From the Great Lakes Echo


Published March 3, 2017.

By Steven Maier

It’s a zoo out there. We just can’t see it.

Macroscopic residents of the Great Lakes get all the attention. But smaller creatures play a larger role than size would suggest.

Pictured here are zooplankton collected from Lake Ontario. The man who collected them (with some help) is Curtis Karboski, a biologist working for the Lower Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office in New York.

Zooplankton are invertebrate animals and the second step in the food chain, surviving on often-microscopic plant life. Some can be large, like the jellyfish. Some can be as small as a single cell. Most are not visible to the naked eye.

The ecosystem in Lake Ontario is experiencing some big changes right now, though most would never know it.

“Nothing is evident looking at the lake,” Karboski said.

The zooplankton are experiencing an invasion. Native zooplankton like the daphnia (lower-left and middle-right) are increasingly preyed upon by newcomers like the Fishhook waterflea (lower-middle) and the Spiny waterflea (middle-left).

They affect the lake like any other invasive species, Karboski said, just at a lower level. He likened it to the arrival of the round goby in the 1990s, which changed the Lake Ontario ecosystem as it competed for resources with native fish.

These changes work their way up the food chain. Zooplankton are an important food source for smaller forage fish. What starts with daphnia eventually affects salmon. One worry is that the invasives will eat the natives out of extinction, then die of starvation themselves.

A similar situation took place in Lake Huron 14 years ago. The Chinook salmon, an introduced species, preyed on the alewife population to the point of collapse. Once the alewives were gone, the salmon followed suit.

Scientists aren’t sure how invaders like the waterfleas will change the lake, Karboski said. Until that becomes apparent, preparing responses will be difficult.


From Capital News Service


Published March 3, 2017.

Capital News Service

LANSING — The chorus of voices calling for the decommissioning of a twin oil pipeline running across the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac has become more diversified.

A network of 18 businesses, all but one based in Michigan, recently announced support for halting use of the controversial pipeline.

The Great Lakes Business Network, formed in December, is supported by the National Wildlife Federation and the Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities in Traverse City. It’s also collaborating with the Michigan League of Conservation Voters.

Line 5 is a pipeline operated by Enbridge Inc. that runs 645 miles from Wisconsin to Ontario and carries 540,000 barrels of oil per day. The 4.5 mile section that crosses under the Straits spanning the Upper and Lower peninsulas is controversial.

Built in 1953, the pipeline was designed to last 50 years. Critics say that a spill in the Straits would have catastrophic consequences for Great Lakes ecosystems and the businesses that rely on them.

They pose a particular challenge for oil cleanup due to strong currents that sweep through them and reverse frequently, critics say.

Meanwhile, Enbridge cites the importance of Line 5 in supplying propane to the U.P.  It supplies 65 percent of propane used in the U.P. and 55 percent statewide, according to the company.

“It’s important to keep in mind, especially at this time of year, especially in Michigan, there are a lot of people that rely on what Line 5 supplies,” said Enbridge regional communications supervisor Ryan Duffy.

The Groundwork Center has been fighting Line 5 since 2013, said Jim Lively, the group’s program director. In a controversy that’s been pressed mainly by nonprofit organizations, the new business partnership adds another dimension of pressure on state officials, he said.

Nonprofit groups pressured the state into creating a petroleum pipeline task force, which released a report in July 2015. That report prompted Gov. Rick Snyder to create a Pipeline Safety Advisory Board to implement the task force’s recommendations.

The board oversees two studies funded by Enbridge — one assesses risks posed by the pipeline, the other explores alternatives. Those studies are expected to be released this summer.

Duffy said the company is glad the state is conducting the studies and looks forward to the results. Enbridge regularly tests the pipes. It also provides information about Line 5, inspections and monitoring systems on its website.

The company is not assessing alternatives, Duffy said.

And neither is the new Great Lakes Business Network. It calls for Line 5 to be shut down strategically to limit economic disruption, with the process to begin as soon as possible.

Member businesses have varying opinions regarding alternatives, and the network as a whole has no official stance, Lively said.

The focus is on the immediate risk to the Great Lakes, said Dan Sloboda, an environmental coordinator for Patagonia, an outdoor clothing retailer based in Chicago.

“It’s the wrong pipeline, in the wrong place, at the wrong time,” Sloboda said.

Many member businesses have called for a shutdown for some time, including Cherry Republic, a gourmet food store based in Glen Arbor.

The company is among those that supported the production of “Great Lakes, Bad Lines,” a short documentary released last August that advocates for decommissioning. The film was produced in partnership with FLOW, a nonprofit law and policy center in Traverse City that advocates for the Great Lakes.

Cherry Republic owner Bob Sutherland has been donating to nonprofit groups like FLOW for years. He’s a former member of the Groundwork Center and a current member of the League of Conservation Voters.

“In this case, what’s best for the environment is also what’s best for business,” Sutherland said.

FLOW alleges deceit and number-fudging by Enbridge and claims that the company has exaggerated the importance of Line 5’s supply of propane to the U.P. According to a study by the organization, Line 5 supplies only 35 to 50 percent of the U.P.’s propane.

That demand could be met each day with five tanker trucks or two rail cars, according to FLOW’s analysis. Such transport is usually considered more dangerous than pipelines, but the location of Line 5 justifies an exception, said FLOW executive director Liz Kirkwood.

The organization claims that 90 percent of the oil running through the Straits ends up in Canada and that Line 5 is an unnecessary shortcut.

