See our right-hand column for announcements and news briefs. Scroll down the right-hand column to access the Archives -- links to articles posted in the main column since 2007.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Western UP Health Department begins administering COVID-19 Vaccine; Gov. Whitmer signs relief bills

Courtney Karttunen, public health nurse, receives the vaccine from WUPHD Director of Public Health Nursing Cari Digiorgio. (Photo courtesy Western Upper Peninsula Health Department)

HANCOCK -- The Western Upper Peninsula Health Department (WUPHD) began vaccinating priority groups today, Dec. 29, with recently received Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine. As limited supplies of the COVID-19 vaccine have started to arrive in the area, residents are asking, "When will COVID-19 vaccine be available to me?"

WUPHD expects vaccine administration to roll out over a series of months and is working with area hospitals, physicians, and outpatient clinics to distribute available vaccines according to a phased approach that has been adopted by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The phased vaccination approach allows for continued functioning of the health care system and essential services in the community, while protecting people at increased risk for severe COVID-19 illness. These prioritizations may change as more information on vaccine effectiveness and additional vaccine products become available.

The current prioritized phases and estimated time lines are as follows:

PHASE 1A -- DECEMBER AND JANUARY

Priority 1: Critical health care
Priority 2: Long-term care staff and residents
Priority 3: Necessary health care

PHASE 1B -- MID JANUARY

Frontline essential workers who keep critical infrastructure functioning, and people age 75 years and older.

PHASE 1C -- MID FEBRUARY

Individuals at risk of severe illness (people age 65-74 years, and people age 16-74 years with high risk medical conditions) and some other essential workers whose work must be performed on site.

PHASE 2 -- END OF MARCH/EARLY APRIL

All other individuals age 16 years or older.

The state and region are currently working through the Phase 1A priorities. Additional media announcements will be made as new phases are reached.

There is no out-of-pocket cost to individuals for the vaccine; however, healthcare providers may bill insurance for administration costs. The Moderna COVID-19 vaccine requires two doses separated by 28 days, while the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine requires two doses separated by 21 days. Individuals should receive both doses in order to be considered fully vaccinated.

The COVID-19 vaccine is critical in slowing the spread and helping communities recover from the pandemic. Stopping the pandemic will take ALL our tools: handwashing, masks, social distancing and vaccines. Together, these tools offer the best chance of getting our communities, schools, and work sites back to normal. WUPHD reminds residents to continue using prevention strategies as vaccines become more widely distributed and for some time after.

Gov. Whitmer: Wearing masks saves lives

LANSING -- In her latest COVID-19 Update today, Dec. 29, Michigan Governor Whitmer said, "Studies have shown that if we all wear masks until the vaccine is widely distributed we will save hundreds of thousands of lives in the United States."

Governor Whitmer also noted she is urging the Michigan Legislature to pass legislation that would require wearing masks in public -- a policy that has bipartisan support and would help stop the spread of COVID-19.

Gov. Whitmer signs $106 Million bipartisan relief bill, bills extending unemployment benefits to 26 weeks

Gov. Whitmer signs relief bills on Dec. 29, 2020. (Photo courtesy Michigan Executive Office of the Governor)

Today, Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed the bipartisan relief bill that the Michigan legislature passed after she urged them to provide support for Michigan families, frontline workers, and small businesses. The relief bill includes $55 million to help small businesses impacted by COVID-19. Grants of up to $20,000 will be made available to small businesses across the state that need support this winter. The relief bill also includes $3.5 million for grants of up to $40,000 each for live music and entertainment venues, and includes $45 million in direct payments to workers who have been laid off or furloughed as a result of the virus.

"I proposed this stimulus plan to the legislature in November because I know how much our families, frontline workers, and small businesses need relief. This bipartisan bill will provide families and businesses the support they need to stay afloat as we continue working to distribute the safe and effective vaccine and eliminate COVID-19 once and for all," said Governor Whitmer. "There is still more work to do to eliminate this virus and grow our economy. All Michiganders have a personal responsibility to do their part and mask up, practice safe social distancing, and avoid indoor gatherings where the virus can easily spread from person to person. We will beat this virus together."

The governor also signed bipartisan Senate Bill 604 extending unemployment benefits for Michiganders who have lost work as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic from 20 to 26 weeks until the end of March 2021. Senate Bill 604 was sponsored by Senator Curtis Hertel.

"No Michigander should have to worry about how to put food on the table or pay their bills, especially during a global pandemic," said Governor Whitmer. "These bipartisan bills are an important step in providing immediate relief for working families, but there is more work to do. I urge the legislature to take further action to make this permanent. 40 states, including all of our neighbors, automatically provide at least 26 weeks of unemployment relief. Michiganders deserve better than a short-term extension that expires in March. It’s time to work together on a bipartisan, long-term solution for working families."

From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Whitmer and her administration have worked around the clock to ensure benefits for Michiganders who have lost work because of the virus. Since March 15, Governor Whitmer’s administration has paid nearly $27 billion in benefits to nearly 2.3 million workers.

Click here to see a video of Gov. Whitmer's Dec. 29 press conference.

For more information on COVID-19 please visit www.wuphd.org, michigan.gov/coronavirus, or cdc.gov/coronavirus.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

MDHHS begins cautious re-opening of high schools, indoor entertainment, modifying successful "Pause"

Pointing to graphs showing the progress in slowing the spread of COVID-19 in Michigan, Governor Gretchen Whitmer gives a COVID-19 Update during a Dec. 18 press conference. (Photo courtesy Michigan Executive Office of the Governor)*

LANSING -- The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) updated its epidemic order today to allow indoor activities where Michiganders can remain masked, as this has been scientifically shown to slow the virus. This includes in-person learning at high schools and indoor entertainment venues. Casinos, bowling centers and movie theatres will be allowed to reopen with total capacity capped at 100; food and drink concessions closed; and social distancing requirements in place. The new order is effective Monday, Dec. 21 and will last until Friday, Jan. 15.

"These past few weeks, Michiganders across the state stepped up and did their part to slow the spread of COVID-19, and because of our collective hard work, we are now able to begin the steps to carefully lift some of the protocols we have in place," said Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. "I am encouraged by the progress we have made since early November, and will continue to monitor the data closely during and after the holidays. One of the most important things Michiganders can do right now is make a plan to get the safe and effective vaccine as soon as it’s available to you. And as always: mask up, practice safe social distancing, and avoid indoor gatherings where COVID-19 can easily spread from person to person. We will eradicate this virus together."

The map on this slide from MDHHS and Gov. Whitmer's Power Point presentation shows how Michigan compares to nearby states. Click on image for larger verson. (Image courtesy Michigan Executive Office of the Governor)

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health at MDHHS, also spoke of progress and the beginning of vaccine distribution.

"We have made some progress in our fight against this pandemic, and this was a historical week as we started to distribute life-saving vaccines," said Dr. Khaldun. "It is important that everyone continues to do their part. Start planning for when you will get a vaccine when it is available to you, and let’s avoid a surge in cases after the holidays by avoiding gatherings, wearing our masks, and continuing to socially distance."

