order and proposed Permit to Install (PTI). The proposed PTI is for removal of pentachlorophenol (PCP) treated wood from the fuel portfolio of the existing 324 million British thermal unit per hour boiler at the facility, located at 157 S. Main St., L'Anse, Mich. The public hearing will take place at  L'Anse Area Schools Cafetorium. DEQ will answer questions from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. and will accept public comments after 7 p.m.*

The hearing follows two informational meetings -- one with DEQ on Sept. 7, 2016, and an earlier meeting with both EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) officials and DEQ held on May 9, 2016. At both meetings officials discussed the Hydrogen Chloride (HCL) exceedance at the plant, which violates their permit, as well as a fugitive dust violation of enforceable laws and odors from the plant as reported by local residents. Following are some video clips from both meetings.

At the Sept. 7, 2016, informational meeting Chris Hare, DEQ Air Quality Division Upper Peninsula District supervisor, states the reason for the meeting:

DEQ Air Quality Division U.P. District Supervisor Chris Hare speaks about the L'Anse Warden Electric Company's HCL exceedance. (Videos by Keweenaw Now)

At the Sept. 7 meeting the public was provided with several documents, including the Consent Order and a list of Questions and Common Concerns with answers provided by DEQ. Several questions concerned railroad ties -- some treated with pentachlorophenol which will no longer be allowed as fuel in the plant -- and some treated with creosote, which is a concern because of odors and because of its carcinogenic properties. The DEQ's question-answer sheet states that EPA considers both pentachlorophenol and creosote as "probable" human carcinogens. Referring to each of these, DEQ states, "cancer risk depends on exposure concentration and duration."

Here Jim Haun of Skanee questions whether the railroad ties and tire derived fuel burned in the plant should be considered biomass:

Jim Haun of Skanee asks DEQ's Chris Hare why the plant cannot just burn wood chips if it is really considered a biomass facility.

The Question-Answer sheet begins with a question on whether DEQ Air Quality Division has the authority to shut down operations at a facility because of violations. DEQ mentions several standards for air quality that determine emission limits, but notes they can only order a plant to shut down a facility or its operations if it "is emitting pollutants that put the public's health or environment in imminent danger." Doug Welker of the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition (UPEC) and FOLK (Friends of the Land of Keweenaw) asks about these standards:

Doug Welker asks a question on the standards used to determine public health risk from air quality violations by the plant.

Another question on the DEQ's question-answer sheet notes that "the proposed consent order requires LWEC to pay up to $10,000 per violation per day, depending on which condition of the consent order is violated." L'Anse area resident and retired attorney Frank Kohl challenged DEQ on the vague wording of the amount, since "up to" opens a possibility of a very low fine. Hare replied that the language is meant to encourage the company to agree to the consent order.

FOLK members challenge DEQ on lack of permit enforcement

During the Sept. 7 public meeting, Catherine Andrews, local resident and member of Friends of the Land of Keweenaw (FOLK), who has often expressed concerns about the L'Anse Warden plant's air emissions, asked DEQ officials about the toxicity of air pollution from the plant.

Catherine Andrews questions DEQ toxicologist Michael Depa on the measuring of toxicity in the L'Anse Warden plant's air emissions, noting the effects of its location near the lake.

Andrews, who has written more than one letter to the editor to local media expressing her concerns about the plant's air pollution, states the following in a recent letter to the editor:

"L'Anse Warden Electric Company (LWEC) claims they failed a stack test last September [2015] because they inadvertently fed too many chipped PCP treated railroad ties into the boiler. A June 2016 Addendum to Emissions Test Protocol sent from Steve Walsh, [LWEC] CEO, to EPA states, 'LWEC wishes to clarify that the boiler operator does not have the ability to separately weigh and feed the various fuels on an hourly basis.' This statement is an admission that they can't meet permit requirements and makes the permit unenforceable, and therefore illegal.

