Month: July 2018

Lakehead University Student Researches Harbour Mercury Situation

Samuel Pegg
The research of Lakehead University graduate student Samuel Pegg will contribute to efforts aimed at mercury cleanup in Thunder Bay Harbour.

Research Focuses on Mercury Contamination in Thunder Bay Harbour

Thunder Bay’s “North Harbour” is both a place and an issue, and its been like that for many years. Those familiar with the situation use the term “North Harbour,” in reference to an area of mercury contaminated sediment near the mouth of the Current River mouth and the former shipyards. This contamination is adjacent to the remnants of a paper mill. Now demolished, the mill operated on the lakeshore under a number of different owners including Superior Fine Papers, Abitibi and Cascades. The contamination in question sits in the harbour waters and contains some 400,000 cubic meters of pulpy material contaminated with mercury covering an area of about 26 hectares/64 acres.  This pulpy material has the consistency of porridge and is up to 4 meters thick. The concentrations of mercury in the material ranges between 2 and 11 parts per million. A substantial portion of the contaminated area also exceeds the provincial sediment quality guidelines severe effects level—defined as the level of contamination which is expected to be detrimental to most organisms living in the sediment.

Lakehead University graduate student Samuel Pegg, under the guidance of Dr. Rob Stewart of the Department of Geography and Environmental Science, has been taking a very close look at the North Harbour situation as he works towards his Master’s degree. Specifically, Samuel’s research is centered on how to approach communication in order to effect cleanup of large-scale Great Lakes contaminated sites. Sites include places like Hamilton Harbour, which became extremely polluted due to the steel industry and Thunder Bay’s North Harbour, where mercury pollution is a legacy of the pulp and paper industry. Samuel’s graduate research aims to identify communication strategies that encourage cooperation among diverse stakeholders. Samuel notes that other Great Lakes cleanup projects, like Hamilton Harbour, have reached costs as high as $140 million, and that in order for sufficient resources to be brought to bear, cooperation is essential.

Samuel Pegg
Samuel Pegg (foreground) participating in a tour of Thunder Bay Harbour environmental rehabilitation projects. Photo: J. Bailey/infosuperior.com)

The Waters of Lake Superior Should Not Be “Taken for Granted”

Before arriving at Lakehead University, Samuel spent much of his childhood in the dry deserts of Arizona, Samuel missed the connection to water that can seem implicit for those of us that are surrounded by lakes and rivers. Through his pursuit of a Masters in Environmental Studies from Lakehead University, Samuel has been afforded the opportunity to work on projects which help ensure that Lake Superior’s waters are not taken for granted. One of these projects is with the Remedial Action Plan office and the North Harbour.

To conduct his research, Samuel will endeavour to talk confidentially, one-on-one, with the full range of North Harbour stakeholders: Thunder Bay residents who are members of a public advisory committee working on environmental matters associated with the harbour, representatives of industries near the North Harbour site, elected officials and government agency representatives are all on Samuel’s list.

Samuel says he expects to encounter a wide range of views about cleanup as he proceeds with his research. Frustration at lack of progress is likely to be a common element but he’s hoping that many will suggest workable ideas to improve communication, and cooperation, bringing cleanup that much closer. Samuel will also be examining media reports, minutes of meetings associated with North Harbour and a range of documents associated with the situation. These include reports on environmental risk associated with the site and engineering reports outlining options for cleanup.

Samuel points out that “There are a number of sites across the Great Lakes requiring cleanup. Each of these sites has its own unique challenges,” and he is “working to identify communication strategies which reinforce cooperation amongst stakeholders.” While Samuel’s research is not yet complete, he did share some of the “lessons learned” to date:

I’ve learned that those familiar with the North Harbour situation are well versed in the negative aspects of the situation. They understand that having a harbour contaminated with mercury is bad. They also understand that cleanup costs, often using taxpayer dollars, will be high. Not only that, I’ve also been told that it’s nearly impossible to attract investment to a contaminated area like this, until it’s cleaned up. People I’ve talked to as part of my research are concerned because waterfront properties go “dormant” at old, polluted sites. People also mention the eroding municipal tax base due to these abandoned sites. The lack of public access to the Lake Superior waterfront also comes up again and again.

Opportunities and Benefits

What people I talk to in my research rarely discuss are the benefits of cleanup. Focusing on the positive can be an effective communication strategy. The potential benefits of cleanup need to be clearly stated, in easily understood terms. Things like increased potential to attract investment, increased municipal taxes, expanded public access to the waterfront, the potential to incorporate improved fish and wildlife habitat, even recreational opportunities like a kayak launch, a boating facility or an area to walk along the waterfront and watch birds.

In the North Harbour situation, the adjacent former mill site covers a huge area of waterfront and has stunning views out over Lake Superior. Cleanup could be carried out so that increased public access is incorporated as a feature in the overall solution. A cleanup project might mean that Thunder Bay residents could finally visit the Current River shoreline for the first time in decades.”

