Author Archives: CMU Public Radio News

Push for wind farms along Great Lakes sparks controversy

wind_farm_story_pic_mediumOn the Atwater Farm, a commercial dairy farm near Lake Ontario, the sound of diesel trucks thunders through the air as they bring in loads of harvested corn for cow feed.

Susan Atwater and her husband Ben are the sixth generation to run this farm. It’s been around since the mid-1800s and is one of the oldest in New York State.

It hasn’t been easy making it in the dairy business. With the summer drought, this year been has been a particular challenge. Now, the Atwaters are turning to the wind for financial help.

“I have all these tractors and tractor trailers to harvest the corn, our monthly cost of diesel is well into the six digits on a harvest season,”Susan Atwater said. “If I can help that with a supplement from a consistent energy producing wind turbine, it’s going to be huge for our business.”

They’re one of several local land owners who signed leases with Apex Clean Energy. The Virginia-based company plans to install 71 wind turbines, generating enough energy to power 53,000 homes.

Apex has nearly a dozen projects planned for communities in the Great Lakes region, including four in Ohio, one in Michigan and four in New York.

This particular project, which stretches 12 miles through the towns of Somerset and Yates, has been met with both fierce support and intense opposition.

“The shores of Lake Ontario is not the place for industrial wind energy period,” said Town Supervisor Dan Engert.

He’s frustrated, and says the town’s right to site the project has been stripped away by state law.

“How would you feel if you had no say? If the state came in and told you,” he said. “They’re not just going to put up a building. We’re not going to just have something that impacts one part of your town or your city we’re going to completely litter your entire town from one end to the other with these industrialized structures.

“How would you feel?”

Article 10 of the Power NY Act gives the task of siting the project to a board. It’s staffed with five state representatives and two community members.

The state says leaving siting decisions up to the board offers a streamlined process for permitting power plants greater than 25 megawatts. The state plans to expand its infrastructure — to generate 50 percent renewable energy by 2030.

The Great Lakes is a prime area for harvesting wind energy and developers are taking advantage of that. A U.S. Geological Survey map shows more than 500 wind turbines forming clusters along the Great Lakes Watershed.

Apex representative Dan Fitzgerald says the fresh water source is an open resource for energy.

“The lake area provides more open resource for us,” he said, adding that “there’s no back stop there’s no hills behind it.”

“There’s almost a drawing effect of the lake that actually accelerates the wind and gives us a better wind resource. So by locating a wind project near the better wind areas, which in this case are certain portions near Lake Ontario, we’ll have a more productive project.”

Apex has yet to submit an application for the Lake Ontario project. Fitzgerald says they hope to do so before the end of the year. The project’s expected completion date 2019.

Climate change threatens birds migrating along Great Lakes

IMG_0137_mediumSome of the migratory songbirds that pass through the Great Lakes region are already on the move, and volunteers at the Braddock Bay Bird Observatory are preparing for them. Hundreds of species – swallows, finches, warblers and more — visit the observatory on the shore of Lake Ontario, just west of Rochester.
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Michigan loosening up driverless cars rule

carMichigan is edging closer to clearing the roads for driverless cars.

A state senate committee OKed a package of bills that loosens existing rules for autonomous vehicles.

Pamela Fletcher is with General Motors. She testified in support of the changes at the committee hearing in Saginaw.

“We think it really is ground breaking in terms of modeling…and Michigan leading…and modeling what other states can do to bring this kind of development and this kind of deployment very quickly into the state.”

One state official says Michigan is in a “wrestling match” with other states … especially California … over which will be the future home of the “mobility Industry.”

The driverless car bills may be on the legislative fast track this fall.

Deadly currents — why they hit the Great Lakes

SciencePowerful currents on the Great Lakes have caused more than 150 drownings since 2002, according to researchers. Those currents can appear suddenly, says Mark Breederland, an educator with Michigan Sea Grant.

“The wind is key. It can start up pretty calm. Pretty soon it picks up – you’re out there, just enjoying the beach and you’re not really thinking about it,” Breederland says. Michigan Sea Grant is a university program focused on preserving Great Lakes resources through education and research. “All of the sudden, the waves have come way up from what they were when you first started.”

When a drowning occurs, people often attribute it to an undertow. Scientists say it’s much more complicated than that. Continue reading

Great Lakes drownings hit small Michigan county

BerrienDangerous currents and drownings go hand-in hand across the Great Lakes. But many are concentrated in Southwest Michigan’s Berrien Co.

The county has 50 miles of shoreline and its crown jewel is Silver Beach County Park. It’s straight out of a postcard: sandy beaches, a playground, and a big concession stand selling snow cones and hot dogs.

The area is a popular spot for Midwesterners who don’t want to make the long trip to the ocean, says Brian Bailey, who manages the park.

“We’re at the lower portion of Lake Michigan. We’re near major population, urban areas of Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis,” he says. “We’re a very attractive summer playground for many people.”