Dr. Khaldun receives the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 17, the day before the press conference, at Henry Ford Hospital, where she works as an emergency medicine physician. (Photo courtesy Michigan Executive Office of the Governor)

Previously, MDHHS had identified stabilization or declines in three metrics as critical for relaxing protocols. Michigan saw improvements across all three following the "pause" implemented in mid-November:

  • Hospital capacity dedicated to COVID-19 patients: 13-day decline; current capacity is at 17.3 percent for beds with COVID-19 patients. Peaked at 20.1 percent on Tuesday, Dec. 1.
  • Overall case rates: 27-day decline; currently at 439 cases per million. Peaked at 739 cases per million on Saturday, Nov. 14.
  • Positivity rate: 11-day decline; currently at 10.6 percent positive tests. Recently peaked at 14.3 percent on Friday, Dec. 4. 

"Michiganders should be proud: we have made incredible progress over the last month. But we could easily lose that progress and endanger our hospitals again over the next two weeks," said MDHHS Director Robert Gordon. "At Thanksgiving, most Michiganders sacrificed and avoided family get-togethers. We need to do the same thing this holiday season. Then we can re-engage more activities sooner and more safely."

 The Dec. 18 Order from MDHHS includes the above Gathering Guidelines. Click on image for larger version. (Image courtesy Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.)

Indoor residential gatherings remain limited to 10 people and two households. MDHHS continues to urge families to avoid indoor gatherings or to pick a single other household to interact with consistent with guidance already released by the department. Families are encouraged to stay home this holiday season to maintain the positive momentum that has developed and to protect loved ones. Families are also encouraged to Mask Up, Mask Right, using new guidance for what masks to wear and how to wear them.**

Notes:

* Click here to see the Dec. 18 Power Point presentation.

** The video recording of the Dec. 18 press conference is available on Governor Whitmer's Facebook page here.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Residents concerned over City of Houghton proposed re-zoning along Canal Road; wetland, Cole's Creek to remain protected in R-1 zoning

By Michele Bourdieu
 
This photo illustrates the potential location of a large hotel that could be built on the Portage Canal along Canal Road in Houghton, should the present residential (R-1) zoning be changed to business (B-2) zoning, according to a rezoning proposal being considered by the City of Houghton. Such a construction project would be allowed by B-2 zoning, assuming all EPA requirements were followed since the area is on part of the Torch Lake Superfund site, next to the home of John and Bonnie Fodermaier, at right. (Photo taken from Hancock side of Canal © and courtesy John Fodermaier)

HOUGHTON -- Concerned local residents have recently raised objections to a proposed rezoning -- from single-family residential (R-1) to community business (B-2) -- of an area under the Torch Lake Superfund bordering on the Portage Canal and Canal Road in Houghton.

Proposed Ordinance 2020-314 to rezone this area was added to proposed Ordinance 2020-315 to rezone another parcel on Canal Road, near the UPPCO building, for the Isle Royale Seaplane Service. Residents have concerns about potential development on a Superfund site and about noise pollution from the plane, which now takes off from a site on Dollar Bay. The two proposals are being considered together.

New agreement protects wetland, Cole's Creek from rezoning

Before last Friday, Dec. 11, the proposed Ordinance 314 also included rezoning a wetland and area along Cole's Creek, a well known trout stream, near Canal Road. However, a Dec. 11 agreement between local resident John Fodermaier -- whose property is next to the wetland on the west and a potential development east of his home -- and owners of the adjacent properties, JRG Development and the Jukuri family, removes the wetland and Cole's Creek area, presently zoned R-1, from the rezoning proposal.

This panorama shows the wetland bordering John Fodermaier's property on the west side. It was certified as wetland under the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE), formerly DEQ. (Photo © and courtesy John Fodermaier)
 
Fodermaier said he was pleased with the removal of the wetlands and Cole's Creek from the proposed Ordinance 314.
 
"I'm looking forward to seeing what comes of this," Fodermaier said. "In the light of the fact that JRG excluded the wetlands -- including Cole's Creek -- from their rezoning request and added deed restrictions for the development, I have removed my opposition to proposed Ordinance 314," Fodermaier said this week. "I applaud JRG for listening to the concerns of the community on this important issue."
 
Here a part of the wetland borders the Portage Canal on the west side of John Fodermaier's property. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)
 
Bill Deephouse, former fisheries biologist, was also happy to hear about the recent agreement between Fodermaier and the Jukuris.
 
On Dec. 14, Deephouse told Keweenaw Now, "I'm pleased that there won't be a zoning change for the wetlands and Cole's Creek."
 
During the Dec. 2 Houghton City Council meeting, Deephouse had commented on the value of the creek as a trout stream.

"I think the proposal to rezone the area from the possible seaplane base near Old Mill Road down the shoreline to Cole's Creek is irresponsible," Deephouse told Keweenaw Now after that Dec. 2 meeting. "Cole's Creek was found to be an excellent stream with good numbers of rainbow trout, coho salmon, brook trout and a few brown trout. As I recall, we estimated that there were 4 year-classes of rainbows in one survey with good numbers of young-of-the-year brook trout. This stream is a natural hatchery and very valuable. The insect population and species composition indicates it is a stream of the highest order."

This photo, taken in May 2018, just before the Father's Day flood, shows Bill Deephouse smelt dipping at 7:30 in the morning on Cole's Creek. "Smelt dipping is usually done at night, often in the middle of the night -- at 2 or 3 in the morning," Deephouse said. "But they were running really heavy and stayed in the creek all night and I was there to catch some in the daytime." (Photo  Marcia Goodrich and courtesy Bill Deephouse)

Deephouse participated in surveys of Cole's Creek in the past to determine its quality as a Type 1 trout stream. However, since the 2018 flood, the creek has suffered damage to its fishery.

"I would have to resurvey the stream again to determine if it still contained the previous numbers and species of fish as found in the past," Deephouse said. "It sustained significant habitat damage and might take some time to return to its former status."

New public hearings to be scheduled for 314, 315

During the Nov. 17, 2020, meeting of the Houghton Planning Commission, following two public hearings to discuss proposed zoning ordinances 2020-314 and 2020-315, the Commission voted to recommend both ordinances to the Houghton City Council. At that time the wetland and Cole's Creek were still included in the 314 rezoning proposal.

Eric Waara, Houghton City Manager, told Keweenaw Now Tuesday, Dec. 15, that the public hearings on the proposed Ordinances 314 and 315 -- originally scheduled for Jan. 13, 2021 -- will now have to be re-scheduled because of the recent agreement to exclude the wetland and Cole's Creek from 314.

This map shows the area of the wetland and Cole's Creek (purple) that has been removed from the original proposed Ordinance 314 so that it may remain in R-1 (residential zoning). The yellow area is proposed to be rezoned from R-1 to B-2 (community business). Click on image for larger version. (Map courtesy City of Houghton)

"We may have a special Planning Commission meeting in early January to set the public hearing date -- and no more, no less (on the agenda)," Waara said. "That way we can public notice the hearings correctly." 

While that special meeting would have a limited agenda, the public is always welcome to make public comments on any issue during any meetings, he explained. Waara noted he wanted to make clear the distinction between a rezoning request and a proposal for a project. In other words, while a B-2 zoning allows certain types of development, it is not a permission to build something that may require specific permits or restrictions.

"There is a difference between a rezoning request and someone's proposal to do a project, and right now no one has proposed to do a project," Waara said. "This is a single rezoning request. That's all it is."