Community “Buy-in” Critical

In short, Samuel says he’s talking about opportunities, “Direct stakeholders like adjacent landowners and even the public need to be made aware of these opportunities. Great Lakes cleanups tend to be very large, expensive projects. A communication strategy to gain community “buy-in” is critical. Buy-in doesn’t come about by talking about negatives.”

At the conclusion of research, Samuel will be laying out findings in a thesis but says one other thing he’s heard on successive occasions is the idea of value for money spent.

“Private industry has contributed substantially to Great Lakes cleanup projects over the years but, in the case of Thunder Bay, some of the funds for North Harbour cleanup will likely come through taxpayer dollars. People tell me they want to see “co-benefits.” Many people say that contributing tens of millions in taxpayer dollars only to find they can’t even visit the waterfront is a “non-starter.” A communication strategy should turn this equation on its head and promote the co-benefits of cleanup, like enhanced waterfront access and recreational opportunities. Indigenous groups should also be included in the dialogue leading to cleanup. As a potential co-benefit could being increased cooperation on other issues of shared interest.

Samuel Pegg on the Kiyi.
Samuel Pegg, second right, aboard the United States Geological Survey research vessel “Kiyi,” Thunder Cape in background. Photo: J. Bailey/infosuperior.com

Strong Interest in Research Results

Great Lakes cleanups are complex, challenging efforts, often carried out by multiple partners, sometimes proceeding with halting communication…or no communication at all. Over the next few months, Samuel will be finishing up interviews with people who can provide insight into preferred communication approaches. He’ll also be completing work to ferret out relevant information from media reports and other sources.  Organizations involved in harbour cleanup have already been in touch with Samuel for his insights. Infosuperior will be following Samuel’s research closely and is one of several organizations interested in the conclusions and recommendations Samuel has to offer. We’ll keep readers posted.

 

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Ballast Water Management Can’t Stop at the St. Lawrence Seaway

We recently wrote about a study by the University of Wisconsin–Superior‘s Lake Superior Research Institute (LSRI) that highlighted the ability of cargo ships to transport invasive species via ballast water. This water, held in the base of cargo ships for stabilizing the ship when not loaded, often carries organisms and sediments from region to region, even within the Great Lakes. The Canadian Federal Government does have some ballast water management practices in place for cargo ships coming through the St. Lawrence Seaway into the Laurentian Great Lakes.

Ships must exchange their ballast water at least 200 nautical miles off-shore in ocean waters that are at least 2000 meters deep. The hope is that any fresh-water species held in the ballast will not be able to survive the high salinity waters and thus be rendered harmless when flushed out of the ballast; however, high seas and strong winds can result in this practice being unfeasible. Furthermore, some freshwater species live part of their lives in seawater, and thus are unaffected by such marine flushing (for example the invasive sea lamprey). Other methods involve treatment of ballast water as it enters the ballast, or during transport, but these treatments are voluntary and many are still being developed under international standards set by the International Maritime Organization.

Zebra Mussels are a Great Lakes invader known to have been transported via ballast water.

Some invasive species have already made their way into the Laurentian Great Lakes and although extensive ballast water management protocols are in place for ships entering the region, there are not yet effective systems to prevent the spread of invasive species from one lake to the next. It would appear that ballast water management is on the radar for several researchers in the Great Lakes Region. In their study published in 2014Jennifer L. Sieracki, Jonathan M. Bossenbroek and W. Lindsay Chadderton determined that ship ballast water has the potential to transport invasive species quickly and extensively throughout the Great Lakes.

These researchers used predictive modelling to identify high-risk ports and suggest best management practices. Sieracki et al. recommend that ships take up ballast water during the day with minimal disruption to sediments and discharge at deeper locations where currents will not transport the invasive species to favourable environments. There is currently no effective treatment system that can be applied between the closely spaced ports of the Laurentian Great Lakes Region.

Sieracki et al (2014) used Zebra mussel presence data from the Nonindigenous Aquatic Species (NAS) database (USGS 2009) to determine how Ballast water management related to the spread of this invasive species.

The predictive model was built based on their previous model for the spread of a much smaller but equally damaging invader, Viral Hemmorrhagic Septicemia Virus (VHSV). In the 1980s, VHSV was mainly found in the freshwater systems of Europe but increased shipping has lead to the spread of VHSV to a variety of species across the entire Northern Hemisphere. VHSV in the Great Lakes had previously only been tracked based on large die-offs caused by the virus in 2005 in Lake Ontario and from 2006-2008 in Lakes Michigan, Erie and St.Claire. A study by Mark B. Bain et al. published in 2010 showed that ballast water not only transports invasive aquatic animal species but is a significant factor in the spread of aquatic pathogens, in particular VHSV, throughout the Great Lakes. They showed that VHSV was widely dispersed and regularly effected species in a district or season but also existed as temporary outbreaks in some populations.

