Author Archives: CMU Public Radio News

Great lakes basin spring clean-up efforts begin

RIVERKEEPER_PIC_mediumIt’s springtime and that means cleanup efforts are getting underway in various cities throughout the Great Lakes basin.

Thousands of volunteers from work to clear the shoreline of debris, not just this time of year, but all year long. Like the volunteers at the Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper . The nonprofit is hosting its Spring Shoreline Sweep on April 22.

It’s an annual event and it resulted in clearing more than 11 tons of litter from shoreline areas last year.

Riverkeeper’s executive director Jill Jedlicka says volunteers find items as small as cigarette butts and sometimes larger items tires and televisions.

“Unfortunately we do find things like hypodermic needles, we do find petroleum based products sometimes,” she said. “Just a lot of what we call flotsam and jetsam, which is the stuff that gets washed off from parking lots and streets everywhere. And, it ultimately finds its way into the waterways.”

Once it enters the waterways it can have a negative effect on everything from drinking water to wildlife habitats.

“We don’t always want to be cleaning it up after the fact, we’d rather it not be there in the first place,” said Kris Patterson, executive director at Partners for Clean Streams in Ohio.

Patterson says they like to include prevention education as part of their cleanup events.

The group organizes cleanups in shoreline and other areas throughout the year. Their largest cleanup event is in September.

“We want to show people the ways we can reduce marine debris,” she said. “It’s by reducing what your using in the first place, so not always getting the plastic grocery bag can you take a reusable grocery bag.”

And, she says, it all comes down town being mindful of what we’re consuming and how we’re consuming it.

Report looks at unusually warm winter temperatures

Ice in Buffalo harbor january 2017

A new report sums up the crazy winter that brought unusually warm temperatures to the Great Lakes region — as well as some brutal Lake Effect snowstorms.

Toronto recorded its highest February temperature — 66 degrees — on Feb. 23, according to the Midwestern Regional Climate Center. The following day, more records were set in Syracuse (71), Binghamton, N.Y. (70), and Erie, Pa., (77). Continue reading

N.Y. snowmobilers add to toll in deadly winter

file0001408183111Conesus Lake is the westernmost of the Finger Lakes; and one of the smallest — it’s about a mile across, and eight miles long. Cameron Copeland looks out over the water, reminiscing about his brother, Chris.

“He was always outside,” Cameron says. “Between scuba diving, skiing, wakeboarding, snow skiing, snowboarding, riding dirt bikes, riding four wheelers.”

Chris was 40 years old. He had shaggy brown hair and a wide smile, and he lived in a house right near the shore of Conesus Lake. One of his favorite winter activities was snowmobiling across the flat, frozen surface.

Which brings us to February 11 of this year. Chris and his friend Jason Fluet got a ride home from a local bar around 3 a.m.
The next day, Chris didn’t show up to his job as a taxi driver.

His brother wasn’t too worried at first.

“Knowing Chris,” Cameron says, “he could have been off in Florida or could have been off on vacation somewhere. Chris would randomly go somewhere.”

But 24 hours after he was last seen, Cameron still hadn’t heard from his brother, and his friend Jason was missing too. Cameron contacted the police.

Livingston County Sheriff Tom Dougherty says they immediately filed a missing person report. He says when they checked the house, they did not find Chris, but they did find a clue to where he had gone.

One of Chris’ snowmobiles was missing.

By morning, a police drone had picked up snowmobile tracks going out on to the lake. A few hours later, they recovered two helmets from the ice. A neighbor told police he heard a snowmobile engine start up around 3 a.m., take off, and never return.
By then, Doughterty says, “all the pieces were lining up, really putting them in the lake.”

That night would have been a dangerous one to snowmobile on the lake. The north end was frozen, but the ice started to break up near mid-lake. It was dark, and there was a light snow falling, making it harder to see soft spots and thin ice.

“We figured that their plan was to do a quick loop and come right back, but they got off course and went too far south,” says Doughtery, which would have put them on thin, mushy ice or even open water.

The sheriff’s office launched a massive search with dozens of law enforcement – police officers and firefighters on the ice and in boats, divers combing the frigid lake. Copeland’s family hunkered down in a house nearby, with a big window looking out over the water.

Cameron says the waiting was hard. “We just kind of kept each other’s minds busy, kind of hoping that he wasn’t in there.”

Jason’s family was in Phoenix, Ariz., when they heard what was happening. His mother, Sandy, says she heard the news from a member of their church.

“After I got off the phone with him,” she says, “I just kept screaming and screaming and screaming.”

Like Chris, Sandy’s son Jason was 40, had a daughter, and loved being outdoors.

Both men were finally recovered from the lake on Feb. 22 — 11 days after they went missing. Their families and the
Sheriff’s Office say the biggest contributor to this tragedy was likely an incredibly warm winter.

Unstable Ice leads to a deadly winter

Snow One PicSnowmobiling is a popular sport on New Hampshire’s Lake. Riders like the wide open spaces. It isn’t unusual to see them set up makeshift roads and racetracks and zoom around the ice.

Snowmobile enthusiast Chris DeJoy says it’s all good fun, but you have use caution.

“I think a lot of people jump on a snowmobile don’t realize how dangerous it can be,” he said.

This winter the lakes have been especially dangerous. Up north, on Lake Winnipesaukee , three snowmobilers broke through the ice and died in a single weekend. One victim was a 15-year-old boy.

Other incidents have been concentrated in New York State. Nearly a dozen people died on the lakes. Among them were Edward and Steve Sattler.

The brothers lived just outside Buffalo. They were leading a family snowmobiling trip at a cabin up in the Adirondacks.

“We were all going up roughly a week after they went up, was the plan,” said Ryan Sattler, Edward’s 28-year-old son.

At a coffee shop, he recalled how those plans changed suddenly. Just a few weeks after their deaths, a look of shock still glazed his eyes.

When the Sattlers brothers went missing. Ryan and his family rushed up to the cabin near Raquette Pond. There were search crews, state officials, helicopters, air boats, teams of divers. And, while all this was going on, the family waited.

“The waiting part was horrible to be honest,” Ryan said. “I think at some point I just wanted to go do something. I can’t sit here anymore because you sit and that gives you lots of time to think and that’s not necessarily a good thing in that situation.”

And, when the waiting was over.

“They told us they found debris in the water, they wouldn’t give us specifics as to what the debris was and the helicopter landed which logically we were thinking if the helicopter landed they must have a degree of certainty.”

The family still has no idea how the men ended up in the water. They suspect the brothers were disoriented by Adirondack snow squalls.

The Sattlers had over 40 years of snowmobiling experience. It’s a part of their legacy. Ryan says his family has discussed whether they should continue snowmobiling.

“It’s something that we all enjoy doing together very much,” he said. “And, I don’t think they’d want us to stop snowmobiling.”

Chris Fallon, who works with the New York parks department snowmobile unit, says the increase in deaths this winter is partly “attributable to it has not been a cold winter and a lot of times the ice has not been safe.”

And, sometimes speed is to blame.

Mark Tremblay is another snowmobile enthusiast from New Hampshire. He has some safety advice for snowmobiling on lakes.

“If you’re near any kind of questionable ice or you haven’t talked to an ice fisherman to find out if the ice is more than six inches thick, you don’t go,” he said. “Don’t go.”

Experts also say to adjust your speed weather conditions, and use visual clues such as color and snow cover to help determine the thickness of the ice. Stay on the trails, ask anglers and law enforcement about that day’s ice cover, and absolutely avoid drinking and riding.