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.”
WCNY-TV produced this segment in part with support from a Great Lakes Now Local Station Production Grant.
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
“The Forever Chemicals” and “Wrecks Within Reach” were chosen for the Alpena event.
Both the Senate and Assembly are scheduled to vote on the Republican-authored proposal Tuesday. The GOP controls both houses, making passage all but certain. The bill would go next to Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who can sign it into law or veto it.
The legislation, sponsored by state Rep. Doug Miller, would give up the state’s ownership of large swaths of Indiana’s lake shoreline to adjacent private property owners if the property description in their deeds indicates the land extends to Lake Michigan.
The effort to modernize the landmark law has been seen by some as an attempt to bypass climate change considerations. In the Great Lakes region, the changes could have impact on the Line 5 tunnel project and other large lake projects like new locks or dam removals.
Ramsey County Chief Judge John Guthmann is opening a fact-finding hearing into allegations that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency improperly tried to suppress serious concerns by the federal Environmental Protection Agency about the PolyMet mine’s risks to clean water.
A University of Illinois analytical chemist found that the chemicals used in non-stick products can stick to microplastic particles in lake water.
Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy will give the city more than $458,000. Another $325,000 is coming from The Recycling Partnership to increase participation in curbside and multifamily recycling programs.
According to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, efforts to contain the leak at the Electro-Plating Services Inc. site in Madison Heights has cost at least $200,000 over 24 days.
The Great Lakes Now Series is produced by Rob Green and Sandra Svoboda.