Distribution of VHSV measured by Bain et al. (2010)

All-in-all, ballast water is something worth managing, not only between regions but within them. Environmental agencies from both Canada and the U.S. are working together to prevent further damage due to ballast water transport within the Laurentian Great Lakes. A 2016 report was created by the Great Lakes Seaway Ballast Water Working Group (BWWG), comprised of representatives from the United States Coast Guard (USCG), the U.S. Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation (SLSDC), Transport Canada – Marine Safety & Security (TCMSS), and the Canadian St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation (SLSMC). The BWWG aim “to develop, enhance, and coordinate binational compliance and enforcement efforts to reduce the introduction of aquatic invasive species via ballast water and residuals.” As further studies are conducted on the subject, hopefully an effective system can be developed to manage the spread of invasive species and aquatic pathogens within the Laurentian Great Lakes.

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A River Cleanup Success Story

Eagles are among some of the species returning to the River Raisin thanks to a successful cleanup of PCB and heavy metal contamination along with habitat restoration. These eagles were spotted at the mouth of the River Raisin during a tour sponsored by DTE Energy and Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge. Credit: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

A case study by the International Association for Great Lakes Research (IAGLR) has concluded that restoration of the River Raisin has led to Environmental and economic benefits for the City of Monroe, Michigan. The River Raisin is one of 8, out of the total of 43 Great Lakes locations, or areas of environmental concern, where cleanup work has been completed. The river is located in southeastern Michigan and flows into Lake Erie.

Read the Case Study.

The river was once known by the Potawatomi Nation as Nummaseppe “the river of lake sturgeon.” In recent years it was not recommended to consume what fish were left in the river due to severe contamination. The Monroe Metropoliton Wastewater Treatment Plant had contaminated the river water and sediment with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and heavy metals. Fish habitat had also been reduced because of a series of dams built in the 1930s as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project to carry sanitary sewers across the bedrock bottom of the river. Because the dams prevented fish and other aquatic wildlife from migrating along the river, the environmental potential of the river had degraded.

Contaminated sediment remediation in the lower River Raisin. Credit: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

River Raisin was designated as a Great Lakes Area of Concern in 1985. The River Raisin Remedial Action Plan aimed to upgrade the Monroe Metropolitan Wastewater Treatment Plant to prevent further contamination, cleanup contaminated sediment, restore natural habitats and remove dams. All work has been completed. New and also long lost fish species have returned to the River along with Bald Eagles. The face-lift has inspired local businesses to make better use of riverfront views. New trails and gathering places that were built as part of the restoration are allowing the community to harbour a stronger connection to the river.

Restored fish habitat in the lower River Raisin in Monroe, Michigan. Credit: Melanie Foose.

John Hartig, policy adviser for IAGLR, told The Monroe News that “environmental and economic benefits that have been observed because of this cleanup provide compelling rationale to sustain cleanup efforts targeted in Areas of Concern and the entire Great Lakes.”

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Check out Wisconsin’s Stunning “Great Water’s” Calendar

 

2018 Wisconsin Great Waters Calendar
You need to check out this calendar! Click the screen capture above and you’ll be taken to the “Wisconsin’s Great Waters” Calendar. It’s stunning.

Nine photographers earned top honors for their entries in the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources tenth annual “Wisconsin’s Great Waters” photography contest.

Their photos will be featured in the 16-month calendar that the DNR Office of Great Waters produces each year.  Details about the contest, along with all of this year’s contest entries, can be found on the Office of Great Waters page of the DNR website.

The video above highlights 2018 photo contest winners.

Mark Straub of New Berlin, Michael Knapstein of Middleton, John Sullivan of La Crosse, and Cheryl Bougie of Green Bay won first place honors in the contest’s four categories.

Photographers from across Wisconsin and beyond submitted more than 200 beautiful photos of Lake Michigan, Lake Superior and the Mississippi River. This is the first year that the Office of Great Waters included the Mississippi River in the contest.

Along with the annual photo contest, DNR coordinates a “Wisconsin’s Great Waters” writing project and received sixteen submissions this year which can be found on the Office of Great Waters website. They include descriptions of stewardship efforts, poems, short stories, and other creative pieces. This year’s writing project entries will be featured in the calendar as well, according to Susan Tesarik, the Office of Great Waters water specialist who coordinates the contest.

The 2018-2019 Wisconsin’s Great Waters calendar will be available later this summer at DNR regional offices and state parks.

Great Waters Photo Contest Winners
Wisconsin DNR’s “Great Waters” Photo Contest has several categories, including “Natural Features and Wildlife” and “Stewardship Initiatives.”

“The annual photo contest and writing project is a fun way to share the many ways we interact with and value the Great Lakes and Mississippi River,” said Office of Great Waters Director, Steve Galarneau. “As these photos and writings clearly show, the Great Lakes and Mississippi River are among Wisconsin’s most cherished natural resources.”

DNR’s Office of Great Waters is currently accepting writings and photos of Lake Michigan, Lake Superior and the Mississippi River for next year’s contest. “Wisconsin’s Great Waters” photo contest and writing project information and submission instructions can be found on the Office of Great Waters website. Visit dnr.wi.gov and search “Great Waters Photo Contest.”

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Welcome Home “Peninsula”

This Mike Antonietti video shows the tug “Peninsula” returning to Peninsula Harbour.

