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Great Lakes Article:

Team will address beach bacteria source
Paul Brinkmann
Green-Bay Press-Gazette

STURGEON BAY - Door County will launch an effort to begin tracking Lake Michigan bacteria sources, County Conservationist William Schuster said Thursday.

“We’re looking for experts to help us with the characterization of our beaches and source identification (of bacteria),” Schuster said Thursday.

Local, state and federal officials from Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin have been invited to advise the informal effort, which has no name, Schuster said. The group will hold its first meeting Wednesday in Manitowoc. Schuster said no politicians will attend and the meeting is not open to the public.

“This is about finding a methodology to help us track the source. It’s science,” he said.

Schuster revealed the new effort during a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources public hearing on beach monitoring Thursday at Sturgeon Bay High School. About 60 people attended the open hearing, which was the second in two days in Northeastern Wisconsin.

Many public comments centered on finding a source of bacteria. Mary Ellen Ranney of Green Bay suggested suing cities that discharge sewage into the lake, a widely suspected source of bacteria on beaches.

Other suggestions at the hearing included:

• Setting up a limited-range radio station — like those found in many national parks — in southern Door County to warn motorists of beach problems.

• Monitoring inland lake beaches as well as the lakeshore. DNR representatives said their current federal funding doesn’t address inland lakes.

• Extending the testing program beyond Labor Day, when many local residents still swim.

• Testing the genetic nature of bacteria to determine its source. DNR representatives said such tests would be expensive and again, are not covered under the federal program.

Many members of the public also answered questionnaires about which beaches in Door County are high priorities. Whitefish Dunes State Park Beach and Nicolet Beach in Peninsula State Park were consistently noted as among the more important.

The DNR will use the information to formulate the state’s plan for beach monitoring, which is required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the federal BEACH Act, where the county’s grant money for testing comes from.

Toni Glymph, DNR environmental toxicologist, said she will use the comments to determine how much grant money Door County will receive.

The county health department has requested $79,000 for a monitoring program to be run by University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh graduate students using sewage treatment labs in Ephraim and Sturgeon Bay.

County officials have been frustrated that the BEACH Act money addresses only testing and not a source. But the testing data could be used to track a source later.

The group that will convene in Manitowoc Wednesday will seek help from experts that have already studied bacteria sources in Milwaukee, Racine, Chicago and other areas.

The Door County Soil and Water Conservation Department intends to catalog the exact geography and environmental factors that could influence bacteria levels on every county beach.

They may also request that testing data include such factors as weather conditions and amount of shorebirds present to feed into a database.

Jamie Corbisier, a conservationist in Schuster’s department, said the office has invited the Lake Michigan Federation, The Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute, officials with the U.S. Geological Survey in Indiana, the Milwaukee County Health Department, the Wisconsin Coastal Management Program, and other experts.

No matter how the tests are conducted, the EPA is committed to providing money for beach testing until at least 2005, allowing for at least three years of testing data, Glymph said.

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