Wisconsin

Toledo Blade: Congressmen, ELPC, Demand Faster Action on Asian Carp

 
Congressmen Demand Faster Action on Asian Carp
by Tom Henry

Twenty-six members of Congress — including U.S. Reps. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), Bob Latta (R., Bowling Green), Tim Walberg (R., Tipton), and Debbie Dingell (D., Dearborn) — have joined numerous other elected officials in demanding more aggressive action from the Army Corps of Engineers against destructive Asian carp threatening to enter the Great Lakes near Chicago.

A bipartisan letter submitted Friday said the congressmen are firmly holding the Corps to an early 2019 deadline for completing the most crucial report to date for a long-term fix, called the Brandon Road Lock & Dam Study.

It affects the future of the Brandon Road lock near Joliet, Ill., and the series of Chicago-area waterways that artificially connect the Mississippi River and Great Lakes basins. That connection, made in the early 1900s, has made it possible for invasive carp moving north along the Mississippi to someday enter the Great Lakes via Lake Michigan.

The letter, submitted on the final day the Corps was accepting formal comments to its tentatively selected plan, mirrors one submitted earlier by several U.S. senators from the Great Lakes area, including Rob Portman (R., Ohio) and Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.), co-chairs of the Senate Great Lakes Task Force, and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio), U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D., Mich.), and senators from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and New York who are members of that task force.

“Current estimates show it will take as long as eight years to have a barrier installed at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam — a time frame which is unacceptable,” Miss Kaptur said. “With the Asian carp on the doorstep of our region’s most vital natural resource, we have a small window of opportunity to stop this invasive species. Once the Asian carp are in the Great Lakes, it will be too late to stop the destruction they will cause.”

The Corps is looking at fortifying electric barriers and taking other measures to thwart the movement of carp and other exotics. But it has said it is unlikely to act on several measures before 2025, a timeline that senators and now congressmen have said is unacceptable.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, a 2018 gubernatorial candidate, likewise joined the fray late last week by telling the Corps in his formal comments that it should close the Brandon Road lock while also recognizing its obligation to meet previously agreed-upon deadlines.

While the Corps has tentatively selected a plan that uses electrical fences, noise, and water jets to keep out invasive species, Mr. DeWine and the large contingent of congressional members believe that doesn’t go far enough — especially after reports in June of a silver Asian carp found 9 miles from Lake Michigan, beyond the electric barriers.

The attorney general said the Corps should implement the lock closure alternative, which will be the most effective and cheapest to construct.

The Chicago-area decision affects Ohio because Lake Erie is the epicenter of the Great Lakes region’s $7 billion fishery, valued at more than all commercial and recreational fishing in U.S. waters along the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and the Gulf of Mexico.

More fish are spawned and caught in Lake Erie than the other four Great Lakes combined.

Researchers have said Ohio’s tourism and recreation industries would greatly suffer if Asian carp found their way to western Lake Erie.

Mr. DeWine also encouraged the Corps to work on plans for a multibillion-dollar, complete hydrologic separation of the Mississippi River and Great Lakes basins to block the spread of Asian carp.

A contingent of five major environmental groups — the Alliance for the Great Lakes, the Environmental Law & Policy Center, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Prairie Rivers Network, and the Illinois chapter of the Sierra Club — also demanded a more aggressive response from the Corps via 21 pages of joint comments submitted Friday.

“Now is the time for all effective and necessary action steps,” Howard Learner, executive director of the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center, said. “Further delays risk Asian carp getting into Lake Michigan while the Army Corps is fiddling. Prevention solutions now are wise investments.”

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Great Lakes Now: ELPC’s Learner Tells US Army Corps to Stop Fiddling, Act Fast on Asian Carp Report

Pace of Asian Carp Plan “taking far too long”
Michigan Senators Critical of Timetable

by Gary Wilson

The debate about how to stop Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes hit another milestone last week as the Army Corps of Engineers’ extended comment period on a potential solution came to a close.

