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Friday, July 03, 2020

Second annual Menominee canoe trip against Back 40 mine begins; water protectors overcome challenges on Menominee River

By Michele Bourdieu
With photos and videos by Tina Lesperance

Water protectors launch their canoes on July 2, 2020, for the second annual four-day, 48-mile canoe trip down the Menominee River to call attention to the environmenmtal and cultural threats of the Back 40 mining project. (Photo © and courtesy Tina Lesperance)

STEPHENSON, Mich. -- Water protectors from the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin and supporters set out from the location of sacred Menominee ancestral burial mounds on the Michigan side of the Menominee River for the second annual  four-day canoe trip to the mouth of the river, where a statue of the Great Bear marks the tribe's place of origin. Despite the challenges of a heavy rain storm and an unfriendly Wisconsin "official," the group safely completed the first all-day leg of their journey.

This ancestral burial mound is one of the Menominee sacred archaeological sites located very near the Menominee River and near the proposed site for the Back 40 mine on the Michigan side of the river. (Keweenaw Now file photo)

"Today is the 1st day of the second annual Menominees on the Menominee!" said Tina Lesperance, a member of the Coalition to Save the Menominee River, on Thursday, July 2, 2020. "This is a 48-mile journey, by canoe, by members of the Menominee Nation to honor the Menominee River and bring awareness to the dangers of a metallic sulfide mining project proposed by Aquila Resources. If constructed the mine would be less than 50 yards from the Menominee River."

Lesperance, known on Facebook as Luna Luiz, has been sharing her videos and photos of the trip with Keweenaw Now. Along with other supporters, she follows the group of canoers and records the trip from the shore as well as bringing them food and other necessities at each overnight stop.

A scenic view of the Menominee River, not far from the proposed Back 40 mine site. (Photo © and courtesy Tina Lesperance)

Mary Hansen, activist member of the Coalition to Save the Menominee River and a friend of the Menominee Tribe, fighting with them to save their River, told Keweenaw Now she will be meeting the group of canoers at their destination, the mouth of the river, where the Great Bear stands proudly.

"They are following the ripples on their river that were left for them by their ancestors," Hansen said. "I'm just so blessed to call them friend."

Setting out from sacred sites: Water Ceremony, canoe launch

Water protectors pause for a photo following their water ceremony in the Menominee River held at dawn on July 2 near the Menominee Tribe's sacred sites, now threatened by the proposed Back 40 sulfide mine -- projected to be an open-pit mine for gold, zinc and other metals. (Photo © and courtesy Tina Lesperance)

Canoe trip participants carry their canoes down to the Menominee River for the first day's launch on July 2. (Photo © and courtesy Tina Lesperance)

"Wolf" is ready for the challenge of an all-day canoe trip on this beautiful river. (Photo © and courtesy Tina Lesperance)

Menominee tribal member Wayne Swett, who was one of three who did the first canoe trip in July 2019 -- the others were Menominee tribal members Dawn Wilber and Jwin Zillier -- prepares to unload his canoe from his vehicle for the first day's launch. Swett, a co-organizer of the event, is also sharing his photos with Keweenaw Now again this year. (Photo © and courtesy Tina Lesperance)

Videographer Tony Corey of Stephenson, Mich., assists Wayne Swett in getting their canoe ready for the launch. Keweenaw Now looks forward to some videos from Corey again this year. (Photo © and courtesy Tina Lesperance)

Co-organizer and Menominee tribal member Dawn Wilber, who also completed the 2019 Menominee canoe trip, proudly displays the flag of the Menominee Tribe, which she will carry on her canoe. (Photo © and courtesy Tina Lesperance)

Menominee leaders speak to fellow water protectors just before they head down the Menominee River to call attention to environmental and cultural treasures threatened by the proposed Back 40 sulfide mine. (Video © and courtesy Tina Lesperance)

Participants set out on the morning of July 2, 2020, for a full day of canoeing on the river. (Video © and courtesy Tina Lesperance)

Two challenges face canoers on Day 1 ...

After making through a heavy, windy rainstorm Thursday afternoon, the canoers stopped at their camping destination at a public boat launch near Bear Point -- on the Wisconsin side of the river. Even though the first group had camped there in 2019 and this year's group had stickers for the county park, an unfriendly, rude county employee woke them up late at night and made them leave. By the time they reached a camp site on the Michigan side they were exhausted.