While the seaplane request was a separate rezoning request last year (It was a proposal to rezone from R-1 to Industrial, but failed), it is connected to the 314 request now; and both are requests to rezone to B-2.

"I'm assuming the owner of the Isle Royale Seaplane Service worked with his neighbors to come up with a mutually agreable and complementary rezoning request," Waara said.

Since the seaplane will be on federal waters, it will be subject to rules, regulations and permitting -- none of which have anything to do with the zoning there, he added.

Residents concerned about potential development to follow rezoning

Before the recent change in the proposed Ordinance 314, John Fodermaier had spoken at City of Houghton Planning Commission and City Council meetings on potential development that the B-2 zoning could allow near his house on Canal Road.

This photo shows John Fodermaier's house at far left and vegetable garden (needing sunshine) toward the center. The Portage Canal is in the background. Lines are drawn to show where a large hotel could be built near his property line if the area is rezoned. (Photo © and courtesy John Fodermaier)

During the Nov. 17 Planning Commission public hearing on proposed Ordinance 314, Fodermaier noted the property being proposed for rezoning included both a protected wetland and a Superfund site. He said he believed the uses that rezoning to B-2 would allow would be prohibited because of the protected status of the area. He also told the Commission that one cannot dig down more than 12 inches on his property without hitting water.*

During the Dec. 2, 2020, City Council meeting, Fodermaier spoke about his concerns that his property could be surrounded by a large hotel of an unspecified number of storeys, a parking lot, and other related businesses in what was intended to be a residential neighborhood when he and his wife, Bonnie, both graduates of Michigan Tech, moved to Houghton for retirement.

"This is an environmentally sensitive area that is also surrounded by R-1 and has existing R-1 single-family homes inside of it," Fodermaier told the Council on Dec. 2, noting this would probably be a bigger development than just a "mom and pop" 15-unit motel. "Think about a 10-storey Hyatt Regency, Marriott or Sheraton -- complete with a restaurant, bar and a 200-car parking lot. Think not about seasonal operation but an operation that's 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 12 months of the year with boisterous restaurant patrons exiting at midnight or 2 a.m. on the weekends. Think about 300 to 400 more vehicles per day on Canal Road. Think about the excavation required for this type of structure in the hazardous material of the Superfund site. Think about potential encroachment on protected wetlands and Cole's Creek and think about the effect this could have on a Type 1 trout stream at Cole's Creek."

Zoning changes for Ordinances 314 and 315 were proposed at the Oct. 27, 2020, Planning Commission meeting. According to the minutes, "City Manager Waara presented a map of the parcel owned by JRG Development and the Jukuri family along with the area owned by Isle Royale Air on Houghton Canal Road. The owner of the JRG Development/Jukuri property is asking for a conditional rezoning from R1 to B-2 with conditions. The conditions are everything up to B-2 plus hotels, motels, and restaurants and taverns.

"The owner of the Isle Royale Air property is requesting rezoning from R-1 to Industrial with conditions to run a seaplane business."**

Since that meeting the seaplane business is being proposed for a zoning change to B-2 (see above).

Local residents on both sides of the canal are concerned about noise from the seaplane and about its potential impact on water activities on the Portage Canal.

This map and overlay shows potential impacts should proposed Ordinance 315 be adopted to allow the Isle Royale Seaplane Service to operate on the Portage Canal as illustrated. The overlay shows the projected float plane activity area, its proximity to established residential areas and existing recreational silent sports on the canal, which includes part of the Keweenaw Water Trail. (Map courtesy Jennifer Norkol)

Hancock residents Jennifer and John Norkol are among those expressing concerns about the Seaplane business during public comment periods at recent City of Houghton meetings.

"We oppose the proposed zoning changes in Ordinances 314 and 315 from R-1 to B-2," the Norkols told Keweenaw Now in an email Dec. 15. "We and our surrounding community use this waterway for fishing, kayaking, swimming and boating. We live on the lake directly across from this site at 1404 Jasberg Street in Hancock. The noise, increased marine traffic and congestion these planes would cause is of grave concern to us. The Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) defines Seaplane businesses as Airports. We strongly object to the introduction of an Airport in what is currently a residential and recreational area. The City of Houghton planning commission was, in part, to consider if the land use will not be detrimental to the neighborhood or public health and welfare. We believe the Seaplane business relocating to this area to be a detriment on many levels -- to the peace of neighborhood and waterway, lower property value due to increased noise and nuisance, and safety issues with common fishing, boating, (tubing, waterskiing, swimming) and kayaking. These changes now include commercial construction on the adjoining parcel, further impacting the environment.

"We appreciate that the City of Houghton is not under any obligation to act on our behalf as residents of the City of Hancock, specifically the lakefront homes directly across from the proposed site; but as part of a larger community that will be impacted by these proposed changes, we sincerely hope that they will." 

This map of the proposed location for the Isle Royale Seaplane Service shows the area to be changed from R-1 to B-2 zoning if Ordinance 315 is adopted. (Map courtesy City of Houghton) 

The Norkols added their concern about potential pollution from development on the 314 parcel, but for them the Seaplane business poses a greater potential impact on their property value and peace.

Ordinance 314 parcel under Superfund regulations

The proposed Ordinance 314 parcel includes part of the Torch Lake Superfund site. It contains mining waste from the former Michigan Smelter, which operated from the early 1900s to 1948.

This aerial view shows the area of the Michigan Smelter site under the Torch Lake Superfund. The light grey, striped area marks the covered tailings. This area appears to include the area proposed for rezoning to B-2 under Ordinance 314. (Screenshot from EPA Fact Sheet, August 2012)

The mining waste (contaminated tailings) at the various Torch Lake Superfund sites received a soil and vegetative cover to prevent inhalation or contact with contaminants and to reduce erosion of these contaminants into the lake. A 1992 Record of Decision from EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) required deed restrictions to ensure that mine tailings and/or slag material are ultimately re-vegetated after any activity which disturbs the soil cover. Any construction on this site would have this requirement to prevent heavy metals and other contaminants still in the slag from escaping into the air and water. If disturbance occurs, the owner must replace the soil and repair the vegetative cover.***

John Slivon, a concerned Hancock resident, commented on the potential for dangerous air pollution should construction in the area of the proposed Ordinance 314 disturb the Superfund cover.

"The Houghton Superfund site where the construction of a hotel is being planned is, in my opinion, a misguided idea," Slivon told Keweenaw Now. "The Superfund site requires being covered to keep the dangerous material at that site from polluting the air downwind of the site. Construction at that site will result in removing the protective cap and the creation of enormous quantities of contaminated dust blowing into downtown Hancock and Houghton.

"The residential areas of both cities are a scant half mile from the proposed (314) site and directly downwind in the summer, when construction will take place. These downwind areas can't avoid being contaminated by that dust, and the contamination will become a permanent feature in and on the soil of those areas downwind of the construction site. The contaminated dust will almost certainly blow onto the Chutes and Ladders playground. Is the City of Houghton unaware of the dangers that it wishes to inflict on the health of the residents and visitors of Hancock and Houghton?

"While it may seem as if I am over-reacting to this potential opening of the Superfund cap, everyone should be aware that air pollution caused lung disease is the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S. We have done a very good job of cleaning up the air in this area by capping those sites that were most contaminated, thus making it a safer place to live. Why ruin all that progress? We should at least know what's in that contaminated soil before blowing it across our cities. If that soil is at all toxic, then this hotel-on-a-Superfund-site-idea should be abandoned."

