State auctions mineral rights, state rep. asks for disclosure on mining chemicals

Michigan State Rep. Lisa Brown, D-West Bloomfield, has been concerned about what goes into the ground when companies drill to get gas out. And when property in her own county, Oakland, went up for sale in yesterday’s state mineral rights auction of more than 100,000 acres, she decided to ask that the public be informed about it.

Brown introduced House Bill 5565, which would require companies drilling for gas in Michigan to disclose what chemicals they are using in the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, process. The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Energy and Technology.

“This wouldn’t prohibit companies from fracking,” Brown said. “It would just require disclosure before they could put the chemicals into the ground, and whether the process is the least dangerous way to get the gas, and if it’s not, they’d have to say why they’re not using the least dangerous way.”

The bill would also allow for public comment, which is not required now.

Not that the public has remained silent on the issue. Yesterday, environmental groups around the state engaged in protests, concerned over fracking in the Great Lakes State (The Great Lakes are the largest supply of fresh ground water in the world).

Closer to home, Brown said she’s concerned because even though Oakland County is population-dense, many residents in her district are still using well water, particularly in Commerce Township.

“This legislation would protect everyone. It would protect people, and it would protect the companies. If they have disclosed what chemicals they’re using, and the chemicals aren’t dangerous, they couldn’t be held liable later on,” Brown said.

It would also allow for trade secrets to be protected, something that opponents of disclosure have voiced concern about.

She said that she hopes that all of her colleagues and the governor, regardless of their political leanings, would be in favor of the bill.

“We talk about transparency and accountability all the time in Lansing. People in both parties say it’s important,” Brown said. “I’m trying to promote that.”

Michigan Department of Natural Resources spokesman Ed Golder said that in yesterday’s auction, the state leased 91,225 acres in 23 counties, for a total of $4,118,848, or an average of about $39.90 per acre. He described it as a fairly normal auction. In May 2010, the state brought in a record-breaking $178 million, or $1,500 per acre.

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Cox takes aim at carp yet again

Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox has filed a renewed motion with the U.S. Supreme Court for a  preliminary injunction to close Chicago-area locks because of new information that became available after the Court denied the original motion on Jan. 19. 

Cox pointed to eDNA tests showing evidence of Asian carp in Lake Michigan that was available three days before the Court made its decision but not provided by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers until afterward.

“We think the Court should take another look at our request to hit the pause button on the locks until the entire Great Lakes region is comfortable that an effective  plan is in place to stop Asian carp,” Cox said in a statement.  “While we would like to see significant and immediate action as a result of next week’s meeting between the governors and  administration, that is an unknown at this time, so our battle to protect the Lakes will continue.”

Michigan’s request to reopen the “Chicago Diversion” case, supported by Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and the Province of Ontario, remains before the Supreme Court and briefs are due by February 19.  That request seeks a long-term solution to the crisis that will protect the ecology and economy of the Great Lakes.

Cox also called on President Barack Obama to step in to at least temporarily close the locks.

Asian carp target of lawsuit

The Detroit Free Press reports that Attorney General Mike Cox has ratcheted up the war on the potential Asian carp invasion into the Great Lakes. 

You may remember, these are voracious, up to 100-pound carp that can be expected eat our domestic species out of house and home. They are a highly acrobat ic fish that can jump into boats, endangering boaters. They are a lose-lose for the entire Great Lakes ecosystem, and those who say Cox is overreacting, just think zebra mussels only 100 times worse.

Great Lakes beach-walking rights still clear as mud

It’s been three years since the Michigan Supreme Court, in Glass v. Goeckel, famously clarified the public’s right to walk along Great Lakes shorelines and left murky just where the walking can take place.

When beachfront property on navigable water is privately owned, the Glass court explained, the owner has littoral title to the water’s edge, but the public trust doctrine allows individuals to walk along the beach within the “ordinary high water mark.” And where’s that? Justice Maura Corrigan, who wrote the lead opinion in Glass, borrowed a definition from the state of Wisconsin and said it’s where:

“[T]he presence and action of the water is so continuous as to leave a distinct mark either by erosion, destruction of terrestrial vegetation, or other easily recognized characteristic.”

Where is the "ordinary high water mark?" It is the debris washed up in the foreground? What about the bluff and tree line in the distance?

Where is the ordinary high water mark? Is it the debris washed up in the foreground? What about the bluff and tree line in the distance?

Got it? Me neither. Don’t feel bad. A lot of other folks don’t get it, either. Almost everyone would have got what Justice Stephen Markman argued for in vain: walking is okay where the sand is wet. What the lead opinion offered, huffed Markman, was “essentially undecipherable.” No hyper-technical arguments, please, about what percentage of sand moisture content constitutes “wet.”

But despite the confusion about where you can walk, you have to keep moving. Beach walking is protected, not beach gawking.

This beach walker on Lake Superior just east of Marquette is probably in the right spot.

This beach walker on Lake Superior just east of Marquette is probably in the right spot.

In Leelanau County, where beach walking is a secondary form of recreation, the first being tasting the latest vintages from the area’s many outstanding wineries, Leland Township officials are dealing with two issues.

First, a lot of roads end at Lake Michigan. In Leland Township, a public right-of-way extends from the road end to the water’s edge. People hang out there in the sand. These public beaches are frequently hemmed in by privately owned land. Second, there’s all that Lake Michigan shoreline available to walkers under Glass, and readily accessible from the public right-of way.

The inevitable conflicts have developed.

The solution is new signs, say Township Supervisor Harry Larkin and Clerk Jane Keen. “Our old signs said it was illegal to walk along the shoreline outside of the public right-of-way,” Keen told The Leelanau Enterprise.

Glass took care of that and the old signs belatedly came down last summer.

“The problem with the ruling, at least in the eyes of Keen and Larkin, is the high water mark is not easily determined or marked on each private beach.
“‘I had one lady insist the tree line on the beach is the ordinary high water mark,’ Keen said.”

But that’s not a bad argument under the Glass Court’s definition.

So, here’s Leland Township’s new approach.

“Township signs will state the public right-of-way is 60 feet wide and runs from the road end to the water’s edge. The area is considered public, and fire rings will be placed so people may build fires. The signs will also state the property outside the right-of-way is private, and to respect the private property owners’ rights as well.”

The signs won’t have any guidance about beach walking.

It’s going to take an overreaching beach walker, a crabby property owner, a befuddled sheriff called to issue a trespassing ticket and another climb up the appellate ladder to flesh things out.