The controversy is now in its second decade.

The opportunity to comment was expanded to accommodate a previously unscheduled session in New Orleans. The extension angered Michigan Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters who say the “process is taking far too long.”

The Corps has been seeking public input on its plan, known as the Brandon Road Lock study, since September. If implemented, the plan would provide a suite of options to keep carp out of the Great Lakes.

in a letter to the Corps, Stabenow and Peters questioned why the New Orleans meeting wasn’t scheduled earlier.

The Brandon Road Lock, 50 miles from Lake Michigan, near Joliet, Illinois, is thought to be a choke point for stopping Asian carp.

But the final Army Corps report isn’t due until August of 2019, and Stabenow and Peters want that date moved up by eight months to January.

The senators expressed frustration that the Trump administration had delayed release of the report early in 2017.

Illinois Lt. Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti called for the report to be delayed in a column published in the Chicago Tribune in early 2017. Shipping interests in Illinois have lobbied against the Army Corps plan.

In their letter, Stabenow and Peters also questioned the Corps’ economic analysis of the impact of Asian carp on the Great Lakes.

“The (Army Corps) should not ignore the impact of Asian carp on several important industries – including recreation and tourism – or the economic impacts to the other Great Lakes besides Lake Erie,” the senators wrote.

Lake Erie’s fishery is the largest in the Great Lakes and thought to be the most vulnerable to an Asian carp invasion.

In a similar letter to the Army Corps, 28 members of the U.S. House from the Great Lakes region called for the original project timeline to be followed.

“Fiddling”

Input from environmental groups followed previously held positions but also sought to spotlight economic impacts.

Howard Learner said in a statement released to Great Lakes Now that the Army Corps’ proposals are a “starter.”

But Learner said they are “short of what’s needed to avoid the economic and ecological disaster if our public officials don’t prevent Asian Carp from entering the Great Lakes.”

He accused the Corps of “fiddling,” which would lead to additional delays.

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Chicago Sun-Times Editorial: Toxic Leak into Lake Michigan Should Not Have Been a Secret. ELPC’s Learner says “The EPA is supposed to play the role of watchdog.”

 

Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board

Toxic Leak into Lake Michigan Should Not Have Happened

It’s a new day for the environment, and not in a hopeful sense.

A steel company’s request to Indiana authorities for “confidential treatment” when it dumped toxic metal into Lake Michigan last month is a worrisome sign that under the Trump administration we will be told less and less about threats to our environment.

Everyone, from environmental activists to ordinary Chicagoans who care about the safety of their drinking water, had better become much more vigilant.

The request came from U.S. Steel in an Oct. 31 letter to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management after chromium leaked on Oct. 25 from a company facility on the shore of Lake Michigan. Just six months earlier, a similar leak from the same plant fouled a river tributary that feeds into the lake.

The request for secrecy — to keep you in the dark — apparently worked. A Chicago Tribune review of online press releases shows that neither state officials nor the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency informed the public about the potentially hazardous leak.

The critical importance of leveling with the public in such matters also is illustrated by a new Better Government Association review and Associated Press investigate report of leaks from local nuclear power plants. The BGA and AP learned that radioactive material continues to leak from Exelon’s Illinois nuclear power plants. The leaks were properly reported, but we now are confronted by an EPA boss, Scott Pruitt, who takes a skeptical view of environment protections. We have less confidence that Pruitt’s EPA will partner with the public, and not with the despoilers of the environment, when such leaks occur.

According to the BGA report, radioactive waste continues to leak from the nuclear power plants more than a decade after chronic leaks led to a $1.2 million government settlement and the company promised to guard against future accidents. Exelon says the amounts were too little to be a health risk, but the leaks remind us our air and water can quickly become tainted to the point of hazard. We need both industry and authorities to be in the vanguard of protecting the environment.