According to EPA, the remediation of the Michigan Smelter area was completed in 2003. Although it was deleted from the National Priorities List, this area has not been delisted from Superfund. Landowners must be responsible in protecting the soil and vegetative cover. EPA Region 5 in Chicago partners with EGLE (Michigan Environment, Great Lakes and Energy) in conducting Superfund site visits and in reporting on the  status of remediation every five years.***

Notes:

* See Minutes for Nov. 17, 2020, Houghton Planning Commission.

** See Minutes for Oct. 27, 2020, Houghton Planning Commission.

*** See the EPA's Fourth Five-Year Report for the Torch Lake Superfund Site, Houghton County, Michigan.

Editor's Note: Keweenaw Now attempted to contact EGLE staff and EPA for more details on the contaminants under the Superfund cover in the 314 area. EPA replied they would communicate on this at a later date. EGLE staff did not yet answer calls. Watch for a follow-up story on this issue.

Friday, December 11, 2020

BREAKING NEWS: U.S. Supreme Court denies Texas's attempt to overturn election results in Michigan, 3 other states

LANSING -- Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel issued the following comment Friday evening, Dec. 11, after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a case filed by Texas to invalidate the results of the Nov. 3 general election in Michigan, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin:

"Today’s Supreme Court decision is an important reminder that we are a nation of laws, and though some may bend to the desire of a single individual, the courts will not. To the people of the State of Michigan, it was a great honor to appear at our country’s highest court on your behalf to ensure that your voice was heard and that your votes were counted. Now it’s time to move forward -- not as separate states, red or blue -- but as united states in the continuing pursuit of a more perfect union."

Inset photo: Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel. (Photo courtesy michigan.gov)

Editor's Note: See "UPDATED: AG Nessel files Michigan's response to Texas's election lawsuit in SCOTUS."

UPDATED: AG Nessel files Michigan's response to Texas's election lawsuit in SCOTUS

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel. (Photo courtesy michigan.gov)

LANSING -- On Thursday, Dec. 10, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel filed with the U.S. Supreme Court her response to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s lawsuit, which seeks to overturn the election results in Michigan and several other battleground states.

In her response, Nessel notes that the challenge by Texas is "an unprecedented one, without factual foundation and without a valid legal basis."

Part of the jurisdictional flaw with this lawsuit is Texas’s end-around to the country’s traditional judicial process by filing its complaint directly with the U.S. Supreme Court.

"The base of Texas’s claims rests on an assertion that Michigan has violated its own election laws. Not true," Nessel's filing states. "That claim has been repeatedly rejected in the federal and state courts in Michigan, and just yesterday the Michigan Supreme Court rejected a last-ditch effort to request an audit. Not only is the complaint here meritless, but its jurisdictional flaws abound and provide solid ground to dispose of this action."

Along with Michigan, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Wisconsin were listed as defendants in the suit. All the defendant states had claims similar to those noted in Texas’s complaint brought in their respective federal and state appellate courts, and those claims have been soundly and summarily rejected.  

"Trump and his ambassadors -- like the Texas Attorney General -- have used our court system to wage a disinformation campaign baselessly attacking the integrity of our election system. In addition to just spreading falsehoods on social media platforms, through media channels, and from seats positioned before our state legislatures, they’ve now done so at our country’s highest court," Nessel said. "I am confident the Supreme Court will reject Texas’s bid to disenfranchise millions of Michigan voters and I am proud to represent the people of my state in defense of the very essence of our core democratic values. Michigan voters will decide the outcome of their elections, not Texas politicians."

False claims made against election officials in Michigan have varied from prohibiting Republican poll challengers from monitoring the counting of votes, to the legality of mail-in ballots cast and election fraud.

President Donald Trump has expressed his intent to intervene in Texas’s lawsuit, while several Republican state attorneys general have filed amicus briefs in support of Texas.
 
The case is just one of many that have been filed following the Nov. 3 general election disputing the results that gave Democratic President-elect Joe Biden a resounding victory over Republican President Trump.

ELECTION LITIGATION UPDATE:

  • Johnson et al v Whitmer et al: The Michigan Supreme Court on Wednesday denied a motion for leave in the case, which asked the Court to allow election results to be provided to the Legislature so that it could conduct an audit.
  • Bailey v Antrim County: UPDATED Dec. 11: Michigan Department of Attorney General Communications Director Kelly Rossman-McKinney today issued the following statement on this case: "On Wednesday, the Michigan Department of Attorney General filed a motion to intervene on behalf of Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson in Bailey v Antrim County, currently before 13th Circuit Court Judge Kevin A. Elsenheimer. Judge Elsenheimer granted the motion following a hearing yesterday (Dec. 10). During that hearing, the plaintiff’s attorney indicated that the results of the inspection of the Antrim County tabulator being conducted by the plaintiff and his agents has not been completed. Therefore, NO information regarding the inspection has been made available to Judge Elsenheimer, Secretary Benson or the Department of Attorney General Dana Nessel. Further, this information is already subject to a protective order issued by Judge Elsenheimer."
  • Dar Leaf et al v Whitmer et al: The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan on Monday denied a motion for a temporary restraining order filed by plaintiffs in the suit that alleged, without any evidence, widespread election fraud. Judge Robert Jonker, in his opinion, wrote: "Plaintiffs’ applications invite the Court to make speculative leaps toward a hazy and nebulous inference that there has been numerous instances of election fraud and that Defendants are destroying the evidence. There is simply nothing of record to infer as much, much less conclude that irreparable injury will occur before the defendants can be heard."
  • Constantino et al v City of Detroit et al: After their appeal to the Michigan Court of Appeals was denied, plaintiffs appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court. This appeal was denied on November 23 and remains pending before the state court. This suit alleges a "litany of errors" in the processing of ballots at the TCF Center.
  • King et al v Benson et al: The district court denied a motion for injunctive relief on Monday, December 7. The plaintiffs allege the same list of irregularities in the City of Detroit’s election as in the Constantino case.

Click here to view a copy of Attorney General Nessel’s response to the Texas lawsuit.

Editor's Note:  Meanwhile, according to 9 and 10 news, Michigan US Congressmen Jack Bergman, 1st District, and Tim Walberg, 7th District, reportedly say they will support the Texas lawsuit against our Michigan election results. See "Bergman, Walberg Support Texas Election Lawsuit."

See also our Nov. 25, 2020, article, "Michigan Board of State Canvassers certifies state voting results with hours of public comment; GSA acknowledges Biden victory."

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

MDHHS extends epidemic order 12 days to ensure COVID-19 surge is stabilizing

MDHHS Director Robert Gordon speaks at a Dec. 7, 2020, press conference on COVID-19 in Michigan. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, pictured in background, and MDHHS Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun also spoke. (Photo courtesy Michigan Executive Office of the Governor)

LANSING -- The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) has extended by 12 days the epidemic order that restricts indoor social gatherings and other group activities. The additional 12 days will allow the department to determine the full impact of the Thanksgiving holiday on the spread of COVID-19 across Michigan.

