Lakes Article: Group
extends remarks period for lake study
State's only meeting in Superior, while
closest will be in Evanston
May 12, 2009
to public pressure, authors of a controversial study exploring the causes of mysteriously
low water on Lakes Michigan and Huron will postpone their July 1 deadline for
On May 1, a draft study was released that blames nature
- and not dredging - for erosion in the St. Clair River that has permanently lowered
On Tuesday, study spokesman John Nevin said the study board will
extend the comment period so the public has ample chance to review and comment
on the scientific reports, which should be released later this spring or early
summer after a peer-review process.
The public hearings begin next week,
but Wisconsin residents who live along Lake Michigan likely will have to travel
out of state to participate.
Wisconsin has 407 miles of Lake Michigan coastline,
and that coast is home to four of the state's five largest cities. Still, the
only meeting scheduled in Wisconsin will be in Superior, which sits on the shore
of Lake Superior.
"That's a crying shame that Wisconsin doesn't have
any real input unless we want to go across the lake or up to Superior," said
Jerry Viste of the Door County Environmental Council.
Only three hearings
will be held in communities on Lake Michigan, the closest to Milwaukee being Evanston,
Ill. That's the same number of hearings that will be held on or near Lake Superior
- even though Superior isn't the focus of this study at all. This study focuses
on water levels of Lakes Michigan and Huron, which are one body of water connected
at the Straits of Mackinac. The connection to Superior is that this study is the
first in a two-phase study taking a larger look at the "upper lakes."
are five meetings scheduled for communities on Lake Huron.
Nevin said cost
was a big factor in limiting how many hearings can be held, and that the hearings
will be taped and available over the Web, and that people can submit comments
There is significant interest in the issue in Wisconsin, as
evidenced by the 150 people who turned out to learn more about the issue at a
meeting in Sturgeon Bay last summer.
Nevin said late Tuesday afternoon that
more meetings could be added "if there are individuals or organizations unable
to comment via other means."
"In particular, given the high level
of interest expressed last year, a meeting (in) Door County might make a lot of
sense," he said.
While water in Lake Michigan this spring is rebounding
toward more normal levels, Viste said the unusually low water of the last decade
has people concerned.
"People who normally wouldn't give a damn are
now wondering what's happening," he said.
Nevin, who works for the
International Joint Commission, which is funding the $3.6 million study, said
the details of expanding the public comment period are still being worked out.
important message is that the study board is committed to making sure the public
has a reasonable period of time to review all the pending (scientific) reports,"
Members of the study board's citizen advisory panel have complained
that the study board released its findings - and its decision to do nothing about
the water loss - without providing the scientific reports used to reach their
conclusion. They called the 215-page study a "trust-me" document, and
the idea of holding a public comment period without making the science available
The new study concludes that about 4 inches of water
have been lost from Michigan and Huron in recent decades because of an expanding
St. Clair River.
It blames an ice jam in the 1980s for scouring away the
river bottom. It says the river channel has since stabilized, and that the water
loss is therefore not ongoing. It also says changing weather patterns and the
Earth's crust rebounding from the last ice age are affecting water levels.
previous privately financed study blamed Army Corps of Engineers dredging in the
1960s for unleashing lake-lowering erosion in the river, which is the main outflow
for Michigan and Huron. Members of the Canadian property owners group that funded
the initial study still maintain the water loss is more significant than the new
study states, and that it is likely ongoing.
At this point few others have
questioned the legitimacy of the Joint Commission-funded study's conclusions,
but lots of people do have a problem that the study was released without the scientific
reports that substantiate it.
Nevin said last week that the scientific reports
could not be released because they had yet to be peer reviewed.
the study was released before the promised peer reviews because the study board
was under political pressure to get the work out fast.