Historical, Emotional Experience

For the people of Marathon, Ontario it was an emotional occasion; a time for reclaiming their own history. For Infosuperior, it was astounding to get phone calls from as far away as British Columbia, from people who used to live on the big lake. These calls expressed appreciation for articles posted about Lake Superior communities and history, in this case the community of Marathon, Ontario. The town lies on the Canadian side of the lake some 400 km./250 mi. west of Sault Ste. Marie. The population is over 3000 persons.

On July 7th, 2018 the tug Peninsula returned to its Lake Superior Canadian North Shore home at Marathon through an effort organized by the Marathon and District Historical Society.  The vessel operated in the Marathon and nearby Heron Bay area for many years, towing huge booms of logs to the Marathon pulp mill.  Stan Johnson of the Historical Society points out that the vessel is named after the town itself, which used to be called “Peninsula.” The tug is actually a World War 2 navy vessel which was used to retrieve damaged ships from the western North Atlantic. As Stan puts it, “There isn’t another vessel like her in the entire world. This is the last one.”

Related October 16, 2017 Infosuperior Article: “Bring Home the Peninsula”

The Tug Ran on Its Own Power From Thunder Bay to Marathon

The tug is actually in fairly good condition and ran under its own power as it was brought from Thunder Bay to Marathon. The boat is powered by a 12 cylinder Detroit Deisel. Keith McCuaig of Marathon acted as skipper. The run out of the Kaministiquia River in Thunder Bay east some 221 km./137 mi. to Marathon took 12 hours under blue skies and in good weather, with only light chop.

Stan says the Marathon and District Historical Society raised about 125, 000 dollars in one year to support the Peninsula tug project. He says donations for the vessel came in from Vancouver, Halifax, Northwest Territories, every Canadian province and also Alabama.

The tug "Peninsula"
The crew of the tug “Peninsula,” July 7th, 2018. Photo: Neil McCuaig.

“This is a Major Accomplishment for Marathon…”

Stan stresses that bringing the tug to Marathon is a major accomplishment. “People in Marathon now realize that the tug is here. This is not a pipe dream. It can become a major tourist attraction for Marathon. What’s more, it’s iconic; it represents the working history of this town and the pulp and paper industry. At one time, the tug Peninsula towed vast rafts of wood on Lake Superior to the mill in Marathon. This is the largest Marathon Paper mills icon that exists. Marathon Paper Mills was the forerunner of American Can, James River, Fort James and now includes Domtar Packaging. When you buy a package of paper towels at the supermarket, those were originally created by Marathon Corporation out of Wisconsin.”

At time of writing, the tug was sitting at the dock beside the former Marathon pulp mill in Peninsula Harbour, a position where it was frequently seen between stints of towing logs on Lake Superior between the years  1946 – 57.

Phase Two Fundraising…Restoration

The vessel will be taken out of the water (or may already be out of the water) in Marathon and the Historical Society is raising funds for restoration. The number one objective is to complete work necessary to allow public tours of the vessel.

Donations can be made to:

Marathon & District Historical Society, P.O. Box 728, Marathon On., P0T 2E0, CANADA or online through:

Canada Helps.

GoFundMe.

Family Ties to Lake Superior History

Seventeen people were aboard the Peninsula for the delivery voyage to Marathon. Stan explains that, “Everyone on board during the trip from Thunder Bay to Marathon contributed to the project or were closely linked to the vessel in some way. This project took so much commitment and dedication. People traveled here on their own money from places like Vancouver, Ottawa and Owen Sound to be be on board for this delivery. Some had relatives who participated in the official launching of this vessel years ago or who had worked in drafting at Montreal Drydocks where the vessel was built. Keith McCuaig, who acted as master of the vessel during the voyage from Thunder Bay to Marathon, is the great grandson of David Coveney, lighthouse keeper at Peninsula Harbour’s Hawkins Island lighthouse in the 1920s. Keith’s brother Neil was also aboard.

Stan noted that taking people out on the waters of Lake Superior aboard the vessel would be impractical. He said that passing the rigourous Transport Canada inspection would likely cost in excess of $100,ooo and that the tug burns about 30 gallons of fuel an hour when moving at higher speeds. He said the vessel requires a crew of at least three and that with all of these costs, operation of the vessel is impractical.

The tug Peninsula departing the Kaministiquia River in Thunder Bay, July 7th. Photo: Jennifer Johnson.

Heartfelt Thanks

Stan asked Infosuperior to extend thanks to all of the individuals and organizations that helped to purchase the Peninsula and bring it to Marathon, including the Town of Marathon, the donations from across Canada and USA, the local Marathon Mercury newspaper, CFNO Radio, Dougall MediaCBC Radio, Infosuperior, Lake Superior Magazine and many more.

Regional industries like forestry and pulp and paper are inextricably linked to Lake Superior and local history through the Peninsula. Congratulations to the Marathon and District Historical Society for opening our eyes to this history and for taking the steps to preserve it.

 

 

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NASA Monitoring from Granite Island on Lake Superior

The CERES FM6 instrument that was launched on the JPSS-1 spacecraft. Image Credit: Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp.