But Enbridge disagrees. Thirty percent of the oil from the line goes to a Michigan refinery, Duffy said, and outside organizations don’t have access to company data on oil delivery.

Sutherland, Kirkwood and Lively each cited Enbridge’s track record as a motivator for their opposition. In 2010, Enbridge’s Line 6B ruptured, spilling heavy tar sands oil and polluting nearly 40 miles of the Kalamazoo River. Enbridge has put the cost of the resulting cleanup at more than $1 billion.

From my work for the Spartan Newsroom


Published April 2, 2017.

The Meridian Township Board has added a new item to the upcoming ballot in August–a tax millage to fund the fire and police departments.

The proposal, voted through by the board on March 21, would add 1.483 mills to the annual tax collection if voted through. For a house that’s worth $100,000, that adds $148 to the tax collection for the year, and an added $2.5 million in annual revenue for the township.

That money would go towards the hiring of two additional personnel for each department, replacing equipment and paying down the township’s pension debt.

“That’s the big elephant in the room right now, is the pension liability,” said Phil Deschaine, one of the board trustees.

The township has $30 million worth of unfunded pension responsibilities and an obligation to pay it off. Almost two-thirds of the extra money collected would go towards doing just that.

Board supervisor Ron Styka said it was important that the millage is passed in August.

“It’s a necessity,” Styka said. “I’m very hopeful that our voters will see that and vote for it.”

The township has the money to cover about 55 percent of their pension obligations, according to township manager Frank Walsh. The average in the state of Michigan is 73 percent. Passing the millage would help the township fund the rest over the next ten years–a total of $41 million.

If they take 20 years, the added interest will result in an extra $15 million.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Walsh said.

The remaining third of the money raised will go towards addressing “systemic problems with our police and fire,” according to Deschaine–namely, underfunding. The number of Meridian police personnel falls well below the suggested ratio recommended by the Bureau of Justice.

The township collects 1.2 mills for police and fire, only enough to cover 20 percent of their combined budget. The other 80 percent has been coming out of the township’s general fund for years, Walsh said. In order to make ends meet, Deschaine said the township has had to limit overtime in other departments.

The extra funding for personnel and equipment come at a time of need for the police department, said Meridian police chief David Hall.

“For the officer’s backup, for the officer’s safety, we need more personnel,” Hall said.

Hall said that the township population and number of calls serviced by the department have gone up, while the number of sworn officers is the same as in 1995. This does not allow enough time for what he called “unobligated time,” which allows officers to patrol normally and investigate suspicious figures or vehicles–activities that he said were effective in preventing crime.

The funds would also allow both departments to update their equipment, including a new ladder truck for the fire department, which is now 15 years old, Meridian fire chief Fred Cowper told the board. The money will allow the police department to continue to swap their vehicles out at the rate recommended by the FBI, Hall said, as well as eventually invest in equipment that will allow them to investigate a growing number of identity and computer crimes.

Not everyone is on board with the millage proposal. Neil Bowlby addressed the board at the March 21 meeting. Bowlby is president of the Liaison for Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation, a local organization that grew out of citizen efforts to slow local development in the 1990s. He claims some of the numbers claimed by Walsh and Hall are not supported by data, and has concerns about whether the extra equipment funds are really needed. He is in support of the plan to pay off the pension debt.

Bowlby said the extra money would free up $700,000 a year from the township’s general fund, and wants to know more about where that money will go.

Hall disagrees with Bowlby, insisting that the numbers are supported, while Walsh said that every dollar of the extra money is accounted for.

Bowlby also said the situation was not as dire as the board makes it seem, and claims that the board depicts the fallout of a rejection in the vote in August as a surge of staff cuts and eventual bankruptcy.

“They paint the doom and gloom scenario,” Bowlby said.

If the millage is voted down, the board can come back the next year with “a more reasonable proposition,” he said.

The board declined to split the millage in two and introduce the pension funding as a separate collection, Styka said, because they see it as all one problem, with staffing problems leading to pension debt.

Millage or not, the township still has an obligation to the pension liability and will have to find ways to make those $1.5 million-a-year payments, Walsh said. The new equipment and additional personnel would have to wait. An estimated 15 to 20 township employees would have to be laid off.

Analyzing police force data from the 2000’s

image(1)State and local police forces continued to grow from 1996 to 2008, according to data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. An analysis and breakdown of this data provides insight into pre-Recession policing.

The bureau has not yet released results from its more current surveys.

image(2)Local police forces were the largest employers of sworn officers in 2008, with more than 461,000 officers on the books. The next largest employers were sheriff’s offices with 182,000 police officers. That ratio has held steady since 1996, when local police employed 410,000 and sheriff’s offices 153,000.


Some of the largest cities in the United States saw some of the most drastic changes in their employment. 2004 to 2008 saw large shifts in full-time sworn personnel employment in these areas.

The city of Detroit cut its full-time sworn personnel by 36 percent over these four years. The city was entering economic turmoil at the time as the automobile industry began to falter.

Meanwhile southern cities like Phoenix and Dallas both increased staff by at least 15 percent.

All cities included on the chart have a police department that ranks among the top 50 across the nation in employment.

Though not a city, Prince George’s County in Maryland also boasts a top-50 police department, and added onto their full-time sworn personnel by 17% over this time period.

During this time, police departments have steadily increased employment of non-sworn civilians. That number increased from 345,000 in 2004 to 368,000 in 2008, an increase of almost 7 percent. That number in 1996 was 258,000.