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Friday, June 19, 2020

Governor Whitmer sends letter to Enbridge following newly discovered damage to Line 5; groups call for action

The Enbridge Line 5 Pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac. (File photo courtesy National Wildlife Federation)

LANSING -- Governor Gretchen Whitmer today, June 19, sent a letter to Al Monaco, CEO of Enbridge, following the discovery this week of further damage to the Line 5 pipeline running through the Straits of Mackinac.

"The information I have received about this incident leaves many unanswered questions as to the cause of this damage, the catastrophe that may have been narrowly avoided, and the threats that may remain as a result of the damaged infrastructure," Governor Whitmer said. "That’s why I am requesting Enbridge turn over to the State of Michigan all relevant information about this most recent damage and provide affirmative evidence that establishes the integrity of the pipeline."

On Thursday, Enbridge alerted the State of Michigan an anchor support on one of the dual pipelines running along the bottomlands of the Straits of Mackinac had incurred significant damage. This support lies approximately 150 feet from a section of the pipeline where damage to the pipeline coating was discovered on or around May 26, 2020.

After discovering the damaged anchor support, Enbridge shut down the pipeline and is gathering more information through divers, the use of a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), and other means. The pipeline remains shut down as Enbridge continues to gather more information. 

"One close call with Line 5 is one too many, which is why I am calling on Enbridge to proceed with the utmost caution and care," Governor Whitmer said.  

"As Governor of the Great Lakes State I carry an immense burden to protect this priceless treasure that defines the contours of our state and our way of life," Governor Whitmer wrote. "I anticipate and expect your full cooperation."

To view the governor’s letter, click here.

AG Nessel to continue litigation against Line 5

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel issued the following statement after Enbridge notified state officials of damage that recently occurred to its Line 5 pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac:

"I was deeply troubled to learn of this most recent disclosure by Enbridge of yet another incident involving Line 5, this time resulting in considerable damage to an anchor support on the pipeline. Yet again, Enbridge has confirmed what we already know -- Line 5 is a clear and present danger to our Great Lakes and to the millions of Michiganders who rely on those lakes for recreation, business and tourism. We anxiously await the immediate production of information from Enbridge in response to Governor Whitmer’s request so that we can evaluate what, if any, additional action my Department may need to take. In any event, this underscores why we will continue to vigorously pursue our lawsuit seeking to shut down the Straits pipelines."

Oil and Water Don't Mix: Line 5 threat calls for strong action

Oil and Water Don't Mix -- an environmental coalition of organizations, tribes, businesses and concerned citizens calling for the shutdown of Line 5 -- has called on Gov. Whitmer to take strong action against Enbridge.

"A 67-year-old pipeline has no business operating in the Great Lakes. In late May more coating damage to Line 5 was discovered, today we find out that the pipeline has been damaged again and this time it was bad enough for Enbridge to shut down the pipeline, which they didn’t even bother to do in 2018 when an anchor struck Line 5. We don’t even know what Enbridge knew and when in relation to the new damage. Enough is enough," said Sean McBrearty, Oil and Water Don’t Mix coalition coordinator. "No talking points from Enbridge about the safety of Line 5 can overcome the facts. The fact is that Line 5 is a dangerous threat to the Great Lakes, which provides drinking water to 40 million Americans and Canadians. Gov. Whitmer needs to take strong action to eliminate this threat."

According to Oil and Water Don't Mix, Enbridge’s claims about Line 5 pipeline safety were put to the test when an anchor was deployed in the Straits of Mackinac in April 2018, denting and gouging Line 5. Enbridge’s technology failed that test when, despite the damage to Line 5, no warnings were triggered. Three weeks passed before underwater vehicles contracted by Enbridge could safely navigate the turbulent Straits to put eyes on the damage.*

* Editor's Note: Oil and Water Don't Mix lists several examples of Enbridge's questionable track record with Line 5. Click here for more details.