One of NASAs monitoring systems, usually set up on a satellite, is reaching new ground. NASA is setting up a new monitoring site for their Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System (CERES) experiment on Lake Superior’s Granite Island in Michigan. This project began in 1997 when the first CERES instrument was launched into orbit.

The CERES devices are meant to help determine Earth’s energy budget—how much of the sun’s radiation is reflected back to space by Earth’s land, water and atmosphere. Previously launched on satellites, CERES instruments provided detailed information about cloud properties, which play a huge role in how much solar radiation gets in and out of Earth’s system.

Infographic depicting the various components of Earth’s energy budget. Credit: NASA

The instruments that were orbiting the Earth were able to measure energy at the top of the atmosphere and thereby estimate energy levels in the atmosphere and at Earth’s surface. The Granite Island Monitoring location will act as a check on these estimates and will provide direct measurements of clouds, sunshine, radiation and aerosols from Earth’s surface for comparison with satellite data.

For more information check out this article in The Mining Journal.

 

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Lake Superior Pow-Wows

 

Dancer at the 2016 Opwaaganisiniing Pow-wow
A dancer at the 2016 Opwaaganisiniing Pow-wow at Lake Helen near Nipigon, Ontario. (Photo: J. Bailey/infosuperior.com)

A Fun, Friendly Atmosphere

Have you ever attended a pow-wow? Pow-wows are sacred events that celebrate Indigineous culture and traditions. They are gatherings for renewing old friendships, making new ones, for dancing, singing and visiting. The musicians share their songs and dancers get to present their colourful regalia and show off their moves. Respectful guests are welcome at many pow-wows.

The gathering of people of all ages at pow-wow’s is a way to share and celebrate traditions over generations: drumming, songs, dance, and spirituality. A Master of Ceremonies directs proceedings and shares stories, knowledge and laughter. The Master of Ceremonies will inform all in attendance what songs and dances are coming and whether they are ceremonial songs and dances.

Arts and Crafts
Arts, crafts and food are usually on sale at Pow-wows. (Photo: J. Bailey/infosuperior.com)

Food and Vendors are Part of the Mix

A feast is shared after the dancing but food is often in abundance before that. Multiple food booths are usually part of the event, offering everything from bannock to French fries. Like gatherings of other types, large crowds also attract a range of other vendors. Unique arts and crafts are usually available and sometimes, beadwork and articles like snowshoes crafted as you watch.

If you’ve never attended a pow-wow, don’t be reluctant but do be respectful. Pow-wow participants are proud to share their traditions with the broader community. For more information on pow-wow ettiquette, please refer to the Etiquette and Glossary section on pages 22-23 of the 2018 Great Lakes Pow-wow Guide.

Pic River pow-wow dancer
A dancer at the Pic River Pow-wow. (Photo: J. Bailey/infosuperior.com)

Unique Settings Around Superior

There are many pow-wows around Lake Superior, some right on the shore of the lake itself. The pow-wow at Pic River First Nation, just east of Marathon, Ontario, is held at an absolutely stunning location. Even if you’ve travelled Lake Superior extensively, chances are you’ve never seen anything like this. The event is held at the shore of Lake Superior, directly across the Pic River from Pukaskwa Nation Park. You may have seen other large Lake Superior beaches but the beach where this event is held likely dwarfs anything you’ve seen to date (even Neys). The event is held beside the largest area of sand dunes on the Canadian side of Lake Superior, right where the Pic River meets wide open Lake Superior. Pic River First Nation has taken steps to protect the nearby dunes from encroachment like all-terrain vehicles. This is definitely one of the most beautiful places on Lake Superior and also an extremely well-attended event.  Many residents of nearby Marathon and Manitouwadge attend, as do passing travellers who venture down from the Trans-Canada Highway.

Vividly Coloured regalia
A dancer displays vividly coloured regalia at the Opwaaganisiniing Pow-wow, 2016. (Photo: J. Bailey/infosuperior.com)

 

The Pic River pow-wow is only one of several, on both sides of the lake, including Red Rock First Nation, Pays Plat, Bad River, Fond du Lac and Grand Portage, to name a few. Pow-wows are a wonderful way to enjoy a summer day, to make meaningful connections and learn about the cultural traditions of indigenous communities that are deeply rooted in the Lake Superior region.

Unique Pow-wow settings
Lake Superior Pow-wows often have unique settings, like this one where Pic River meets Lake Superior. (Photo: J. Bailey/infosuperior.com)

Lake Superior is Circled by Pow-wows

Drop by a pow-wow for a day or an hour. The following is a list of some of the pow-wows taking place around Lake Superior:

-June 29th to July 1st – Fort William First Nation, location: Animikii-wajiw (Mount McKay)

-July 6th & 7th – 35th Biigtigong Nishnaabek (Pic River) Pow-wow

-July 6th – 8th – Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa

-July 13 – 15 – Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Annual Veteran’s Pow-wow

-July 13th to 15th – Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians Traditional Pow-wow

-July 20th – 22nd – Opwaaganisiniing Traditional Gathering (Red Rock Indian Band)