Under the Dec. 7 order, MDHHS continues to urge families to avoid indoor gatherings; and only two households may gather inside, with strict protocols recommended. Individuals should wear masks consistently whenever they are inside with individuals not in their household, and are recommended to pick only a small group to see regularly. Bars and restaurants must remain closed for dine-in service, but can remain open for outdoor dining, carry-out and delivery. Gyms are open for individual exercise with mandatory masking and additional strict safety measures. Casinos, movie theaters and group exercise classes remain closed. Professional and college sports meeting extraordinary standards for risk mitigation may continue without spectators. Colleges, universities and high schools will continue with remote learning, with no in-person classes.

"Hope is on the horizon, but we need an additional 12 days to determine the full impact of the Thanksgiving holiday on our efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus," said Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. "This is all about protecting our families and frontline workers until we eradicate this virus once and for all. With recent daily case counts averaging well above 6,000, the daily death toll at alarming levels and the risk of hospitals becoming overwhelmed, we must work together as Michiganders and listen to our health experts. This may be the most difficult time yet in our struggle with COVID-19, but there is light at the end of the tunnel."

The order will keep existing measures in place through Dec. 20 and does not include a blanket stay-home action. Employees who work in jobs that cannot be performed from home can continue to go to work, including those in manufacturing, construction and health occupations. Outdoor gatherings, outdoor dining and parks remain open. Individualized activities with distancing and face masks are still allowed: retail shopping; public transit; restaurant takeout; personal-care services such as haircuts, by appointment; and individualized exercise at a gym, with extra spacing between machines.

"We each have a personal responsibility to wear a mask consistently and minimize indoor gatherings, so we can protect our frontline heroes and loved ones," said MDHHS Director Robert Gordon. "If we don’t, the disease will continue to spread and people will continue to get sick and die."

Click here for the Dec. 7 COVID-19 UPDATE Power Point presentation.

A video of the Dec. 7 press conference is available on Governor Whitmer's Facebook page here.

Sunday, December 06, 2020

Guest Article: Line 5 and Market Realities

By Gene Champagne*

Recently I was listening to the public comments being offered to the Michigan Dept. of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) regarding the proposed Line 5 tunnel project in the Straits of Mackinac. I was not planning on offering my own public comment until I heard a Dickinson County Commissioner comment that regurgitated refrain that resembles comments from our UP state house and senate representatives, many county officials and economic development gurus. Their statements are straight from the Enbridge public relations subterfuge. Enbridge is a foreign company that stands to profit immensely from the continuation of Line 5, tunnel or not.

The misinformed refrain goes something like this: "We need Line 5 and this tunnel because many UP residents rely on propane for cooking and winter heat. If Line 5 is discontinued propane prices will skyrocket and many residents will not be able to pay for it. Without it UP residents will be in danger of losing their only source of winter heat. Many UP residents are elderly and live on fixed incomes."

Well, I am a senior citizen living on a fixed income. I live in Big Bay and have a camp in Grand Marais. I rely solely upon propane at both properties. Unlike our local and other UP "leaders," I actually did my homework rather than taking the easy way out by repeating a refrain that may not be true.

I contacted the propane suppliers for both residences to inquire about supplies and storage, both at their end and mine. Their responses were nearly identical. Both companies have responded to market conditions, especially since the polar vortex of 2014. They have added storage and have been contracting to receive their supplies from a differing number of sources including Kinross, Lansing, and various Wisconsin locales including Superior. They do receive some supplies from the Rapid River fractionator that is supplied by Line 5, but it is nothing they depend upon. I was assured by both company representatives that a disruption of propane from Line 5, whether by accident, policy/political decisions, or market disruptions would not affect my propane supply in a negative way. Prices could rise slightly, but nothing severe. My current propane bill reflects no dramatic change that I would notice.

These pricing facts confirm the estimation made by Plains Midstream representative Luc Mageau at the Upper Peninsula Energy Task Force meeting in Hancock on September 20, 2019, in Hancock. Plains Midstream is a Canadian company that owns the oil, along with the Rapid River fractionator and Kinross storage facility. Enbridge is the pipeline owner that transports the oil. At the task force meeting Mr. Mageau, in my opinion, did not seem to care who or how the oil was moved, as long as his company was paid for it.**

I mentioned this information to a friend from the Copper Country. She took it upon herself to ask the same questions of her propane supplier and received the same answers. She then called a second supplier to confirm consistency of fact and received the same answer.

Our propane suppliers in the UP have adapted to market conditions and made the necessary adjustments to ensure reliable service and delivery of propane to their customers. I find it insulting that our "leaders" disparage our small business UP propane suppliers by continuing this false narrative. Our propane suppliers understand the needs of their customers and the vagaries of the propane market and have responded in a responsible manner. Our "leaders" need to do their jobs, get the facts, and start representing the people of the UP again instead of a foreign company with a pot of money for glossy full page newspaper ads, speaking fees, and campaign contributions.

I also received additional information that came from one supplier I contacted. It was confirmed by the second supplier. The Rapid River facility was shut down for an inordinate amount of time this summer, much longer than the normal spring maintenance shutdown. When questioned on this bit of information I had come across, I was told by one supplier the product had been bought up by a different entity(ies) to ship to the eastern coast of Canada for export to overseas markets (mostly Asian). This is where Enbridge realizes its maximum profit, not from UP propane. The UP and Michigan is just a short cut to the maritime provinces of Canada. When those markets dry up, Enbridge could very possibly bail. Enbridge has also diversified into renewables in major way. They understand market economies. Perhaps our "leaders," many of whom profess belief in the free market system, could use a refresher course.

I began this letter sometime after the county commissioner’s comments. As I finish it, Governor Whitmer, along with Michigan Attorney General Nessel, have announced orders to shut down the portion of Line 5 that currently is active in the Straits of Mackinac. I can already hear the whining and screams of pending disaster being blamed on "radical environmental agendas from leftist socialists." This whining that emanates from the misinformed ignores capitalist market economies and the resourcefulness our small business owners here in the UP.

It is too bad that much of the posturing comes from our “leaders”. We need leaders who actually lead, not follow. Leaders should take us cautiously, yet bravely into the future of possibilities that comes with newer 21st century technology. Real leaders do not keep us mired in the past, especially when small businesses are moving on based upon market fluctuations.  Blindly repeating the refrain of a foreign company, who could give a hoot about UP propane users, is a disservice to the citizens of the UP and the State of Michigan.

I have not named the companies that I spoke of in this article. At the time I spoke with them I did so as a customer. They answered my questions honestly as a part of their customer service policy. I did not anticipate at that time that this information would find itself going out to a public audience. There are probably some propane dealers in the UP who have not adjusted to possible market conditions and fluctuations. Hopefully, they can transition or be assisted in that transition. A capitalist market based economy will most always be the final decision maker regardless of political posturing. Regardless of repeated falsehoods and wishful thinking, the market will have its way. 

I am sure that there are a few other "wrinkles" that will need to get worked with this transition in propane procurement. That is what leadership is about and what they should be doing, not repeating sound bites from those who stand to profit temporarily at the long term expense of UP residents.

I would suggest that propane users, anyone seriously interested in the future of the UP, along with our "leaders" do not take my word for it. Call your propane dealer. How hard is that?***

Inset photo: Gene Champagne. (Photo courtesy Gene Champagne)

Editor's Notes:

* Guest author Gene Champagne is a resident of Big Bay and Grand Marais, Michigan.