AG Nessel celebrates Supreme Court decision to protect "Dreamers" program (DACA)

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

LANSING -- Attorney General Dana Nessel issued a statement on Thursday, June 18, following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to block the Trump administration’s attempt to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Without this ruling, the federal government would have put 669,000 undocumented young people who came to the U.S. as children at risk for deportation. 

"I am delighted by the Supreme Court’s decision to block the Trump administration from ending DACA. The effort to end these protections is unconscionable and cruel," Nessel said. "This is an important victory for the thousands of Dreamers who call Michigan home. For now, they can breathe a little easier without the threat of deportation from the only life they know, which is a life in America. I encourage Congress, however, to take on this fight and ensure that Dreamers across this nation ultimately have a clear path to citizenship."

The DACA program allows recipients -- better known as Dreamers -- to go to work or school and live without fear of deportation while pursuing their dreams. Dreamers are often students and teachers, military service members, law enforcement officers, firefighters, health care workers, and child and elder care workers contributing to the economy and communities across the nation.

Michigan is home to approximately 13,000 residents eligible for deferred action under the DACA program and these state residents paid more than $23 million in state and local taxes, according to a September 2019 report from the Center for American Progress. In an effort to protect them, Nessel joined several states in filing a brief in the lawsuit against the federal government’s unlawful rescission of DACA in October.

Click here for a copy of the June 18, 2020, decision.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

UPDATED: L'Anse Village community solar benefits from EGLE's award-winning Low to Moderate Income solar program

By Michele Bourdieu
With information from EGLE (Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy)

Community solar array for the Village of L'Anse. (Photo © and courtesy Brett Niemi)

LANSING, L'ANSE --The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy’s (EGLE) Michigan Solar Communities ­-- Low to Moderate Income Access Program has been named one of this year’s State Leadership in Clean Energy award winners by the Clean Energy States Alliance (CESA). The Village of L'Anse in the Upper Peninsula is one of two Michigan utilities that benefit from this winning program. The other is Cherryland Electric Cooperative near Traverse City.

The EGLE program, led by Clean Energy Engineer Lisa Thomas, aims to reduce roadblocks for low-to-moderate-income Michigan homeowners so they can access alternative energy and save money on their energy bills. It provides information on technical assistance and programs to obtain community solar power as well as energy efficiency upgrades.

Insert photo: EGLE's Clean Energy Engineer Lisa Thomas, who spearheaded the Michigan Solar Communities -- Low to Moderate Income Access Program that encourages the use of solar energy to reduce utility bills. (Photo courtesy EGLE)

"Offering alternatives to low- and moderate-income utility customers results in greater energy equity and broader public support for clean energy," EGLE Director Liesl Clark said. "Families participating in the program save money by having less burdensome utility costs. This program is an important step in the just transition to a clean energy future."

The Low to Moderate Income Access program, which launched in 2018, allows customers of these two utilities to purchase shares or panels in a community solar array and receive credits on their monthly bills. Cherryland installed 450 solar panels that produce two megawatts of power shared by 50 subscribers. The Village of L’Anse installed 340 solar panels that produce 110 kilowatts of power; 250 of those panels were set aside for 25 income-qualified subscribers. Both arrays received partial funding through grants from EGLE’s Energy Services.*

Brett Niemi, Energy Services representative for WPPI Energy, a non-profit wholesale energy provider that sells power to the Village of L'Anse, served as project manager for the L'Anse solar project, which now has a total of 340 panels, including the panels for the 25 income-qualified subscribers, who subscribe to 10 panels each and receive credit for the power those produce for 25 years. The additional panels allow other residents of the village to purchase panels at $385 per panel and receive credit for the power they produce for 25 years.

"A lot of people don't have a good spot to put solar panels on their house or property, so this gives them the opportunity to use renewable energy," Niemi said.