-August 4th & 5th – Michipicoten First Nation Annual Pow-wow

-August 10-12 – Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Pow-wow

-August 18th & 19th – Garden River First Nation Pow-wow

-August 24th – 26th – Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Manoomin Celebration Pow-wow

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Houghton Area Hammered


Flooding at Dodge Street, Houghton, Michigan, June 17, 2018

Informing All Watershed Residents

Michigan’s Houghton area, on the Keweenaw Peninsula, where the Portage Shipping Canal cuts completely across the peninsula, was heavily damaged by a storm which swept through the region between June 15th and 17th. Wisconsin and Minnesota were also impacted with heavy rain, hail and damaging winds. This is now old, but still vivid news to area residents, but the event echoes an earlier event which struck the Wisconsin/Michigan state line at Lake Superior in 2016. The July 11th, 2016 storm centered on Wisconsin’s Bad River and Saxon Harbor. Extensive damage, sunken vessels and even large boats dragged out and lost on Superior resulted from this storm.

Related July 14, 2016 Infosuperior Post: “SPECIAL REPORT: Severe Weather Hits Minnesota, Wisconsin

In addition to the extensive storm damage in both storms, there is one other strong similarity. Then, as now, even people very closely tuned to the lake, from other areas around Superior, didn’t know the storm had happened.  Days, even weeks after the event, if at all, people from “away,” learned the storm had taken place. Perhaps Infosuperior can play a small role by bringing news associated with the lake to all watershed residents.

Houghton Flood Damage
Flood damage in Houghton, Michigan. (Photo: abcnews.go.com)

Weather Warning

If you were at home, the weather warnings came through Minnesota Public Radio and other media on Saturday morning, June 16th. For those on the water, alerts also came through U.S. and Canadian Great Lakes marine weather forecasts. Those weren’t the only warnings though. For anyone really tuned in on or around the big water, even at extensive distance from the Houghton storm epicentre,  the lake had its own message to tell.

The lake was uneasy about the weather, and that wasn’t just some vague perception. You could see it. Kayaking the open waters of Superior, in flat calm, towards a narrow channel some 30 km./18 mi. east of Thunder Bay, Ontario at about 10 a.m. on Saturday, June 16th, there was no sense that the water was moving…or was there? Coming around a headland…wasn’t that a tiny swirl, like a miniature whirlpool?

A few minutes later, moving into a narrow channel where vast quantities of water are forced between an island and the mainland, a strong current was pouring over shallow rocks and obstacles as if it were part of a swift moving river…but this was a lake, not a fast moving river. A deep, low pressure system was in the Lake Superior region. The associated seiche, caused by air pressure imbalance, was telling anyone who could read the signs to be on the watch. Extreme weather was on the way.

Related July 27th, 2017 Infosuperior Article: “Silver Lining in a Seiche”

Houghton Flood Damage.
Houghton flood damage. (Photo: wzzm13.com)

Michigan Declares State of Disaster

While the above situation took place on the Canadian side of the lake, an area some 160 km./99 mi. to the south, was about to get hammered.  Up to 18 cm./7 in. of rain fell in a fairly localized area, causing Michigan Governor Rick Snyder to declare a state of disaster for Houghton and Menominee Counties on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Wisconsin and Minnesota were also impacted with heavy rain, hail and damaging winds lasting from June 15th through 17th.

The disaster declaration allows the affected area to get help from the National Guard, also triggering state resources. Homes and buildings across the region were flooded and dozens of roads washed out. At least three deaths were attributed to the storm. On June 18th, a 12 year old Houghton boy died as a result of a basement collapse resulting from flooding.

Damage in Houghton County alone was initially tallied at around $50 million, not including Michigan Department of Transport roads or Michigan Department of Natural Resources trails, which were also extensively damaged. In Houghton County, preliminary data indicates that four buildings were destroyed by the flood, 70 had major damage and 151 sustained minor damage. There were also 15 large road washouts, 28 medium washouts and almost a hundred minor washouts.

In Menominee, emergancy officials said that dozens of roads were under water during and after the storm, many farms damaged and trees downed. It took time to assess the extent of damage because many areas became inaccessible. All area swimming beaches were closed due to heavy bacterial contamination from stormwater runoff.

Muddy Stormwater Runoff
Muddy stormwater runoff to Lake Superior where the Portage Shipping Canal enters Lake Superior. (Photo: Neil Harri)

Great Lakes Conservation Corps Pitches In

In addition to all of the other state and municipal resources brought to bear, the non-profit Superior Watershed Partnership (SWP) deployed crews from the Great Lakes Conservation Corps (GLCC) to assist the flood-ravaged communities of the Keweenaw.  Sixteen GLCC crew members (4 crews) are assisting the communities of Houghton, Hancock and Ripley. The SWP deployed the first GLCC crews within 24-hours of the original storm event to help with disaster relief.