** The video recording of the UP Energy Task Force September 20, 2019, meeting is available on YouTube here via the UP Energy Task Force Web site. Luc Mageau of Plains Midstream speaks toward the beginning of the meeting, at about 15 minutes. Gene Champagne speaks during the public comment period toward the end of the meeting, at about 3 hours and 16 minutes in the video. 

*** The UP Energy Task Force completed its study on propane supply April 17, 2020. See the "Upper Peninsula Energy Task Force Committee Recommendations Part I -- Propane Supply."

The US Army Corps of Engineers will hold a public hearing tomorrow, Dec. 7, on the proposed Line 5 tunnel. See: "US Army Corps of Engineers to hold online Public Hearing on Enbridge proposed Line 5 tunnel Dec. 7."

Saturday, December 05, 2020

Enbridge agrees to extend EGLE review period for NPDES, bottomlands and wetlands permit applications

This slide showing potential wetland impacts from the proposed Line 5 tunnel construction is part of EGLE's presentation during their Sept. 21, 2020, Public Information Session on Enbridge's bottomlands and wetlands permit application. The recording of this session is on You Tube here.

LANSING -- The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) announced recently that its review of Enbridge Energy’s permit applications to build a utility tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac and relocate the Line 5 oil pipeline has been extended until January 2021.

Enbridge has agreed to extend the timeline for EGLE’s review of the proposed project’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Wastewater Permit (NPDES), bottomlands and wetlands permit applications so EGLE can more thoroughly consider the large volume of public comments, technical information, and recommendations from the State Historic Preservation Office. EGLE had previously expected to reach a decision on the applications during the first week of December 2020.

Under Michigan law, EGLE is the regulatory agency responsible for environmental permitting for the tunnel project, while the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) has siting authority for pipelines that carry crude oil and petroleum products. Enbridge has sought authority from the MPSC to relocate a segment of Line 5 to a proposed tunnel and that matter is the subject of a contested case hearing that is expected to be ruled on in the summer of 2021.

As part of the effort to keep the public informed, EGLE has also partnered with the MPSC and MDOT’s Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority on the state’s Line 5 in Michigan website. The links to video recordings of information meetings and public hearings on the EGLE permits held in September and October are also available on this Line 5 website.

Thursday, December 03, 2020

US Army Corps of Engineers to hold online Public Hearing on Enbridge proposed Line 5 tunnel Dec. 7

Enbridge Line 5 Tunnel figure illustrating tunnel construction, TBM retrieval and pipeline installation. Click here for a more detailed photo by Emily Schaefer. (Image courtesy US Army Corps of Engineers Detroit District)

DETROIT -- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will hold an online public hearing from 1 p.m.- 4 p.m. Monday, December 7, 2020, to gather public comments on a permit request for a proposed Enbridge Line 5 pipeline tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac.

The online hearing and written comment period provide a second opportunity for the public to provide information for consideration in evaluating Enbridge Energy, Limited Partnership’s permit application to construct a pipeline tunnel under the bed of Lake Michigan. Written comments are being accepted through December 17, 2020. The Corps’ initial public notice was issued May 15, 2020, and that comment period ended July 14, 2020.

A tunnel constructed under the Straits of Mackinac requires a Corps permit, and the Corps is reviewing the application under the authority of Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 and Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.

The public hearing purpose is to acquire information which will be considered in evaluating the permit application and to afford the public an opportunity to present their views, opinions and information on the proposed permit action. Positive or negative comments about the project may be submitted. All written responses must refer to file number LRE-2010-00463-56-A19

"The Corps will consider all comments presented orally during the December 7 hearing or received in writing through the December 17 deadline," said Regulatory Project Manager Katie Otanez.

The Corps will host the hearing through an electronic platform and by telephone. Participants may join the hearing using both audio and web connections or using audio only. Participants who wish to speak will have three minutes to comment. Those who pre-register by email to Line_5_LRE@usace.army.mil prior to December 7, 2020, will be called to comment first, followed by those who request to comment during the hearing. If time allows, commenters may supplement their initial comments for one additional three-minute period.

Pre-registration for the online hearing is not required, but Corps officials are requesting anyone wanting to attend email Line_5_LRE@usace.army.mil. The email should include the following:

-- Participant’s name
-- Organization (if any)
-- If they wish to comment at the hearing.

Those not pre-registering will have an opportunity to comment.

Public hearing attendance is not required to submit written comments -- they can be emailed to Line_5_LRE@usace.army.mil or submitted in writing, and postmarked by December 17, 2020, to:

Kerrie E. Kuhne
Chief, Permit Evaluation Western Branch
Regulatory Office
Corps of Engineers, Detroit District
477 Michigan Avenue
Detroit, Michigan 48226-2550

The Corps has not yet prepared an environmental assessment or environmental impact statement. The online public hearing will be held in accordance with the procedures in 33 CFR part 327.

The web and teleconference begins at 1 p.m. Eastern Time on December 07, 2020. You may join the conference 10 minutes prior to 1 p.m.

Step 1: Dial into the conference:
Dial-in: 888-251-2949 or 215-861-0694
Access Code: 6278042#

Need an international dial-in number? https://www.teleconference.att.com/servlet/glbAccess?process=1&accessNumber=8882512949&accessCode=6278042

Or:
 
Step 2: Join the conference on your computer via this link: https://ems8.intellor.com/login/835257

When you access the entry link above, you will be provided a choice -- to install the WebEx plug-in for your preferred browser or to join the web conference using a temporary path. Either option is acceptable.

Need technical assistance?
Audio Connection: 1-888-796-6118 or 1-847-562-7015
Web Connection: 1-888-793-6118

Any comments received will be considered in the Corps’ determination on whether to issue, modify, condition or deny a permit for this proposal. To make this decision, comments are used to assess impacts on endangered species, historic properties, water quality, general environmental effects and other public interest factors. Comments are used in the preparation of an environmental assessment, environmental impact statement or both, pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act. Comments are also used to determine whether the activity is contrary to the overall public interest.

The existing Enbridge Line 5 pipeline was constructed in 1953 to transport crude oil and natural gas liquids. Line 5 is 645 miles long in total, and transports products from Superior, Wisconsin to Sarnia, Ontario, Canada.

For a detailed project description see the Public Notice of May 15, 2020.

Editor's Note: For background see our July 8, 2020, article, "UPDATED: US Army Corps of Engineers seeks public comment on Enbridge permit application for proposed tunnel under Mackinac Straits; deadline extended to July 14."

Monday, November 30, 2020

UPDATED: People of the Heart Water Walkers create awareness of Water with second annual 3-day walk near Lake Superior; some honor Water near home during pandemic

By Michele Bourdieu

People of the Heart Water Walkers arrive at their destination, the Lighthouse overlook at Copper Harbor, on Oct. 12, 2020, Indigenous Peoples' Day. (Photo © and courtesy Steve Brimm Photography)

Gichigamikwe Terri Denomie of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC) has participated in 10 Water Walks and has been the organizer or co-organizer of eight of them, including this year's Second Annual People of the Heart Water Walk -- which began in Baraga on Oct. 10 and concluded in Copper Harbor on Oct. 12, Indigenous Peoples' Day.