Clearly, we all deserve to know promptly whenever there is a leak of toxic industrial substances that could endanger public health. In the case of U.S. Steel’s recent leak of chromium, the Halloween Day letter surfaced only because it was seen by law students from the University of Chicago who were tracking pollution violations. If data about the leak had been released promptly, independent scientists could have assessed it and made recommendations. That is how the public is protected.

Why didn’t U.S. Steel or the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, an agency considered lax by environmentalists, inform the public? Why didn’t U.S. Steel report the  leak to the National Response Center, which keeps local officials posted about spills and leaks? Embarrassment is not a sufficient reason for secrecy.

Howard A. Learner, president and executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said the handling of the U.S. Steel leak is a sign that the EPA under Pruitt is signaling to companies that it is indifference to such environmental threats.

“The message coming from Pruitt is to lay off industry,” Learner said. “The EPA is supposed to play the role of watchdog, or the cop on the block, that leads people to be more careful.”

We pay for cops to deter crime in our city, and we pay federal inspectors and scientists to keep monitor spills and leaks that might endanger our health.

When it comes to our environment, the Trump administration is sending ominous signals.

READ HERE

 

NW Indiana Times: Feds Agree with ELPC & Reject Great Lakes Basin Rail Application

By Andrew Steele

The federal Surface Transportation Board has rejected Great Lakes Basin Transportation’s application to build and operate a 261-mile freight railroad from LaPorte County to southeast Wisconsin.

“GLBT has failed to provide the board with accurate financial information upon which the board can rely to make a determination on the transportation merits of the project,” the STB stated in its decision, dated Wednesday.

Financial statements that GLBT provided in June show the company had $802,000 in accounts payable as of Dec. 31, and investors owned $473,573 in common stock.

But, the STB observed, “The balance sheet … contains an unexplained line item for ‘net income’ (amounting to negative $1,203,545) that appears to account for a substantial difference between its assets and its liabilities and stockholders’ equity.”

Further, “GLBT’s current assets of $151 are so clearly deficient for purposes of constructing a 261-mile rail line that the board will not proceed with this application given the impacts on stakeholders and the demands upon board resources,” the STB ruled.

Company attorney Michael Blaszak said Thursday that GLBT “is assessing its options with respect to the board’s decision today and will have no further comment on the decision.”

Railroad officials have said in the past they can’t secure funding commitments from investors without STB approval of the project, hence the limited amount of current resources.

Plans for the Great Lakes Basin Railroad call for 244 miles of mainline track and 17 miles of branch lines, including one connecting with the Chicago South Shore & South Bend Railroad at Kingsbury. The railroad would have 26 connections to other railroads, including two in Lake County and six in Porter and LaPorte counties.

The railroad would be able to handle as many as 110 trains per day for various-length trips along its three-state path, according to the GLBT application.
The construction cost was estimated at $2.8 billion.

The line would allow trains passing through Chicago to avoid congestion there, an opportunity GLBT officials said ensured its viability.

“A freight train can take 30 hours — more during periods of severe weather — to pass through the Chicago area, resulting in added inventory cost for shippers, suboptimal equipment utilization, air pollution, delayed passenger trains and billions of dollars in wasted productivity,” GLBT stated in its application.

Frank Patton founded Great Lakes Basin Transportation in 2011. An environmental review process, overseen by the STB, began last year, but was suspended in December at the request of GLBT so it could concentrate on completing the application. The STB decision officially discontinues the environmental review.

Opponents of the freight rail project expressed their satisfaction in the hours after the the decision was published.

Porter County Commissioner Laura Blaney, D-South, said cooperation among elected officials and organized citizens was key.

“(U.S. Rep. Pete) Visclosky ensured all residents had scoping meetings in their counties, our state legislators updated our antiquated eminent domain laws creating a level playing field, various local governments including the Porter County Commissioners passed resolutions stating concerns, and our citizens banded together to create a strong grassroots effort and the best decision for the most people was made,” she said via email.

Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said “the board made a very sensible, very clear decision.”

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The Detroit News: ELPC’s Learner says “This isn’t the Time for Halfway Measures” to Protect the Great Lakes from Asian Carp

The Detroit News

Army Corps Unveils $275 Million Plan to Battle Asian Carp
By Melissa Nann Burke

Environmental groups and Gov. Rick Snyder demanded immediate action on Monday after the Trump administration released a long-awaited report on a $275 million plan to control the invasive Asian carp before it reaches the Great Lakes.

The report by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lays out tentative measures that include installing a new electric barrier to repel or stun the destructive fish and underwater speakers generating “complex noise” to deter them from traveling beyond the lock and dam at Brandon Road near Joliet, Illinois. It came after five months of prodding from bipartisan members of the Michigan delegation and others.

The Army Corps stopped short of recommending closure of the Brandon Road lock, citing the potential economic impact on the barge and shipping industry.

Snyder said Monday that steps laid out in the report “must be taken” to stop the advancing Asian carp, calling for “immediate, decisive action.”

“It is time for all the Great Lakes states and Canadian provinces — and all who care about the lakes — to come together to demand action at Brandon Road Lock and Dam, a critical pinch point for stopping invasive carp,” he said.

But construction is likely years away. The agency will collect public comments for 45 days, then begin a feasibility study, followed by reviews by federal and state agencies and a Chief of Engineers report, which is not expected until August 2019.

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Associated Press: ELPC’s Learner says It’s “Time for Serious Preventative Actions to Keep Asian Carp Out of the Great Lakes”

Report Proposes Steps to Keep Asian Carp out of Great Lakes
By John Flesher

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — A federal report released Monday proposes a $275 million array of technological and structural upgrades at a crucial site in Illinois to prevent invasive Asian carp from reaching the Great Lakes and its vulnerable fish populations.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers outlined its tentative plan in a report that had been scheduled for release in February but was delayed by the Trump administration, drawing criticism from members of Congress and environmental groups.

It analyzes options for upgrading the Brandon Road Lock and Dam near Joliet, a complex on the Des Plaines River southwest of Chicago that is considered a bottleneck where defenses could be strengthened to prevent carp populations in the Mississippi River watershed from migrating into Lake Michigan.

Scientists say if the large, voracious carp become established in the Great Lakes, they could devastate the region’s $7 billion fishing industry by crowding out native species.

The Army corps said the plan outlined in the 488-page document is intended to block the path of invasive species “while minimizing impacts to waterway uses and users.” Elected officials and business leaders in Illinois and Indiana have said that significant changes to the Brandon Road complex could hamper cargo shipment on the busy waterway.

Among technologies the report endorses is using sound systems to create “complex noise” underwater that would deter fish from the Brandon Road area, plus installing a new approach channel and placing an electric barrier at its downstream end that would repel fish and stun them if they get too close. Brandon Road is several miles downstream from an existing barrier network.

Other measures would include installing water jets to wash away “small and stunned fish” that might be caught up around barges, plus a new lock where floating invasive species could be flushed away.

The report says the federal government would pay 65 percent of the costs project’s costs, with the rest coming from a “non-federal sponsor.”

The corps will take public comments on the report until Sept. 21. After a feasibility study and series of federal and state reviews, a final report is scheduled for release in August 2019. Congressional approval and funding would be required to get construction underway.

“The Army Corps report makes clear that it’s time for serious preventative actions to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center. “The ecological and economic costs of further delays are not sensible or acceptable.”

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Toledo Blade: Report Proposes Plan to Deter Asian Carp From Entering Great Lakes

Report Proposes Plan to Deter Asian Carp From Entering Great Lakes
by Tom Henry

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is recommending the electrical barrier near Chicago that has been used to deter Asian carp from entering Lake Michigan be augmented with complex noise, water jets, an engineered channel, and other structural improvements such as a flushing lock, and a mooring area.