June 30th Daily Mining Gazette Article: Conservation Corps Workers Aid in Flood Relief

Other Storm Articles:

June 16th Fox UP Article/Video: Floods Devestate Houghton Business District

June 18th USA Today Article: Flash Flooding Wipes out Roads, Damages Buildings in Houghton, Michigan

June 18th Fox UP Article: Precautionary Beach Closures in Western UP

June 19th Stars and Stripes Article: Death, Washed-Out Roads Amid Flooding in Upper Mid-West.

June 20th MLive Article: Pilot Captures Dramatic Footage of U.P. Flooding

 

 

 

 

 

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Lake Superior Places: Rock Island Lodge

Lake Superior view at Rock Island Lodge.
The view of Lake Superior at Rock Island Lodge. (Photo: Lois Nuttall, nuttallphotos.com)

You’d swear you were on a rocky Isle Royale point in the middle of Lake Superior.

On a foggy day, when you enter the dining room, you stare out into the fog and the only thing you can see is a large navigation marker looming in the mist. You’d swear you were on a rocky Isle Royale point in the middle of Lake Superior. You can literally feel the lake around you. In fact, you’re not in the middle of the lake, you’re on an “island” on Lake Superior connected to the mainland by a narrow neck of land. This island is on the western side of the mouth of the Michipicoten River about 10 km./6 mi. from the town of Wawa, Ontario.

Michipicoten River mouth at Rock Island Lodge.
The Michipicoten River enters Lake Superior just behind this rocky outcropping at Rock Island Lodge. (Photo: Lois Nuttall, nuttallphotos.com)

…It is the Connect with the Lake that Makes this Facility Unique.

This is Rock Island Lodge and if you happen to be travelling around the lake, by vehicle or vessel, it is a place you want to see, or rather experience. Like other lodges and hotels around Lake Superior, the lodge offers accommodation and meals but that’s not what this article is about, and that’s not what the lodge is about either. Rather, it is the connect with the lake that makes this facility unique. You can sit out front of the lodge in the evening staring at a vast, uninterrupted stretch of Lake Superior, high hills in the distance. You simply won’t get any closer to the lake. In fact someone very close to the lake himself recently related to Infosuperior that this is the, “most beautifil place on Lake Superior.” That comment, from someone who has boated the lake extensively and lived very close to the lake since childhood. Infosuperior staff have visited Rock Island Lodge on two or three occasions and this was no news to them. The setting is stunning.

What makes the place unique is its setting. The lodge is situated at the very mouth of the Michipicoten River with Driftwood Beach just across the river. This beach is a breathtaking stretch of Lake Superior sand over two kilometers/1.24 mi in length, almost always entirely deserted. At the end of the beach closest to the lodge is a sandspit, stretching partially across the mouth of the river, appearing close enough to touch from the lodge. On the inland side of the spit the river forms a basin, providing calm, protected water, even when Superior is kicking up. The Michipicoten River is also accessible by larger boats. Buck’s Marina is located further up the river.

Paddles at Rock Island Lodge.
Paddling is a core activity at Rock Island Lodge. (Photo: Lois Nuttall, nuttallphotos.com)

Learning by Lake Superior

Rock Island Lodge, which also operates, “Naturally Superior Adventures,” makes use of this unique setting by offering a range of activities, most of which are connected to the lake. Paddling forms a core activity, both instruction and trips, in boats ranging from kayaks to voyageur canoes. Photography is another activity with  courses like, “Fall Gales Photography.” Most of the photographs utilized in this article were taken by photographer Lois Nutall during Naturally Superior’s 2018 “Superior Woods and Waters” seminar offered by James Smedley. Other activities include hiking, stand up paddle boarding, yoga, dance, or even a combination of activities, like hiking combined with photography.

Calm waters on the Michipicoten River, just inside the sand spit, provide a safe place to learn paddling skills. When conditions are right, kayakers can then venture onto Superior, with or without a guide, depending on level of experience. Naturally Superior Adventures also offers everything from day trips on the lower Michipicoten River through to multi-day paddling adventures. Trips include the Pukaskwa National Park coastline, Silver Islet to Rossport through the Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area, northward from the U.S/Canada border at Pigeon River, or another route of your choice.

Visitors Do Not Need to Take a Course or Participate in a Paddling Adventure

Rock Island Lodge is open from mid-May through October and visitors do not need to to take a course or participate in a paddling adventure to stay there. Contact the lodge in advance to check availability. There are four rooms only. This is not a luxury lodge and not meant to be so. Accommodation is great and included breakfasts are eaten around a large table in the dining room with other guests.  The dining room/common room is so close to the open waters of Superior that the lake really does seem, “in your face.” Mealtime banter may involve an eclectic mix of photographers and paddlers. Everyone is here for one reason and one reason only – Lake Superior. Conversation reflects this.

All rooms are just steps from Lake Superior and the Rock Island Lodge website states, “In autumn storm season, the building all but shakes in thundering surf.” Keep in mind though, that a nice time to visit Rock Island Lodge is high summer, when it is warm enough to sit out on the rocky peninsula in front of the lodge. Beach camping is also available, as is camping in a geodesic dome. Some lodge staff camp out all summer.