The Village of L'Anse solar array, pictured here this past winter, now has a total of 340 panels. (Photo © and courtesy Brett Niemi)

WPPI has purchased the energy from the solar panels through a contract with the Village of L'Anse, and the Village passes that money on to the people that subscribe to the solar panels.

"I help them (the Village of L'Anse) operate a professional utility," Niemi explained. "All the panels are sold out now. That was one of our goals."

The other two goals, he said, were a positive financial outcome for the subscribers and a net zero financial impact for the Village of L'Anse electric utility.

Pictured here at the Sept. 12, 2019, ribbon cutting ceremony for the completion of the Village of L'Anse solar array are, from left, L’Anse Village President Ron Ervast, WPPI Energy Board President Jeff Feldt, L’Anse Village Manager Bob La Fave, L’Anse Village Trustee Kerri Sikkala, L’Anse Village Trustee Chris Miller, L’Anse Village Trustee James Hulkonen, and L’Anse Village President Pro-tem Leann Davis. The Community solar array was energized on October 22, 2019. (Photo © and courtesy Brett Niemi)

Niemi said he worked with Richelle Winkler, Michigan Tech professor of sociology and demography, and WUPPDR (Western Upper Peninsula Planning and Development Region) to do a feasibility study for the project and determine if there was enough interest for people to subscribe.

In his application for the Clean Energy award, Niemi wrote, "The research incorporated qualitative interviews with community leaders, community focus groups, and a survey to evaluate community members’ knowledge of solar photovoltaics as well as their interest in and ability to participate in a community solar program." 

Winkler reported on the L'Anse solar project during her August 5, 2019, presentation, "UP Demographics and Implication for Energy" to members of the UP Energy Task Force during their meeting in St. Ignace. The solar array was still under construction at that time. From surveys she took in the L'Anse community, Winkler noted a high percentage of community support for the solar project.**

Jay Meldrum, director of Michigan Tech's Keweenaw Research Center, and his students also helped with the project.

L'Anse Village Manager Bob La Fave told Keweenaw Now he was excited about the work of all members of the project team resulting in the Clean Energy award.

"It really shows what public electric power can do for the people in our community, and hopefully this model can be used in other communities around the country," La Fave said.

In fact, according to Niemi's application document, "The team developed a guidebook for use by other public power utilities outlining how to use community engagement as a tool to explore and ultimately design a community solar program. The guidebook summarizes technical, economic, legal, and social topics that utilities should consider."

La Fave noted also that the project is a multi-pronged effort, since it includes energy efficiency through home weatherization as well, thanks to BHK (Baraga, Houghton, Keweenaw) Community Action, a local agency that signed people up to get their home weatherized.

La Fave said this community-owned utility will result in lower rates for residents.

"Since the citizens  of the community own the electric utility, they govern the electric utility," he explained. "All of our rates are determined by the Village Council."

Participants in the Low to Moderate Income Access program are realizing between $20 and $30 a month in savings on their utility bills. Other benefits include these:
  •     Encouraging customers to be energy efficient.
  •     Improving understanding of renewable energy.
  •     Increasing health by having healthier homes maintained at safe temperature, improved air quality.
  •     Reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
  •     Lowering the number of late payments and accounts in arrears.
The CESA awards recognize innovative state programs and projects that have accelerated the adoption of renewable energy technologies and strengthened clean energy markets. The Michigan Solar Communities -- Low to Moderate Income Access Program was one of six winners announced June 9.

CESA, a nonprofit coalition of public agencies and organizations that work to advance clean energy, will host a webinar Thursday, July 23, on the Low to Moderate Income Access program with speakers from EGLE. You must register to participate in the webinar.

More information about community solar projects is available at the Office of Climate and Energy’s webpage.

* UPDATE (CORRECTION): We reported on June 17 the earlier number of 200 panels for the l'Anse income-qualified subscribers, according to EGLE's press release. We have updated that number to 250 panels for these subscribers who benefit from the Low to Moderate Income Access program. These are included in the present total of 340 panels in the L'Anse solar array.

