Bugs, invading plants, and the trouble with LUST

Posted on May 29, 2009


I tell you, there is no end to the misadventures that are possible. We are in the midst of the annual Flight of the Miserable Little Black Helicopters. I do not know what they are, but I’d be glad to have a name to pin to them, so that I could curse them by it. They don’t bite, but they do fly about in great clouds, getting into nostrils and eyes and hair and generally making a nuisance of themselves, especially down on the beach. The other day they they made life miserable for Miss Sadie, the Cowboy and me while we were at the Torch Bay Nature Preserve.  Looky here.  Not dust on the lens—a battalion of bugs. 

Bugs everydamwhere

Bug closeup

There’s a very-much-enlarged closeup of one of  ’em on my hand.  (If you’re really into bugs, there are more photos on Blasted bugs at the TBNP.)  I think the only thing they’re good for is fish food or bird food, which I suppose is a sufficient reason for being. The Nature Preserve is full of birds, and they were in fine voice the other day, especially the red-winged blackbirds.

Then there is the issue of the Possibly Invasive Phragmites. I took some pictures of the patch that’s growing in the beach pond at the Nature Preserve. Here’s one, but you can find more on Phragmites at the TBNP beach pond.

Phragmites at beach pond4

I don’t know that we ought to be worried about such patches. I don’t know that we ought not to be worried, either.  Here’s the thing.  I’m pretty sure that most of the people making all the noise about the issue—there have been at least three separate presentations to the Township Board on the subject—don’t know a whole lot more than I do, and I would like to have some testimony from someone with some real expertise on the matter. There’s an interesting Forum piece in this morning’s Record-Eagle (Fear of phragmites? Patience needed) by Roger M. Knutson, a PhD in Botany. The same essay was published in fuller detail in the Charlevoix Courier. If you’re going to go to the trouble of reading it at all, I recommend the fuller version:  New fear of old plants.

The entire issue is going to get a going-over in July, when the Township holds a public hearing on a proposed Special Assessment District to fund a phragmites eradication effort along the bayshore. Banks Township and Milton Township have also hared off in that direction. It isn’t clear to me that the spraying program is phragmites-specific, and I rather suspect the guiding hand of those who prefer their beaches to be deserts rather than areas of diverse vegetation and habitat. Well. As I say, I’d like to know a whole lot more about all this.

While I was at the Nature Preserve, I also took pictures of a tire dumped under the observation platform overlooking the beach pond, and of a couple of areas where the landscape has been torn up by an off-road vehicle of some kind. At the moment I’m a lot more concerned about this stuff than I am about the phragmites. Again, here’s one image; you can find more on Trash and Tracks at the TBNP.

Vehicle tracks at beach pond3

After taking the pictures of the bugs and the phragmites and the tire tracks defiling the Nature Preserve I took myself off to Sonny’s for comforting. It worked pretty well, too, right up until Chris looked out the window and said, “Oh, they’re testing the well over there for gasoline contamination.” What???

Beginning in the 1950s there was a filling station on the property at 2748 N US 31, south of Sonny’s. Eventually the underground gasoline tanks deteriorated and leaked, thus becoming Leaking Underground Storage Tanks (LUST). The State of Michigan had a LUST remediation program in place to remove contamination from “orphaned” sites (those where the original contaminators were nowhere to be found and later owners were not to blame for the contamination). The program ran out of money in short order, as there are many, many such sites. Anyway, the leaking tanks were removed from the former filling station, but apparently the leakage itself was never cleaned up.

According to the DEQ (Department of Environmental Quality) website, the wells remain contaminated with: 1,2,4 TMB; 1,3,5 TMB; Benzene; Ethylbenzene; Isopropyl benzene; Methylene chloride; Naphthalene; Styrene; Toluene; Xylenes; n-Butylbenzene; n-Propylbenzene; sec-Butylbenzene. Those wells and another across the street are being monitored by AECOM, a private international engineering and environmental consulting firm with offices in Lansing, retained by the DEQ for this purpose.  Several wells in Bay Harbor, about a quarter mile due west of the site, were replaced at considerable expense.

I went over and chatted with David Dryburth and John Panco, the AECOM project scientists in charge of this particular day’s testing. They put me onto the person at the DEQ who can tell me more about all this, including additional sites in the Township and in other townships around Torch Lake.  I will definitely have more on all of this. I don’t believe I’ll put a pretty picture here to take your mind off it. I want your mind on it for a bit if you don’t mind.