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Great Lakes Article:

Michigan has most Lake Michigan beaches without monitoring for taint of sewage
David Poulson
Lansing Bureau
Posted 10/31/2002

Eight of the nine Lake Michigan-bordered counties that do not regularly monitor public beaches for sewage contamination are in Michigan, according to a report released today.

Wisconsin has the only other county without regular testing of Lake Michigan beaches, said Laurel O'Sullivan, spokeswoman for the Chicago-based Lake Michigan Federation, a regional environmental group.

Indiana and Illinois are the other states bordering Lake Michigan.

The number of Lake Michigan beach closings in Michigan hit 15 during the past year, up from 14 the previous year, despite a small decrease in monitored counties. The four states combined for 897 Lake Michigan closings, the highest number since the federation began compiling the statistics in 1996.

Wisconsin had 396 closings, more than double the 156 in 2001, and Illinois had 427 compared with 339 the previous summer. Indiana dropped to 61 from the 92 reported the previous year.

"Michigan is staying steady," O'Sullivan said. "I think, however, without more comprehensive testing that it's going to be hard to determine exactly where Michigan is with beach health."

Beach closings result from sewage exposure and how aggressively health authorities monitor. Weather can make them fluctuate year to year: Heavy rains create sewer overflows, and extended warm temperatures speed the production of harmful bacteria that can sicken swimmers.

Despite the monitoring gap, the federation credited Michigan for having the region's best potential solution for addressing sewer problems that lead to the closings. Next Tuesday Michigan voters consider authorizing a $1 billion bond sale to finance low-interest loans for statewide sewer improvements.

"I think it provides a good model for other states to look to," O'Leary said. "It's exactly the kind of thing smaller communities with tight budgets can use to curb these problems."

State and local officials had hoped to close the gap on beach monitoring around the state with funding from the Clean Michigan Initiative, a $675 million bond voters approved in 1998 for a variety of environmental purposes.

Although $150,000 in grants had been earmarked for the effort last summer, treasury officials decided not to sell the bonds for fear of endangering the state's credit rating.

Just as local officials were gearing up for the height of swimming season, the state canceled the money, said Anne Brasie, director of the Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay, a nonprofit agency that in 2001 worked with local health officials to monitor Lake Michigan beaches in Grand Traverse, Benzie and Leelenau counties.

A repeat of a program that used bond money the previous year was canceled when the funding fell through.

"The unfortunate part is with that short of a notice you can't pull $25,000 out of a hat," Brasie said.

Whether Clean Michigan Initiative money will be available next summer is uncertain in light of the state's tight fiscal circumstances, said Dennis Bush, a Department of Environmental Quality toxicologist. But Michigan has landed a $280,000 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant that can be use to monitor Great Lakes beaches.

The federation reported that public beaches on Lake Michigan are not regularly monitored in Oceana, Mason, Manistee, Delta, Menominee, Benzie, Leelenau and Mackinaw counties. Counties that regularly monitor Lake Michigan beaches are Ottawa, Allegan, Berrien, Grand Traverse, Van Buren, Charlevoix, Emmet and Antrim. Many counties without regular programs do monitor when they suspect a sewer problem.

The group reported these Lake Michigan beach closings in Michigan for the past summer:

  • Allegan County: Westside County Park for one day.

  • Berrien County: Warren Dunes State Park, Weko Beach, Jean Klock Park and Tiscornia Park for one day each.

  • Grand Traverse County: West End Beach, Bryant Park and Clinch Park Beach were closed for two days each.

  • Van Buren County: Covert Park was closed for four days.

Contact David Poulson at (517) 487-8888 or e-mail him at dpoulson@boothnewspapers.com.


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