The Corps is not recommending a complete separation of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River watersheds, as many Great Lakes scientists and policy-makers, such as Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) have urged for years to provide optimal protection for the region’s $7 billion fishery. The issue has long pitted the Chicago-area shipping industry and Lake Erie sportsmen. The shipping industry wants the status quo while Lake Erie – which spawns more fish than the rest of the Great Lakes combined – could have the most to lose if Asian carp are able to colonize the lake system, regardless of the entry point.

The long-awaited, 488-page Corps report went online Monday at http://bit.ly/2vIibCN. Miss Kaptur pushed for its release after the Great Lakes congressional delegation learned the study was completed in early 2017 but that the Trump administration was keeping it from being made public.

Six alternatives were considered.

The Corps would pay for 65 percent of the estimated $275 million of work outlined, or $179 million. The other $96 million would be paid by non-federal sources. The focus area for the work is the Brandon Road Lock and Dam near Joliet, Ill.

In its report, the Corps called its plan the “Technology Alternative – Complex Noise with Electric Barrier” plan.

That option is recommended “because it meets the project objective by reducing the risk of Mississippi River basin [aquatic invasive species] establishment in the Great Lakes basin to the maximum extent possible, and it provides for continued navigation,” the Corps said in its report, adding that the plan “will be most effective if the electric dispersal barrier operates continuously at optimal parameters to deter fish.”

The Corps is taking comments on its recommendation until Sept. 21. It is making plans for two public meetings.

On June 22, a silver Asian carp – the type so sensitive to boat motor vibrations they flop out of water – was found nine miles from Lake Michigan near the T.J. O’Brien Lock and Dam, upstream from a series of electrical barriers designed to keep it out.

Howard Learner, Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center director, said the report “makes clear it’s time for serious preventative actions to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes.”

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Christian Science Monitor: Battle Over the Clean Water Rule; What’s at Stake?

Christian Science Monitor

Battle over the Clean Water Rule: What’s at stake?

By Amanda Paulson

Just who gets to regulate America’s many seasonal streams and wetlands?

That’s a question that has long been contentious.

At the end of June, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt formally proposed revoking the Obama-era Clean Water Rule, also known as the “Waters of the US” rule, or WOTUS.

Mr. Pruitt was acting on an executive order signed by President Trump back in February. And depending on whom you talk to, the move to repeal the rule is either an environmental disaster that opens up America’s waterways to pollution and development and puts Americans’ drinking water at risk, or a common-sense action that gets rid of a rule particularly despised by many farmers, ranchers, and developers and returns regulatory authority to states.

Q: What is the rule?

The term “Waters of the United States” comes from the landmark 1972 Clean Water Act. The 2015 Clean Water Rule was designed to provide long-sought guidance on just which “navigable waters” fall under federal jurisdiction and are covered by the protections in that act.

Some waters, including permanent rivers and streams, clearly meet the definition. But many wetlands, seasonal streams, and ditches don’t necessarily qualify: They’re not connected to US waterways much of the time, even though they may ultimately feed into them.

In a 2006 US Supreme Court ruling to determine the jurisdiction, Rapanos v. United States, the court was split. Four conservative justices, led by Justice Antonin Scalia, offered a constrained definition that includes only “relatively permanent bodies of water.” Justice Anthony Kennedy concurred, but added that it should also include wetlands and intermittent streams that have a “significant nexus” to those waters – an opinion that has largely governed decisions since.

The Clean Water Rule carried over existing exemptions for things like agriculture and ranching. It has never taken effect, as lawsuits from states (including one involving Mr. Pruitt when he was Oklahoma attorney general) are working their way through the courts.

Q: What change is the EPA proposing?

The rule the EPA has put forward – currently in the 30-day comment period – would mean going back to the standards used 10 years ago. Since the Clean Water Rule is currently under a stay, it wouldn’t actually change practice on the ground.

