My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

Another Enbridge oil spill and other updates

There have been a few new developments relating to the Enbridge pipeline that ruptured last year, spilling over 800,000 gallons of crude oil into a small creek that feeds the Kalamazoo River.

One is that Enbridge has missed a deadline for cleaning up at least some of the spill. According to the story I read about it, the EPA isn’t too concerned about the fact the deadline was missed. There have been many unforeseen problems in dealing with this spill, I am not sure, but I believe it is the largest oil spill in freshwater in history. Just this last spring, the EPA announced that the clean up was almost done, and that they would be re-opening the river for recreational use. Then they found that large amounts of the crude oil had sunk to the bottom of the river and had collected there. Normally crude oil floats, but because of the grade of crude that spilled, and the fact that it is in freshwater has meant that both Enbridge and the officials overseeing the clean up have been learning as they go along.

On a spill of this magnitude, I would think that any deadlines would be at least somewhat arbitrary anyway. It isn’t as if a spill of this type happens everyday, thank goodness, and we really don’t want to flood a river with oil now and then for clean up crews to practice on, or to learn how crude oil reacts in every type of water. As long as Enbridge is doing what it takes to do the job right and clean up all the oil, then I guess that’s all we can ask for.

The poor Kalamazoo River, I think it is the most heavily polluted river in southwestern Michigan. For over two hundred years, man has done his best to destroy the river, and it keeps bouncing back. The Enbridge oil spill occurred upstream of the city of Battle Creek, but several stretches of the river below Kalamazoo are, or were, EPA Superfund sites due to PCB contamination from the old paper mills that used the river as a dump. I have never canoed or kayaked the stretch of the river where the oil spill occurred, there are too many dams too close together to make for an enjoyable float of the length I normally do. I have floated the Kalamazoo River from downtown Kalamazoo all the way to where it empties into Lake Michigan, and like all rivers, it deserves better than we have given it. Nearly a dozen dams impeded its flow, a few have been removed, but many still remain.

A good source of information for you if you are interested in floating the Kalamazoo River is the Kalamazoo River Heritage Water Trail website. Maybe I’ll get around to posting some more information from my trips kayaking the Kalamazoo River soon. If you like doing the occasional larger river as I do, you will love it, especially the portion of the river that flows through the Allegan State Game Area. The sad thing is that before you set out to float the Kalamazoo, you have to check to see if the stretch of the river you are planning on floating is open or not. The stretch of river where the oil spill happened is closed until further notice, but there are also parts of the river farther downstream are closed to recreational users when the EPA is working to clean up the PCBs or is in the process of removing one of the dams slated for removal. I have no idea how much work remains to be done downstream from the oilspill, but I did read that Georgia Pacific was finally going to get around to capping two landfills in Kalamazoo that were leaching PCBs into the river. For more information about what the EPA is doing along the Kalamazoo River, you can follow this link.

Since  the deadline from the last clean up plan has been missed, Enbridge now has to formulate a new clean up plan and submit it to the EPA for approval. I am fairly certain the clean up will continue during this process, but it still irks me that this game has to be played. It isn’t just Enbridge and this spill, it is what happens in many instances the way our environmental laws are written. A company has to come up with a plan and submit it to the correct government agency, which then has to review the plan, and either approve or reject it.

If the plan is approved, all is well and good, but if it is rejected, the same process is repeated, maybe several times. Needless to say, the process never plays out quickly. It would seem to me that it would be much quicker to have the two sides sit down to hash out and approve a plan together. The government officials have a general idea what they want the plan to be going in, so why play this silly game all the time? If the company involved is dragging its feet or refuses to do what needs to be done, then take it to court and let a judge decide.

Maybe that wouldn’t work after all. The lower Kalamazoo River is a perfect example of how not to get things done. There has been decades of plan submissions, rejections, legal wranglings, and all the while, pollutants continue to leach into the river, making the eventual clean up even more costly. It makes no sense to me.

In other related news, Enbridge has received permission to begin replacing the pipeline that burst, they are in the process of replacing several five mile long sections of the pipeline at this time, including the stretch where the pipeline broke. Enbridge was already in the planning stages of replacing sections of the pipeline before it burst, it is a shame they didn’t get around to it sooner, and then none of this would have happened.

There has still been no word from the Federal Agency investigating the break as to what caused it in the first place, eight months after they promised a report, and well over a year since the pipeline broke.

In my last update on this, I wrote that Enbridge was working with the Michigan DNR and local officials in the Pigeon River Country, installing new equipment and holding training sessions for emergency responders so that something like this will never happen in the PRC. I also wrote that I thought that Enbridge was doing the same in other areas, but that I wasn’t positive of that, now I am. In the latest newsletter from the Anglers of the Au Sable, they reported that Enbridge is installing new safety equipment on a pipeline they operate that crosses the Au Sable River. Enbridge is also holding training sessions with first responders in that location as well.

The purpose of my writing this is not to do damage control for Enbridge, but to point out that once in a while there is a company willing to do the right thing. I have no illusions that Enbridge is taking the steps that it is in other locations for any other than for financial reasons. They have learned the hard way that prevention is the best medicine, and that it is better to spend some money up front than it is to wait until the worst happens and deal with it then. If it hadn’t been for the Kalamazoo River spill, I seriously doubt that Enbridge would be doing what it is to prevent future spills. No matter what their motivation is, at least they are taking the right course of action as of now. If that changes, I’ll be one of the first calling for swift and harsh retribution.

On the other hand, I can’t help but to contrast the way Enbridge is dealing with its mistake and the way that Golden Lotus is dealing with the issue of removing the dam that it operates on the Pigeon River that has been the cause of two major fishkills in the Pigeon River. I am not going to type out the entire story again here, if you’re interested, you can read some of my earlier posts about it here, and here. There’s not much news to report on that front. Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning Ranch filed an appeal of Judge Murphy’s order requiring full removal of the dam, that appeal was thrown out as entirely without merit or some equally as strong legal language, I have forgotten the exact phrase the Judge used in dismissing the appeal.

Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning backed themselves into the corner they are in, there would have been money from several sources available to aid them in removing the dam, if it wasn’t being done under a court order. Now that a judge has ordered the dam to be removed, Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning has to foot the entire bill.

One more bit of news, the public comment period is now open for the land use plan being reformulated by the US Forest Service for the Huron-Manistee National Forest. I first posted about this subject here. As a result of a lawsuit, the Forest Service was ordered to reconsidered a land use plan they had finalized in 2006. The point of contention is that the Forest Service plan allows hunting and snowmobiling on too much of the Nation Forest land for one person’s liking. Here’s a link to another news story about this.

Comments about the proposed plans can be mailed to Huron-Manistee National Forests, ATTN Kenneth Arbogast, 1755 S. Mitchell St., Cadillac, MI, 49601. They can also be faxed to (231) 775-5551 or emailed to comments-eastern-huron-manistee@fs.fed.us. Comments will be accepted through Dec. 21.

I think that’s about all for now. So much news, so little time for blogging about it all. I have several posts in the works about land use and related  issues, but they continue to grow in length with each new story I read. It seems like we are headed for a time when each individual has a small piece of public land where they can do exactly what they want, since no one seems to be willing to share public lands with other users any longer.

As always, thanks for stopping by to read my little rants.

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2 responses

  1. Northern Narratives

    Very interesting. Thank you for the update.

    October 23, 2011 at 3:46 pm

  2. Pingback: Saturday morning musings « Quietsolopursuits's Blog