View of Keweenaw Bay, Lake Superior, from the start of the 2020 Water Walk near Baraga, Michigan. (Photo © and courtesy Gichigamikwe Terri Denomie) 

"On Feb. 22, 2019, I was at the Three Fires Midewiwin Lodge with my Lodge Family when we got the news of Grandma Josephine’s passing," Denomie said. "I knew that day why I was where I was at! I made a promise to myself and Nibi* that I continue our work that Grandma Josephine started!"

In the Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) culture, women are the protectors of Nibi, the Water. Denomie said she was at the Lodge in 2000 when the Grand Chief warned, "Water will cost as much as gold" in 30 years -- 2030, ten years from now.

"I believe 30 years from now Water will be worth MORE than GOLD!" Denomie said. "I believe if EVERYONE did one thing to help take care our Nibi -- like take your own trash from the Lake, or better yet, pick up what you can even if it isn’t yours --that would make a HUGE difference!"

This year the organizers of the local 90-mile Water Walk faced the challenge of COVID-19. They decided to limit the number of walkers to a small, core group in order to keep to distancing as much as possible but invited supporters to participate in various ways. Some contributed their time and efforts to planning the event, donating food and vehicles, taking photos or offering overnight accommodations. Others participated in spirit by having their own personal water walk or other type of communication with Nibi.

"Bringing awareness to Nibi is what it is all about!" Denomie noted. "Putting my asemaa (sacred tobacco) down and asking Creator to help is what I do! Respecting Her, keeping Her in my daily thoughts and prayers and thanking Her every darn day for that glass of water I start each day with -- brushing my teeth, showering, cooking, cleaning, washing my clothes, and watering new Life, whether it be plants, animals, or humans, WATER IS LIFE!"

Lisa Denomie of KBIC carries Nibi along Keweenaw Bay on US-41 near Arnheim, Michigan, on Oct. 10, 2020, the first day of the People of the Heart Water Walk. Protector Mike Rodriguez carries the Eagle Staff. (Photo courtesy Gichigamikwe Terri Denomie) 

This year the People of the Heart Water Walk began with a water ceremony at dawn on Oct. 10, at the Sand Point Lighthouse on Keweenaw Bay in Baraga, and followed the route of the 2019 Water Walk, but in reverse order, since last year it began in Copper Harbor and ended in Baraga.**

For the participants who spent the night of Oct. 9 at the Sand Point Campground the preparations included a box dinner of venison chili and black bean chili that evening, thanks to cook chiefs Emily Shaw and Rachael Pressley, who also delivered breakfast items early the next morning for the walkers.

Denomie, foreground, is joined by the Serene Smith family near Keweenaw Bay on Oct. 10, the first day of the Water Walk. (Photo © and courtesy Gichigamikwe Terri Denomie)

Co-organizer Kathleen Smith of KBIC, who drove a van this year in support of the walkers, expressed her appreciation for all the community members who participated in bringing awareness to the Water.

"As we do this work for our precious Nibi, that beautiful life giving resource, we are beginning the healing process through community awareness and by bringing all people together," Smith commented. "As we bring awareness to Nibi through prayer and songs, we  plant seeds in our communities. With much support through the Indigenous Peoples' Day Campaign in celebration of all indigenous nations, MTU has joined our effort. Miigwechiwendem to all that supported the People of the Heart Water Walk and the people that were with us in spirit. With their thoughts and prayers it made our hearts full. I am humbled by the support of the people that stopped to acknowledge us on our three-day journey. Miigwechiwendem to all who walked with us."

Smith was in Houghton early on the morning of Oct. 11 to do a water ceremony on the Keweenaw Waterway at Bridgeview Park and to do ceremonial smudging of walkers as they prepared to cross the Portage Lift Bridge, heading north.

At Bridgeview Park in Houghton, Kathleen Smith, right, smudges water walkers (a purification tradition) as they prepare to begin Day 2 of the Water Walk, Oct. 11, by crossing the Portage Lift Bridge. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

Here the small group of walkers -- led by Denomie, carrying Nibi in a copper pail, and Jacob, Kathleen Smith's son, carrying the Eagle Staff as protector -- head up to Shelden Avenue on their way to the Lift Bridge:

At dawn on Oct. 11, 2020, heading toward the Portage Lift Bridge, People of the Heart water walkers begin the second day of their three-day walk from Baraga to Copper Harbor. Other participants will join them later in the day for their walk near the Keweenaw Waterway and Lake Superior. (Video by Keweenaw Now)

Donica Hope Dravillas of Copper Harbor participated in both of the People of the Heart Water Walks.

"Now more than ever we need to advocate for our precious waters," Dravillas said. "I live surrounded by water and amongst amazing strong men and women who have mutual understanding of this concept. It is an honor to learn from Anishinaabekwe Terri Denomie and Kathleen Smith (we cannot do this without them) while we walk Nibi between these two communities. Every Water Walk I have experienced is different (never the same) and always powerful!"

 
On Oct. 11, after crossing the Portage Lift Bridge, Water Walkers head for Lake Linden. Here the Rev. Julie Belew, pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Baraga, carries Nibi; and Mike Rodriguez is the protector carrying the Eagle Staff. (Photo © and courtesy Donica Dravillas)
 
KBIC member Theresa Pitts joined the Water Walk near her home in Hubbell.
 
Theresa Pitts of Hubbell, carrying the Eagle Staff, joins Donica Dravillas, who carries Nibi, on the sunny Day 2 of the Water Walk. (Photo © and courtesy Gichigamikwe Terri Denomie)

"This was my first year to participate in the Water Walk," Pitts told Keweenaw Now. "Primarily, I worked behind the scenes with administrative tasks, but I was able to carry Nibi through my hometown of Hubbell. Torch Lake has long been working to recover from the damages of mining pollution, and I felt like I was able to further promote its healing. It meant a lot to me."

The Rev. Julie Belew continues carrying Nibi in Calumet. Here she is accompanied by her husband, the Rev. Bucky Beach, carrying the Eagle Staff. The couple also welcomed walkers to their home. (Photo © and courtesy Gichigamikwe Terri Denomie)

The Rev. Bucky Beach, pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Houghton, as he had done last year, welcomed the walkers to his church. He also participated in the walk this year by carrying the Eagle Staff as a protector.

Commenting on this year's walk, Beach said he was reminded of a wonderful piece about Rabbi Abraham Heschel and Martin Luther King Jr: "When Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was asked upon his return from the 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights march with Dr. Martin Luther King, 'Did you find time to pray?' he famously answered, 'I prayed with my feet.'"

Beach added, "We walked for the water. We walked for our whole community and earth. It was an honor to walk, pray and be together."

Mothers and daughters walk together


Florine Chosa (one of the Core Walkers in People of the Heart Water Walk), Anishinaabe Nokomis from KBIC and mother of Kathleen Smith, carries Nibi through the Laurium community Sunday afternoon, Oct. 11. Mike Rodriguez carries the Eagle Staff. "Florine has been doing this work for many years and continues to advocate for our water," Smith said. (Photo © and courtesy Kathleen Smith)
 
Nokomis from KBIC, Barbara Jean Swartz and her daughter, Gichigamikwe Terri Denomie, carry Nibi and the Eagle Staff on the walk along US 41 Sunday evening, Oct. 11. (Photo © and courtesy Lauri Denomie of KBIC Newsletter. Reprinted with permission.)