"In the same document Walsh states that, 'repairs were needed on the upper portion of the stack' and that 'access to the top of the stack could not be obtained consistent with OSHA requirements for worker safety.' This is a weak excuse for requesting an exclusion from an EPA testing requirement to measure stack gas exit velocity and stack gas temperature at the exit from the stack. EPA should force LWEC to repair the stack.

"DEQ was asked on September 7th, 'Would you have done anything if you hadn't gotten any complaints?' Their response was, 'No.'"

Linda Rulison, president of FOLK, asked DEQ officials if citizens would need to continue reporting their complaints to DEQ in order to have rules and regulations enforced.

A concerned citizen notes the offensive odors coming from the plant. Linda Rulison of FOLK asks if they must continue to report the same complaints over and over in order to see enforcement. Chris Hare and Ed Lancaster, DEQ Air Quality Division environmental quality analyst for the Upper Peninsula, reply that they need citizen reports of odors in order to act on this problem with inspections.

DEQ: Carcinogens below limits are "O.K."

Some members of the public submitted written questions to the DEQ officials to be addressed during the meeting. One question concerned creosote:

DEQ toxicologist Michael Depa answers a question on PAHs, creosote and carcinogens.

More questions on the odors and fugitive dust from the plant led to the DEQ's announcement that, although EPA officially requested that L'Anse Warden Electric Co. (LWEC) put air monitors at their property line, EPA is now delaying that request until after the company closes conveyors and other equipment to "wait and see" how effective that is:

John Vial, DEQ permit engineer, reacts to citizens' complaints about odors, admitting he has noticed them as well. Jeffery Loman of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community asks why the air monitors ordered by the EPA have not been put in place yet.

DEQ notes on their question-answer sheet, "EPA has agreed to an extension of installing air monitors to monitor particulates at the property line until the enclosures of conveyors and fuel receiving area is built. At that time EPA will reevaluate their request to install the monitors."

Philip Keyes of Baraga asks DEQ officials why they don't have something to measure ambient air quality. He mentions a mountain of creosote logs at the plant.

Finally, Horst Schmidt, president of the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition and member of FOLK, asked DEQ officials if the Department of Environmental Quality has the willingness and capacity to monitor the plant and enforce the rules in a meaningful way:

Horst Schmidt, president of the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition, questions the system of self-monitoring on the part of the company. DEQ's Chris Hare answers with "checks and balances."
Following the Sept. 7 meeting, DEQ officials answered individual questions for a few minutes.

Following the Sept. 7, 2016, meeting, FOLK members Doug Welker, left, and Catherine Andrews chat with DEQ Toxicologist Michael Depa, right, and DEQ Permitting Engineer John Vial, both from the Air Quality Division Lansing office. 

Vanessa Dietz, Daily Mining Gazette reporter, interviews Ed Lancaster, DEQ Air Quality Division environmental quality analyst for the Upper Peninsula, who does inspections at the L'Anse Warden Plant.

EPA, DEQ address citizens' concerns at May 9, 2016, meeting

The L'Anse High School Cafetorium was filled with a large crowd of concerned citizens for the May 9, 2016, EPA/DEQ informational meeting on the L'Anse Warden plant. (Photos by Keweenaw Now)

On May 9, 2016, EPA Region 5 officials came from Chicago to host, along with DEQ officials, a similar informational meeting on the L'Anse Warden plant. At that time EPA was requiring the air monitors and anticipating further testing this summer. A stack test was conducted in July 2016.

Here Molly Smith, EPA Region 5 environmental scientist, speaks about dust wipes taken by DEQ near the plant and what analysis of these can or cannot indicate. She also speaks about the air monitors and requiring a stack test:

Molly Smith, EPA Region 5 environmental scientist, speaks about EPA's collaboration with DEQ to address the problem of fugitive dust by ordering L'Anse Warden Electric Company to install air monitors and to conduct a stack test which will be used to determine health risks to the community. (Videos by Keweenaw Now)

Smith told the audience at the May 9 meeting that results from the stack test this summer would be sent to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) so they may use that data to assess health risks to the community.