There’s also some question about whether the repeal is fully legal – and it’s likely to be challenged in court. The EPA “can’t declare that within 30 days it’s going to stop following the law and ignore the standards that have been adopted” through long-standing administrative procedure, says Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, which supports the Clean Water Rule.

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PRESS RELEASE: ELPC Commends U.S. House Committee’s Action to Fully Fund Great Lakes Restoration Initiative

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                          Contact: Judith Nemes                                                                                                                                                       ELPC Commends U.S. House Committee’s Action to Fully Fund Great Lakes Restoration Initiative 

 STATEMENT BY HOWARD A. LEARNER

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ENVIRONMENTAL LAW & POLICY CENTER

Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said in response to the U.S. House Appropriations Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Subcommittee acting to fully fund the $300 million Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in the FY 2018 Environmental Protection Agency’s budget:

“This is a big first step forward for protecting the Great Lakes and achieving full funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The U.S. House of Representatives’ Appropriations Committee rejected President Trump’s zeroing out FY 2018 budget funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.  With bipartisan support, the Committee restored the full $300 million of funding for the sensible and successful Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI).

“Since GLRI was launched in 2010, it has provided vital funding to protect and restore the largest system of fresh surface water in the world. GLRI projects also protect safe clean drinking water for 42 million people and support a $62 billion economy based on fishing, boating, and recreational activities.  That’s great value for all of us who live, work and play in and around the Great Lakes.

“Members of Congress across the Midwest heard loud and clear from their constituents that the Trump Administration’s completely eliminating GLRI funding in the FY 2018 is a bad idea.  We especially thank Representatives David Joyce (R-OH) and Marci Kaptur (D-OH) for their leadership in supporting the $300 million of appropriations for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative programs.

“Unfortunately, the House Subcommittee also carries out the Trump Administration’s harsh EPA budget cuts that will compromise the EPA’s ability to advance healthier clean air and protect safe, clean drinking water protections that are vitally important to our health.   The American people deserve better protection than that for our core clean air and clean water values.”

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PRESS RELEASE: Midwest Environmental Groups Sound Alarm on Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Cuts & Line 5 Issues

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                          Contact: Judith Nemes

July 6, 2017                                                                      

 

Midwest Environmental Groups Sound Alarm on Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Cuts & Line 5 Issues

ELPC & Groundwork Gathering in Traverse City Urge Attendees to Fight Back Against Trump Administration’s War on the Great Lakes 

TRAVERSE CITY, MI. – Michiganders gathered in Traverse City today to hear two Midwest environmental leaders present strategies to push back on threats to the progress of restoring the Great Lakes and safe clean drinking water. They focused on countering the Trump Administration’s proposed complete elimination of $300 million in funding for the bipartisan-supported Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in the FY 2018 budget, which has provided $2.2 billion for about 3,000 projects since its inception, and persuading Michigan policymakers to decide on an alternative to the dangerous Line 5 pipeline.

“President Trump won his election in the pivotal Great Lakes states, but his misguided policies and practices amount to a War on the Great Lakes,” said Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Midwest-based Environmental Law & Policy Center. “The Trump Administration is eliminating funding for the sensible and successful Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, rolling back Clean Water standards and reconsidering the additions to the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Lake Huron. The Trump Administration doesn’t seem to understand how much Michiganders care about protecting the Great Lakes where we live, work and play, and which provides safe clean drinking water for 42 million people.”

Hans Voss, Executive Director of Traverse City’s Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities and a leader in the campaign to protect the Great Lakes from an oil spill from the Line 5 pipeline, urged attendees to comment this month on safer alternatives proposed by the State Pipeline Safety Advisory Board.

“The time for state decision-makers to study and debate what to do about the Line 5 pipeline is over,” said Voss. “Now is the time for citizens to speak up and push for lawmakers to shut down the pipeline once and for all.”

The gathering took place at the Bluewater Event Center in Traverse City.

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