On a rainy Oct. 12 in Copper Harbor, Donica Dravillas is joined by her daughter, Maddie, who carries the Eagle Staff during the final leg of the Water Walk. (Photo © and courtesy Gichigamikwe Terri Denomie)
 
Cynthia Drake of Ripley, who participated in the 2019 Water Walk, decided to do a personal spiritual journey this year with the water during the weekend of the People of the Heart Water Walk. Cynthia's daughters accompanied her on a walk near Lake Superior at McLain State Park, where she made a cairn on the beach -- a Gaelic tradition signifying respect.
 
Accompanied by her daughters, Cynthia Drake built this cairn on the beach at McLain State Park. (Photo © and courtesy Cynthia Drake)

Cynthia Drake, right, is pictured here with her daughters, Samantha, left, and Danielle -- who accompanied her to McLain State Park Friday, Oct. 9, to begin her spiritual journey with the water near Lake Superior. (Photo © and courtesy Cynthia Drake)
 
"I have some Celtic roots and it felt right at that moment to build a cairn," Drake told Keweenaw Now. "This whole journey for me with the water has been about ancestors and community. It is about how water draws the life through us all and connects us all in vital ways through time and through our relatedness with one another. Water is life."
 
Ripley Falls, behind the home of Cynthia Drake, was the scene of a mudslide that caused severe damage to her home during the Father's Day flood of 2018. Drake said she considers herself a guardian of the Falls. (Photo © and courtesy Cynthia Drake)
 
"It was a very personal journey," Drake said of her weekend spent with her daughters near the Falls at home and Lake Superior as well. "I'm connected to the waterway back here intimately. I was since well before the mudslide, and the mudslide just reinforced that for me -- that connection and me staying here because I talk to the water all the time."

Water Walkers undaunted by rain on Indigenous Peoples' Day

On Day 3 -- Monday, Oct. 12 -- Water Walkers set out early from Eagle River heading up M-203 near Lake Superior toward their destination, Copper Harbor.

Ronnie Mae Krueger of Copper Harbor carries Nibi, and Gichigamikwe Terri Denomie, carrying the Eagle Staff, walks with her in Eagle River. On Oct. 11 Krueger posted on Facebook, "I am honored and blessed to be called a Water Walker and to be walking with these wonderful people!" (Photo © and courtesy Donica Hope Dravillas)

Heading up M-203 from Eagle River on Monday morning, Oct. 12, are Donica Dravillas, center, carrying Nibi, Mike Rodriguez carrying the Eagle Staff, and Erika Vye of Copper Harbor. (Photo © and courtesy Gichigamikwe Terri Denomie)

As the walkers neared Great Sand Bay, winds picked up along the Lake Superior shore and rain clouds threatened a storm.

Undaunted by a coming storm on Lake Superior, People of the Heart Water Walkers reach Great Sand Bay and continue up M-26 toward Eagle Harbor and Copper Harbor, their final destination, on Oct. 12, 2020 -- Indigenous Peoples' Day. (Video by Keweenaw Now)

Trying to beat the storm, Donica Dravillas carries Nibi and Mike Rodriguez carries the Eagle Staff at Great Sand Bay. A reporter, at right, blowing in the wind, takes a video. (Photo © and courtesy Gichigamikwe Terri Denomie)

Water Walkers Gichigamikwe Terri Denomie, left, and the Rev. Julie Belew pause for a photo in the wind at Great Sand Bay on Oct. 12. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

As Water Walkers approached Eagle Harbor on Monday afternoon, the rainstorm struck -- with thunder and lightning -- but the Walk continued, with core participants taking turns carrying Nibi and the Eagle Staff on the way to their Copper Harbor destination.

People of the Heart Water Walk participants brave the wet, windy weather as they continue along Lake Superior through Eagle Harbor on Indigenous Peoples' Day. Here Erika Vye of Copper Harbor carries Nibi, and the Rev. Bucky Beach carries the Eagle Staff. Their van follows closely for security. (Video by Keweenaw Now)

During the walk, Gichigamikwe Terri Denomie captured this scenic view of Lake Superior between Eagle Harbor and Copper Harbor. She calls it Nibide (heart of the water). (Photo © and courtesy Gichigamikwe Terrie Denomie) 

The rain continued, but the walkers finally reached Copper Harbor, where supporters joined them.

Co-organizer Kathleen Smith commented on the rain.

"As the rain fell upon us it was cleansing. Those that are compelled to do this work were determined to walk and didn't mind walking in the rain," Smith said. "Many people are becoming aware of People of the Heart Water Walk and asked questions, supported and waved. We are planting the seeds of awareness for our precious Nibi throughout Copper Country."

In Copper Harbor, in the wind and the rain, some local residents join the Water Walkers during the last leg of their journey on Oct. 12. (Photo © and courtesy Steve Brimm Photography)

Among the Copper Harbor residents, some of them elders of the community, who joined the Walk were Sherry Mattson, carrying Nibi, and her husband, Rick Draper, carrying the Eagle Staff (in foreground of above photo).

"Both Rick and I (we are both retired Episcopal priests) chose to honor Nibi as we walked on our shore," Mattson told Keweenaw Now. "We believe being part of indigenous celebrations connects us to the historic practices of the Keweenaw. We are also committed to anti-racism."

Marquette resident Kristine McPeak, a 2012 Finlandia University graduate, said she plans to be here for the third annual People of the Heart Water Walk. McPeak said she uses her physical therapy training from Finlandia working as a holistic healer and health coach.

"I had been carrying Artesian well water for almost a year not realizing there was a ceremony around doing so," McPeak said. "Now I carry her with great love and attention." 

Kristine McPeak's Artesian well water. (Photo © and courtesy Kristine McPeak)

"I shall be there for the third Nibi walk," McPeak said. "I'm honored and excited to learn how I can help be a caretaker for water."

Laura Smyth of Calumet, who participated in the 2019 People of the Heart Water Walk, was disappointed not to be able to walk this year, though she helped with the planning.

"Sadly, I wasn't able to participate this year," Smyth told Keweenaw Now. "I was initially participating in the planning and intending to walk but due to the pandemic I ended up not walking. I'm so proud of and impressed by the people who managed it this year despite all the added complications that COVID 19 created."

Finally, Co-organizer Gichigamikwe Terri Denomie posted this on Facebook: "Chi miigwech to EVERYONE that had any part in this! It is so graciously appreciated by us all!"

Denomie added this comment on her relationship with Nibi: "I will always Walk the Talk, I will always Walk for Her as long as there is She and I! I will be doing a few mini walks on my own too!"

Notes:

*Nibi is the Anishinaabe word for Water. Grandma Josephine, Josephine Mandamin of Thunder Bay, Ontario -- who walked about 25,000 miles on the shorelines of the Great Lakes and other waterways -- passed away on  February 22, 2019. She founded the Mother Earth Water Walkers and carried a bucket of water to raise awareness of the need to protect Nibi from pollution.

** See our Nov. 5, 2019, article on the first People of the Heart Water Walk, "Native, non-Native water protectors complete 90-mile Water Walk near Lake Superior."

See also the Nov. 11, 2019, article by Charli Mills, "Guest Article: Experiencing People of the Heart Water Walk."

This article has been updated for some details in identifying walkers.