** Editor's Note: Click here to see Richelle Winkler's August 5, 2019, presentation to the UP Energy Task Force. At one hour into the video, Winkler speaks about the L'Anse community solar project. Click here for the presentation slides. Visit the WPPI Energy Web site to learn more about their work.

Free community-wide Drive Thru COVID-19 Testing June 19

Baraga County, MI -- The Western Upper Peninsula Health Department (WUPHD) announces that it has partnered with the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC), Michigan’s State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) and the Michigan National Guard (MING) to provide a free community-wide COVID-19 test site. The event will be held from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. (EDT) this Friday, June 19, 2020, at the Niiwin Akeaa Center parking lot, located at 111 Beartown Road in Baraga, behind the Ojibwa Casino.

"This will be a great opportunity for the entire community to access testing at no charge," said Kate Beer, Health Officer at WUPHD. "We have been very fortunate to be able to work with these partners to bring this event to our area."

The drive thru testing is available to anyone age 18 and over, and no prior doctor visit or appointment is necessary. Participants must bring a driver’s license or a photo I.D. to register.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Western UP Health Dept. announces change in reporting COVID-19 Testing Statistics

HANCOCK -- The Western Upper Peninsula Health Department (WUPHD) announces that it will discontinue the current reporting format for COVID-19 testing numbers in the five-county jurisdiction. WUPHD currently reports out based upon information entered into the Michigan Disease Surveillance System or MDSS.

"As community testing has increased, the current reporting system is no longer an accurate representation of the total testing being conducted in the area," said Kate Beer, Health Officer at WUPHD. "Testing is now done by numerous entities using different reporting platforms. Individuals may be tested multiple times and at different locations. We need to change our reporting to what makes sense for monitoring the virus in our population."

Beginning this week, the WUPHD will utilize the State of Michigan’s MI Safe Start Map, found at www.mistartmap.info, as their primary reporting system for testing statistics.

"We will continue to report out individual county level positives, recoveries, and any deaths as they occur and as a weekly summary each Thursday," said Beer.

There is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19. The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus. Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure. People with these symptoms or combinations of symptoms may have COVID-19:
• Cough
• Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
• Fever
• Chills
• Repeated shaking with chills
• Muscle pain
• Headache
• Sore throat
• New loss of taste or smell
People should seek immediate medical attention if they have trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion, or bluish lips or face.

WUPHD is working to coordinate their response with community partners. Updates are available at
www.wuphd.org. There is a State informational hotline available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. EDT seven
days per week. That number is 1-888-535-6136. Additional information on COVID-19 can be found on
the MDHHS website or the CDC website.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Isle Royale National Park begins to implement phased opening

Overnight anchoring for boats is now allowed in the Lake Superior waters of Isle Royale National Park. (Photo courtesy National Park Service)

HOUGHTON -- Following guidance from the White House, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Michigan Safe Start plan, and local public health authorities, Isle Royale is increasing boat access to the park.

Since June 10, overnight anchoring for boats has been allowed in the Lake Superior waters of the park. Boaters need to get an anchoring permit in advance from the Houghton visitor center by calling 906-482-0984 or emailing ISRO_parkinfo@nps.gov. Please pay entrance fees in advance at www.pay.gov.

All park facilities (docks, trails, visitor centers, campgrounds, shelters, outhouses) remain closed at this time. Details on further opening of the park, tentatively scheduled for late June, will be issued in an upcoming press release.

When recreating, the public should follow state and local area health orders, practice Leave No Trace principles, avoid crowding and avoid high-risk outdoor activities. The CDC has offered guidance to help people recreating in parks and open spaces prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

Details and updates on park operations will be posted on the park website https://www.nps.gov/isro/index.htm and social media channels. Updates about NPS operations will be posted on www.nps.gov/coronavirus.