The turn-off to Rock Island Lodge is located approximately 5 km./3 mi. south of Wawa on the Trans-Canada Highway at Michipicoten River Village Road. Directions provided by the lodge’s website can direct you from there. The lodge is about 4 km./2.5 mi. from the highway. Be prepared for a ramble along side roads slowly winding down to Superior. Some of the roads are unsurfaced.

Kayakers at Rock Island Lodge
Kayakers enter the mouth of the Michipicoten River after a day of paddling on Lake Superior. Rock Island Lodge is in the background. (Photo: J. Bailey/infosuperior.com)

What Sets the Lodge Apart is its Proximity to the Open Waters of Superior and its Stunning Setting.

The website for the lodge states that, “David Wells purchased the 12 acres at the mouth of the Michipicoten River in 1994 with the dream of creating an environmentally responsible lodge and a world-class paddling centre.” The accommodation and meals at Rock Island Lodge are excellent but you can get those anywhere around the lake. What sets the lodge apart is its proximity to the open waters of Superior and its stunning setting. Just being there brings a close connection to the lake. If you choose to participate in any of the range of activities provided at the lodge, that lake connection is even closer.

It says at the top of our newsletters that, “Infosuperior fosters interest, knowledge and respect for Lake Superior, building broader public support for restoration and protection.” Its safe to say that Rock Island Lodge is doing just that.

 

 

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“Nurdles” Now Reported From U.S. Side

Lakewood Lane Beaches near Marquette, Michigan
Plastic pellets. or nurdles, are now being reported from the U.S. side of Lake Superior. Marquette, Michigan resident Dan Wiitala reports that he first observed large quantities of the nurdles on Lakewood Lane Beach near Marquette, Michigan (pictured) in May.

Previously reported from the Canadian side of Lake Superior, from Nipigon Bay eastward, nurdles are now being reported from the U.S. side of the Lake. Marquette resident Dan Wiitala recently contacted Infosuperior about nurdles on Lakewood Lane Beaches near Marquette, Michigan. Dan also contacted the Superior Watershed Partnership (SWP) about the sightings. Abbie Debiak of SWP has suggested that a Nipigon Bay nurdle spill resulting from a train wreck could be the source of these pellets.  Abbie notes the pellets match the size and colour of nurdles found in Nipigon Bay.

If you’ve been keeping up with our newsletter, you know by now what nurdles are: small white plastic pellets used to make larger plastic items. Nurdles are classified as microplastics under Canadian federal legislation. Nurdles spilled into Nipigon Bay from a derailed Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) train car on January 21, 2008. CPR cleaned-up the initial spill in February of 2008, but a significant portion of the nurdles were already taken up by the lake and have continued to be redistributed to Lake Superior beaches.

Dan Wiitala, who is in the field of environmental science and engineering, writes, “Something I am very curious about is if there are “plumes” of nurdles from that spill that are concentrated in various locations in the lake.  The nurdles that made it on to the south shore came in a very specific event (ice, wind, and wave driven) so it seems to me that they must have been concentrated off shore prior to getting beached – which makes me wonder if there are other concentrated plumes out there.  I would think the rail company would be willing to at least fund an investigation into the occurrence of these on the water and where the beach finds are, even if lake-wide remediation is not undertaken. I bet fisheries people would be very interested in all of this also.”

CPR conducted subsequent clean-ups on beaches at Mountain Bay and two off-shore islands in April and October of 2008. Further CPR cleanups were completed each year from 2009 to 2015. Parks Canada, with cooperation from Infosuperior, has lead cleanups that were carried out in 2017 and 2018, each collecting close to 200,000 nurdles. Amazingly, the nurdle pellets are still being spotted, most recently at Lakewood Lane Beach near Marquette, more than 200 km./124 mi. south of the original Nipigon Bay spill.

Here is a visual to give you an idea of how pervasive these little pellets are! These are the reported sightings that InfoSuperior has been made aware of thus far.

Infosuperior is endeavouring to get an idea of the distribution of nurdles throughout Lake Superior. If you see nurdles on the Lake Superior shoreline near you, please get in touch. Photos of the nurdles and/or photos “landmarking” the location would be helpful. We can be contacted at jfbailey at lakeheadu dot ca. We’re spelling out this address to avoid spam, which is attracted to email addresses posted on websites.)

Nurdles on Lakewood Lane Beach, Marquette.
Nurdles on Lakewood Lane Beach near Marquette, Michigan. July 2nd, 2018. Thanks to Dan Wiitala for getting in touch with Infosuperior and taking the time to supply this photo.

Related:

June 14th, 2018 Infosuperior Post: “Volunteers Collect Over 145,000 Lake Superior “Nurdles

Ooctober 1st, 2017 Infosuperior Post: “Nipigon Bay Beach Cleanup Nets Almost 200,000 “Nurdles

May 10th, 2016 Infosuperior Post: “Nipigon Nurdles Meeting Summary

April 26th, 2016 Infosuperior Post: “Nipigon Nurdles Issue Gains Traction

April 20th, 2016 Infosuperior Post: “Nurdles in Nipigon Bay: Local Microplastics Concerns

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