According to an email today, Sept. 26, from Francisco Arcaute, U.S. EPA press office, EPA has not yet received the health risk assessment from ATSDR. Arcaute also told Keweenaw Now that EPA officials will not be attending the DEQ Public Hearing this Wednesday, Sept. 28, in L'Anse.

During the May 9 meeting, several local residents expressed concerns on written comment cards and verbally as well.

During the May 9 meeting local residents express more concerns about non-compliance and human health. DEQ's Chris Hare answers a question on enforcing the L'Anse Warden Electric Company's compliance and on potential impacts of the plant's air pollution on human health. L'Anse resident Lori Johnson asks about odors she believes come from the grinding of the railroad ties.

At the May 9 meeting, Patricia Toczydlowski of the Keweenaw Land Trust asks whether any testing is being done to determine whether the pollution from the plant is impacting the water. Steve Casey, DEQ Water Quality Division supervisor for the Upper Peninsula, replies:

Steve Casey says both EPA and DEQ officials have visited the plant and, based on their observations, did not notice problems. Permit requirements offer protection, he adds. Jim Seavoy of L'Anse, who lives near the plant, holds up a sample of pollution from the plant and mentions impacts on children playing in the snow as well as elderly residents who cannot go outside because of effects on their breathing. Jeffery Loman calls for "real substantial inspections."

After the meeting Casey told Keweenaw Now, "We're going to make sure that storm water (runoff from the railroad ties) gets tested."

More recently, Casey said Randy Conroy, senior geologist in the DEQ Water Resources Division, did do some testing this summer. He noted L'Anse Warden needs a water permit as well as air permits.

"The water permit for Warden is an NPDES (National Pollution Discharge Elimination System) Industrial Stormwater permit," Casey told Keweenaw Now in a Sept. 23 email. "Randy did sample the stream that flows near the RR tie piles and no contaminants were detected.  Unfortunately, the sample was not analyzed by the laboratory in a timely fashion, so the holding time for the sample was exceeded. We have required the company to conduct additional sampling after rain events which result in runoff from the property."

Following the EPA meeting, Ed Lancaster, who inspects the plant for DEQ Air Quality Division, said, "Whenever I get a phone call -- if I can make it -- I'll respond with a site visit. Timing is everything on odor complaints."

L'Anse resident Jim Seavoy said, "I don't want them to shut down. I just want them to clean it up. I want fresh air and the ability to open windows on my own house."


* Click here for links to DEQ documents on the L'Anse Warden Plant -- including the Consent Order and public participation documents.

** See this article by Catherine Andrews, "Citizens still concerned about community health hazards from L'Anse Warden Electric Company plant," published in Keweenaw Now Apr. 3, 2016.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

"State of the Union" opera to feature Helsinki Chamber Choir Sept. 29 - Oct. 6

On their first U.S. tour, the Helsinki Chamber Choir will present State of the Union, a new opera by Eugene Birman and Scott Diel, in performances from Marquette to Houghton to New York City from Sept. 29 to Oct. 6. The opera will be performed at the Rozsa Center for the Performing Arts in Houghton at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 2. (Poster courtesy Rozsa Center)

HOUGHTON -- In their new work, State of the Union, an opera of economic inequality and obliviousness, composer Eugene Birman and librettist Scott Diel have turned their attention to everything that ails the planet.

Part opera seria, part satire, State of the Union is an opera for 12 singers which considers environmental sustainability, economic inequality, and the general obliviousness of society.

The 40-minute work will be premiered by the Helsinki Chamber Choir, which composer Jonathan Harvey has termed "probably the best choir anywhere in the world, particularly for contemporary music." The choir will be touring the United States for the first time.

Michigan Tech's Rozsa Center for the Performing Arts will present State of the Union at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 2, 2016. State of the Union will tour the United States starting Sept. 29 and 30 in Marquette, with the final performance on Oct. 6 in New York City at Wall Street’s Trinity Church (see Schedule below).

