1999 GREAT LAKES WATER QUALITY FORUM
SEPTEMBER 24-26, 1999
LIGHTLY EDITED, VERBATIM TRANSCRIPT
SATURDAY AFTERNOON, SEPTEMBER 25
Tanya Cabala, Michigan Director, Lake Michigan Federation; Coordinator, Land and Water Conservation
You have heard from several other Lake Michigan Federation staff on a number issues. My office is in Muskegon, Michigan. I'm going to talk to you in particular about sand dunes, Great Lakes sand dunes. First of all, I did want to mention that in relation to Emily Green's testimony on the public participation model for sediment clean-up, she mentioned that the Lake Michigan Federation was involved in that. I want to make sure you know that we're going to be able to try that model out. The EPA was interested in that model and provided funds my office just this month and there is a relatively simple, if that can be said about any sediment clean up, a relatively simple sediment clean up occurring next spring or summer in White Lake, Michigan, an Area of Concern. Our goal is to take the public participation model and see how it works in White Lake. There is some commitment from EPA here. We're going to be able to tweak and twist and really see how it works with the idea of it becoming a model for other communities. I wanted to make sure you knew that.
Also, I wanted to let you know that I am a long time veteran of the IJC biennial meetings. Shortly I was hired in 1991, I went with all the Lake Michigan Federation staff to the Traverse City biennial and learned a lot that was valuable to me in my work. I was inspired, had fun, watched Greenpeace unfurl a banner down the Grand Traverse Resort in Acme. I went to the biennial in Windsor. I believe there were a thousand people at the chlorine debate. It was very, very exciting to be a part of that. I was at Duluth, Minnesota and actually that was a disappointment. I had brought my assistant along. I had said, You've got come to the IJC, it's inspiring, and where you need to be, but it was disappointing. At Niagara Falls I felt the tide was turning and last night I felt that we were also kind of moving on the upswing, but I'm really disappointed about the public turnout.
Unfortunately, I don't really think you can attribute it to concurrent events because at all of, and in particularly the Windsor and Traverse City events, there were even more concurrent events than there are now. People were just waiting outside the door ready to come in. I don't know if that's because we're missing the local contingent, but I think that's something really to consider. It's very important. I always remember the comments that I've heard, and I've seen people here today, that I remember comment in Traverse or in Duluth.
What I want to talk to you today is about sand dunes. I'm sure that each one of you has been able to be either at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, or Sleeping Bear to see how truly magnificent sand dunes in the Great Lakes are. They are unique, they're internationally famous, and they are found in the largest concentration along the eastern shoreline of Lake Michigan. They are a significant draw for the regional economy. Millions of people tour the dunes annually. For example, visitors to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore have produced a regional cash-flow of 128 million dollars annually during the 1990s. They provide shelter for coastal marshes, they help protect shoreline communities from severe weather, and they really provide a high quality of life for the people who live near them and for the people who visit them. They are a tremendous ecological resource. They support more unique species and communities than any other part of the Great Lakes system. They are important because of the plant and wildlife species that they support, their closeness to fresh water. They are the only fresh-water dunes in the entire world, and because of their diverse environmental settings and the micro-climates that they support.
I'm not sure that you know, however, that we still allow dunes to be destroyed down to the ground. This happens in Michigan. Once the dunes are gone they can never be replaced again unless we have another ice age. They are irreplaceable. We conducted research over the last two years in Michigan, looking at the extent to which mining of the sand dunes still occurred and we were hoping to find out that according to what other environmental groups in the state of Michigan said to us, that it was being phased out and strictly limited. We were very unhappy to find out that wasn't the case. We found out that the state law that is supposed to protect the sand-dunes is severely flawed. We found out that the law was enforced very laxly. For example, I believe in the last, maybe, 10 years there was seven enforcement actions. All of them were pushed by the public. Very little impetus from the agency to really make sure that the law, even flawed as it was, was being carried out.
Foundries use the sand in molds to produce metal parts for cars and airplanes. A certain amount of the sand is used in golf courses or for construction, concrete, abrasives, and glass, but the majority, we're told, is used in foundries. It's considered a good source of sand for the foundries because of its high silica content and because it's sorted by wind and waves. It's very accessible and very cheap. It's sold to the foundries for 5 to 10 dollars a ton, which is really very close to what it was sold for in 1976, when Michigan passed the Michigan Sand Dunes Protection and Management Act.
Not all foundries use dune sand. There are inland sand deposits that are suitable for use in foundries. Of course, there is going to be environmental damage, but you're not removing an irreplaceable massive land form that you're not going to be able to restore. Ford Motor Company, for example, has not used dune sand in its casting process since before the 1976 Act was passed.
I don't know if you have ever had the occasion to see a picture or to actually go to a mining site. I think if you did, you would be appalled to think that we still allow that in the Great Lakes. It's permanently devastating to the ecosystem. The dune forests are clear cut, the bushes and grasses are pulled out, the sand is removed by bulldozers and trucks. Even sand below the ground is sometimes sucked out in a water-sand slurry and piped away. All the wildlife that was there leaves and what's left is nothing like the original dunes systems. Sometimes these sites end up with some small hills and flat areas, in some cases an artificial lake and it's suitable for development. In some places golf courses are made. In fact, in Michigan one is called Lost Dunes, the ultimate insult. Once mined, though, these spectacular dunes and their special habitats are gone forever and they are not going to come back.
We are asking the IJC's Science Advisory Board to help us. We think a valuable piece of information is missing that would give these dunes more protection. There is none or little information on the linkages between the dunes and erosion rates, between the dunes and weather impacts, littoral drifts, sand supply and deposition, and their influence on coastal wetlands. Basically there is really little information the ecological relationship between the dunes and the Great Lakes. We would like you to conduct a study to come up with that information. We think it's essential to ensure that the public state and federal, and local entities have more knowledge of the value of the dunes to the Great Lakes system. I think we know instinctively that they are valuable, but that study hasn't been done. I think it would be helpful in the work to protect these dunes from mining, because it continues. It's actually increased 50% since the law was passed, the area permitted for mining. I have my comments for you and I have the report that we published and released last April on the sand dune mining research that we did. I'd be happy to take any questions.
Thank you, Tanya. We will be reconvening tomorrow morning at 8:30 but, if at this time there is anyone who would like to speak who cannot be here tomorrow morning, please come forward. Otherwise, we will reconvene tomorrow morning. Thank you.