Tina Lesperance recounts the incident in her video here:

Exhausted canoers finally set up camp late Thursday night at Koss Bridge on the Michigan side of the river. (Video © and courtesy Tina Lesperance)

Keweenaw Now attempted to contact the Marinette (Wis.) County Parks Office several times today but received no reply to our questions.

Editor's Note: Watch for Part 2 of the Menominee canoe trip, coming soon ...

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

MPSC denies Enbridge Energy's request for relief on Line 5 pipeline project, sets Aug. 24 full hearing process for proposal

LANSING -- The Michigan Public Service Commission, on June 30, denied the relief Enbridge Energy LP sought in its request for a declaratory ruling and also rejected the company’s request for ex parte* approval of plans to relocate the Line 5 pipeline to a tunnel beneath the Straits of Mackinac. The Commission established a full hearing process for the proposal.

Enbridge in April filed an application (Case No. U-20763) requesting siting approval under Act 16 of 1929 to replace and relocate the Line 5 section in the Straits of Mackinac into a new tunnel it would build beneath the lakebed. In the alternative, Enbridge sought a declaratory ruling from the MPSC that the company already has authority from the Commission to build the replacement segment based on the MPSC’s 1953 order that first granted permission for Line 5. The 645-mile interstate pipeline spans both Michigan peninsulas to transport light crude oil and natural gas liquids, including propane used for home heating in Michigan.

In their June 30, 2020, order, the Commission found that, based on Enbridge’s application and comments received from stakeholders, the Line 5 project differs substantially from the pipeline approved in 1953, and therefore the company does not have authority for the project under the 1953 order. Whereas the Commission approved in 1953 dual 20-inch pipelines constructed on the lakebed, Enbridge proposes replacing them with a single 30-inch pipeline housed in a concrete-lined tunnel 60-250 feet beneath the lakebed, involving a new easement and a 99-year lease of public trust property.

The order states that Enbridge is required to file an Act 16 application, pursuant to Rule 447(1)(c) and Commission precedent, to obtain Commission approval to construct the Line 5 project through a contested case. The Commission found that the Line 5 project involves important factual, policy and legal issues best resolved through a proceeding that includes discovery, comprehensive testimony and evidence to provide a robust record. The Commission observed that this proposal is a matter of significant public interest best addressed through a contested case.

The Commission in April put Enbridge’s application on hold while it considered the issue of a declaratory ruling and established a public comment period during which it sought public input specifically on any legal analysis of issues pertaining to Enbridge’s request for a declaratory ruling. A number of stakeholders filed comments opposing Enbridge’s request, including the Office of Attorney General Dana Nessel, more than a dozen Indian Tribes, a number of Michigan-based and national environmental organizations, and State Sen. Jeff Irwin. The Commission also received thousands of  comments from Michigan residents, both in support of and in opposition to the tunnel project, many discussing the merits of Line 5 rather than focusing on the legal issues surrounding Enbridge’s request for a declaratory ruling.**

Following the June 30 order, a notice of hearing will be issued with information on the scheduling of a prehearing conference and deadline for parties seeking to intervene in the formal contested case proceeding.   

Opportunities to monitor and participate in MPSC’s Line 5 proceedings  

The MPSC is scheduling a public hearing on Aug. 24 to provide an overview of the MPSC process and Enbridge’s application and for commissioners to hear directly from the public. The hearing will be held remotely with telephone and web access options. Additional details will be provided in the coming weeks. 

The MPSC launched a dedicated webpage, www.michigan.gov/MPSCLine5, to enable the public to monitor Enbridge’s siting application and related requests. Background resources on the MPSC’s siting authority under Act 16 and opportunities for the public to participate are available.  Individuals can sign up for e-mail updates on MPSC meeting notices, orders, press releases, public meetings, or other developments specifically related to the Line 5 proceeding before the Commission.  Instructions are also available for individuals seeking to sign up to be notified of all formal case filings through the MPSC’s e-dockets system. Additional information will be posted on the website as it becomes available.

To watch recordings of the MPSC’s meetings, including the June 30, 2020 meeting, click here.

To view the MPSC's June 30 order, click here.

For information about the MPSC, visit www.Michigan.gov/MPSC, sign up for one of its listservs, or follow the Commission on Twitter.

Editor's Notes:

* ex parte = from or on one side only of a dispute, as a divorce suit; without notice to or the presence of the other party. (From dictionary.com)

** See our May 8, 2020, article, "Michigan Public Service Commission seeks public comment on Enbridge Line 5 - tunnel request by May 13."

