Pipelines, Plastics and Parks
The fight over an oil-and-gas pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac went to the courts, and microplastics were detected in waters around the region. The newest U.S. National Park on Lake Michigan’s shoreline means increased visitors but not necessarily more protection against erosion, contaminants and native plant loss. Learn more about all these threats to our freshwater system in the fourth episode of the Great Lakes Now monthly show.
WHERE WE TAKE YOU THIS MONTH
Watch Live on DPTV
Tuesday, July 30 at 7:30 PM
STATIONS CARRYING THE SERIES
Buffalo, New York
Grand Rapids, Michigan
Mount Pleasant, Michigan
South Bend-Elkhart, Indiana
Syracuse, New York
Watertown, New York
This Month on Great Lakes Now
Click the tabs to read descriptions of each feature in Episode 1004.
Enbridge Line 5 Update
SEGMENT 1 | STRAITS OF MACKINAC
The oil-and-gas pipeline remains in the Straits of Mackinac. It’s helping meet some energy needs but also continuing to pose environmental risks if there is damage to it.
As Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder left office at the start of the year, the state had a deal with Enbridge Inc. for construction of a tunnel that would contain a replacement pipeline for the aging Line 5.
Now, a new group of Michigan politicians and the Canadian company are doing battle on multiple legal fronts, leaving the future of the tunnel uncertain and the risk of a spill still fully up for debate.
In a lawsuit, Enbridge seeks to enforce the tunnel agreement, but Michigan’s new Attorney General, Dana Nessel, wants that dismissed. And in another suit, Nessel filed to have the existing line shut down as soon as residents could have an alternative plan for their propane supplies that currently are delivered through the pipeline.
“The final say in all this is really up to the judges,” says Cheyna Roth, a Lansing-based Michigan Public Radio Network reporter.”
For a full history of Enbridge Line 5, watch Great Lakes Now’s Emmy Award-winning documentary “Beneath the Surface.”
Microplastics in the Lakes
SEGMENT 2 | ROCHESTER, NY & ERIE, PA
Researchers in New York have been looking into plastics pollution in the Great Lakes as they try to grasp the scope and look for possible solutions.
Plastics pollution in the ocean has been the source of numerous studies and campaigns. Plastics pollution in the Great Lakes, on the other hand, has not been researched as much. And microplastics in the Great Lakes has been even less studied.
Researchers in New York are working to change that.
“What we have discovered over the last seven years is how prevalent they are,” said Sherri Mason, sustainability coordinator for Penn State Behrend, one of the first scientists to research the problem in the Great Lakes. “One plastic bag can form trillions of microplastics as it sheds in the environment.”
These microplastics — pieces of plastic smaller than 5 millimeters — end up in the water we drink, in the beer we brew, in the soil we walk on and even the air we breathe.
“We cannot recycle ourselves out of the situation,” Mason said. “The solution to this is reduction… If we use less plastic, we find less plastic in the environment, it’s that simple.”
Read about research being done into washing machine filters that could prevent microfibers, a form of microplastic, from draining into the Great Lakes.
Learn about Michigan’s legislative back-and-forth on banning plastic bags.
The Newest National Park
SEGMENT 3 | SHORES OF LAKE MICHIGAN, INDIANA
As the Indiana Dunes area transitions from National Lakeshore to National Park, more visitors are enjoying its beaches and trails. Environmental threats may be increasing too.
To the staff — those khaki-clad park rangers in the iconic Smokey-the-Bear-type hats — the change didn’t mean much. Renaming the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore to National Park did not mean more funding, administrative changes nor greater environmental protections.
But then the people came.
“We didn’t really realize how important it was going to be to the public, the higher profile, the number of people who are coming here,” says Bruce Rowe, park public information officer. “Literally the day that the change happened we started getting emails and phone calls from all over the country.”
Increased visitors could mean increased environmental threats, for example when people veer from the prescribed trails and trample grasses holding the sands in place. But park staff say they are working to minimize the threats from people — along with other potential dangers to the park’s ecosystem like invasive species of plants, industrial pollutants and increased lake levels.
The Great Lakes National Park Service sites have been seeing increased tourism.
Think you know your national parks? Take our quiz about sites in the U.S. and Canada.
What do you know about Great Lakes parks and other national sites? Take our quiz about the region’s parks.
Videos from Episode 1004Subscribe on YouTube
Enbridge is introducing three new security measures “to reduce risk further until and while the tunnel’s being built,” Enbridge President and CEO Al Monaco said on Thursday.
Great Lakes Energy News Roundup: $1.2M approved for Fox River, public comment open for Lake Superior gas plant, Michigan AG shifting toward clean energy
Catch the latest in Great Lakes energy news in Great Lakes Now’s fortnightly energy-related headline roundup.
The U.S. EPA is pledging funds to help advance cleanups of two toxic waste hotspots in Michigan near lakes Michigan and Superior.
Conflicted Congressman: Mich. Rep. Huizenga backs federal money for Great Lakes, supports Trump’s Clean Water Rule rollback
In his speech at Central Michigan University’s annual Great Lakes Symposium, Rep. Bill Huizenga talked at length about how Great Lakes issues transcend partisan political bickering.
The Trump administration on Thursday proposed a rewrite of rules for dealing with lead pipes contaminating drinking water, but critics say the changes appear to give water systems decades more time to replace pipes leaching dangerous amounts of toxic lead.
A judge has rejected the last challenge to a rule that could cause the billion-dollar replacement of 500,000 lead water pipes in Michigan.
Wisconsin environmental officials say chemicals known as PFAS have contaminated creeks in Dane and Monroe counties as well as portions of the Mississippi, Wisconsin and Menominee rivers.
New York is seeking compensation for flood damage in Lake Ontario shoreline communities in a lawsuit against the international body that regulates waterways between the United States and Canada, the International Joint Commission.
The Great Lakes Now Series is produced by Rob Green and Sandra Svoboda.