An island off the Keweenaw Peninsula gave birth to State of the Union. Commissioned by the Rabbit Island Foundation, the work was conceived and composed on Michigan’s Rabbit Island, 91 acres of solid bedrock and forest that has never been developed, has no electricity or modern comforts, and is accessible only by small craft. Birman and Diel created the opera over a period of two weeks of seclusion on the island.

Librettist Scott Diel, left, and composer Eugene Birman are pictured here on Rabbit Island, where they created the opera State of the Union. (Photo © Andrew Ranville and courtesy Scott Diel)

Rabbit Island, located in Lake Superior three miles east of Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula, is held under a conservation easement granted by the Keweenaw Land Trust and supports programs fostering science, art, preservation and recreation. Rabbit Island is a laboratory for artists to consider the modern relationship between art and the environment, and this is what Birman and Diel have done.

View of Rabbit Island from Michigan Tech's Research Vessel Agassiz. (2014 Keweenaw Now photo) 

According to the Rabbit Island Foundation, "The opera condemns no one and everyone, yet its finale doles out redemption to those open to it. State of the Union is four characters -- the environment, the rich, the middle class, and the poor -- meeting and interacting over seven movements. It reflects a belief that many of our problems stem from how we view and treat one another. As a society we too often equate wealth with wisdom, and poverty with personal shortcomings. This work pushes forward the genre of classical music and also advances the medium to underscore a new subject: humanity’s relationship to its natural environment in the context of modern society."

The Koch brothers, Dick Cheney, Russell Brand’s Revolution, hedge fund tycoons, the middle class, the social safety net and those who depend on it: no one comes out unscathed.

The work has been brought to life thanks to generous support from the Rabbit Island Foundation, Northern Michigan University’s Northern Nights concert series, DeVos Art Museum, and the U.P. Beaumier Heritage Center.

State of the Union is the fourth work by Birman and Diel. Their first, Nostra Culpa, which dramatized the austerity-stimulus Twitter feud between economist Paul Krugman and Estonia President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, was quickly labeled the "Twitter opera" by the international press. It was featured by CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, was the subject of a BBC documentary by Tanya Beckett, as well as covered in most every international newspaper.

Birman/Diel followed up with No. 289, an opera about the Russian border treaty of 1920 (Peace of Tartu), and a reworking of Erlkönig, both music and libretto, for the Oxford Lieder Festival.

The Helsinki Chamber Choir (Helsingin kamarikuoro) was founded in 1962 as the Finnish Radio Chamber Choir and assumed its current name in 2005. It is currently Finland’s only professional chamber choir.

The Helsinki Chamber Choir. (Photo courtesy Rozsa Center for the Performing Arts)

The choir’s Artistic Director from 2005–2007 was Kimmo Hakola. Since 2007 Nils Schweckendiek has been responsible for the group's artistic planning. While its wide-ranging repertoire includes music from the Renaissance to the present day, the Helsinki Chamber Choir is particularly highly regarded for its work with new music. The choir regularly commissions new works and has given over 50 world premieres in the seasons since 2005, as well as more than 30 Finnish first performances. The choir appears frequently at major Finnish music festivals and collaborates with orchestras and Baroque and contemporary music ensembles. Recent touring has included concerts in Russia, Estonia and Belgium.

Here is the Performance Schedule for State of the Union:

Sept. 29, 7:30 p.m. and Sept. 30, 7:30 p.m. -- Forest Roberts Theatre, Northern Michigan University campus, Marquette, Mich.

Oct. 1, 7:30 p.m. -- Interlochen Center for the Arts, Interlochen, Mich.

Oct. 2, 7:30 p.m. -- Rozsa Center, Michigan Technological University, Houghton, Mich.

Oct. 4, 7:30 p.m. -- Arts Center, Lake Superior State University, Sault Ste Marie, Mich.

Oct. 6, 6 p.m. -- Trinity Church, Wall Street, New York City

For more information or tickets for the Rozsa performance, contact Michigan Tech Ticketing Services at the Central Ticket Office (SDC), at 906-487-2073, or go online at