Public Health Advisory: Potentially toxic algal bloom in Portage Lake, Portage Canal and Torch Lake -- Houghton County; beach monitoring for E. coli continues

HANCOCK -- The Western Upper Peninsula Health Department (WUPHD), working in conjunction with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), and the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), is issuing a Cyanobacteria harmful algal bloom (HAB) recreational public health advisory for Portage Lake, Portage Canal, and Torch Lake in Houghton County. People and pets should avoid direct body contact and avoid swallowing water in areas where these HABs are present.

HABs look like spilled paint, pea soup, floating scum, mats, green sheens, clumps, or streaks. Swimming, wading and water activities that create spray are not recommended in the areas where this is visible present. Do not let dogs drink affected water. Monitor children and pets closely to ensure they do not eat or play with algae on the shoreline. If people and dogs enter the affected water, rinse them off and monitor for illness.

The algal bloom will be tested for Anatoxin-a; this is one of the algal toxins that HABs can produce. These toxins can make people and animals sick when swallowed or breathed in, or may cause skin irritations such rashes and hives. Dogs are especially at risk of developing health effects. This toxin has been associated with dog deaths in other lakes. The testing results will not be available until after the Fourth of July weekend.

If people may have had contact with or swallowed affected water and feel sick, they should consult with their doctor or Poison Control at 800-222-1222. If symptoms are severe, people should get emergency medical attention. If animals become sick after contact with lake water, contact your veterinarian immediately.

Click here for details on symptoms.

More information on harmful algal blooms can be found at www.michigan.gov/habs.

Local beach monitoring by WUPHD, KBIC

The Western Upper Peninsula Health Department (WUPHD) and the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC) are conducting a bathing beach monitoring program of public beaches. This swimming season will be the 14th consecutive year WUPHD will be monitoring selected public beaches.

"KBIC is excited to continue working alongside Western UP Health Department in protecting our waters. This will be our third year monitoring the local beaches, and feel that it’s important to continue providing this service to the public," stated Stephanie Cree, Water Resources Specialist with the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community Natural Resources Department.

Monitoring consists of weekly water sampling and testing for E. coli, posting results on the State’s BeachGuard website, and posting closings or advisories at beaches with elevated E. coli results. Testing beaches during the swimming season is important to make sure the public is informed of high E. coli levels that pose a greater risk of illness.

Surface waters contaminated with elevated levels of E. coli bacteria can result in illness symptoms including nausea, vomiting, stomachache, diarrhea, headache and fever. Other illnesses associated with swimming in contaminated waters include ear, eye, nose and throat infections, and skin rashes and skin infections.

"Beaches that are open to the public for swimming but not part of a monitoring program are being asked by the health department to either implement a water sampling program that meets the State standards or post notices at the beaches to inform the public whether or not the water has been tested for E. coli bacteria," stated Tanya Rule, Environmental Health Director of the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department.

Public beaches which are not being monitored for E. coli are required to post a sign stating they are not being monitored.

The COVID-19 pandemic has added another concern while at the beach this summer. Stay home if you are feel ill or experiencing any of the following symptoms: cough, shortness of breath, fever, sore throat, headache, or muscle aches. Protect yourself and family by practicing social distancing; keeping at least 6 feet away from people not in your household. Wear a face covering while indoors at public spaces. Use hand sanitizer after contact with high-touch surfaces.

Weekly beach inspections and water quality monitoring is being conducted by the Health Department and Keweenaw Bay Indian Community Natural Resource Department at the following Western U.P. public beaches and the test results may be viewed on the state beach website:
Baraga County: The Alligator, First Sand’s Beach, Head of the Bay, L’Anse Waterfront Park, Ojibwa Campground Beach, Sandpoint Beach North, Sandpoint Beach South, Zeba Boat Launch
Gogebic County: Gogebic County Beach on Lake Gogebic, Lake Gogebic State Park, Sunday Lake Campground and Beach
Houghton County: Agate Beach, Calumet Waterworks Beach, Chassell Beach, Dollar Bay Beach, Hancock City Park Beach, Houghton City Beach, McLain State Park, Twin Lakes State Park
Keweenaw County: Eagle Harbor Beach, Eagle River Beach, Lake Fanny Hooe Campground
Ontonagon County: Bergland Township Beach on Lake Gogebic , Bond Falls Beach, Ontonagon County Park on Lake Gogebic, Ontonagon Township Park, Porcupine Mountain State Park.

Click here for more details on beach monitoring.