In addition to the large number of visitors, a couple of other factors come into play in Berrien.

“We get the combination of inexperienced swimmers, storms that can come up at any time, and wave heights,” Bailey says. “Those can be dangerous conditions.”

Since 2002, powerful currents have led to at least 21 deaths and 29 rescues at parks in the county, according to adatabase maintained by researchers. The wind also plays a role, says the National Weather Service’s Megan Dodson.

“When you have really strong winds blowing from the west, or the northwest, or the southwest, that causes the water to pile up near the beaches on western Michigan,” Dodson says. “You get the water piling up, you have a better chance for currents to develop.”

Haley Smoot, head lifeguard at Silver Beach, adds, “We have a lot of out of town people that don’t understand the lake and how it works. They come and they expect it to be like a swimming pool and it’s not.”

At Silver Beach on days when winds are high, lifeguards walk up and down the shore, keeping people out of the water and educating them about currents. But lifeguards are not responsible for the two piers in the county.

Several drownings have been attributed to people jumping off the piers. They were built in the 1800s and are operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Christopher Shropp, chief of construction and survey at the Army Corps’ office in Grand Haven, Mich., says the piers are still used for their initial purpose: to lead the way for ships.

“The purpose of the pier structure is for federal navigation, shipping within the federal navigation channels,” he says. “The piers allow ships to enter the harbor safely carrying whatever product they have – aggregate, coal, iron ore.”

These days, the piers are also used recreationally – anyone can fish or just walk on them. Shropp says that while it’s unfortunate that jumping accidents happen, making the piers unavailable to the public is not an option.

“We certainly don’t want to close the structures, because there’s a lot of visitors who enjoy them,” he says. “I don’t know that that would go over very well and people find their way around it anyways.”

The county Sheriff’s Department can’t ticket or fine anyone jumping off the pier, but Sgt. Kristen Robbins is hoping for such a solution.

“I hope that it can only go that direction to where pier jumping would be illegal,” she says.

Officials have taken steps to prevent drownings. For example, the piers have warning signs and throw rings in case of emergency. Silver Beach has emergency phones stationed around the property.

There’s one thing Silver Beach has that many other beaches around Berrien County don’t – lifeguards. That includes Warren Dunes State Park and all of Michigan’s state parks.

Ron Olson, chief of parks for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, says there are a couple of reasons why. “It costs a lot of money to equip lifeguards. Further, you need to have experienced people.”

Warren Dunes got rid of lifeguards more than 30 years ago. Since 2002, five people have drowned there because of dangerous currents, according to the currents database. On days when there are dangerous currents, Warren Dunes flies a red flag. The image on the flag depicts a swimmer with a line through it: no swimming due to currents.

Olson says the state is working to make the signs more accessible, too: braille for the blind, words or an image for the colorblind, and signs in other languages. Warren Dunes also has a boat available for emergencies.

Olson says the state is not responsible if an accident occurs, and that having lifeguards wouldn’t make a difference.

Ohio mother mourns son taken by Lake Erie current

Mothers StoryIn her family’s backyard overlooking Lake Erie, Melissa Zirkle watched as her son Jermaine joined some friends in the water. On that July day in 2013, she was building steps in the backyard.

“I kept looking and checking on him, and he was standing in the water and he was laughing, having fun with the other kids,” Zirkle says, recalling the scene along Ohio’s shoreline. “Then about two minutes later, I heard cries for help.” Continue reading

Remembering the 1901 Train Crash

P1380327There was a horrible train crash that happened in a farm field in Michigan in 1901. 100 Italian immigrants were killed. And they were buried in an unmarked grave. That story has always haunted one local man. And inspired him to solve the mystery of where they were buried. He also hopes his gesture is one small way of helping history not repeat itself…when it comes to how poorly we have sometimes treated immigrants.
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Sanders accuses Trump

trumbsandersMeeting with Michigan delegates today [Thursday]… Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders accused Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump of being a demagogue…who should never become president of the United States.

“We will do everything we can to defeat a candidate who insults Latinos and Mexicans, who insults Muslims, who insults women, who insults African-Americans.”

Sanders urged his most loyal supporters to back Hillary Clinton for president in November.

Several Michigan delegates say they can’t vote for the Democratic presidential nominee in November. They plan to vote for Green Party nominee Jill Stein.

Head of Democratic Party asking delegates not to boo

DSC06291The head of Michigan’s Democratic Party is asking his delegates to not boo the speakers at tonight’s [Tuesday’s] Democratic National Convention.

Monday…it seemed whenever Bernie Sanders supporters were booing DNC speakers…television networks panned over to the Michigan delegation.

Rapid Sanders supporters in the delegation defaced pro-Hillary Clinton signs…and heartily booed the mention of her name.

Michigan State Party Chairman Brandon Dillon asked the delegates to be more respectful tonight..

“Obviously we’re not here to censor people but we want to encourage people to make sure we have a productive dialogue and discussion.

Sanders delegates say they will continue to support their candidate.