Reporting from the front

Posted on July 29, 2010


You have met Loreen Niewenhuis in these posts before, and walked with us along the Lake Michigan shoreline of our Township.  Last night she posted stills and a video from her home river, the Kalamazoo.  That is the river that has been poisoned by a spill of more than a million gallons of crude oil. Please take a moment to read Oil Spill in West Michigan Heading to Lake Michigan.

For me, Loreen’s own testimony, recorded with a personal videocam while she stands in fouled wetlands with her head aching, has more power than all the slick commercial coverage.  Perhaps that is because she is someone I know, and someone who loves Michigan and its waters.  Perhaps it is because she gets to the heart of the matter with very simple, straightforward language and no bluster. 

This is a sickening event.  Another one.  If terrorists were doing this to our country, we would give no quarter.  But in a very real sense, in the words of the immortal Pogo, we have met the enemy and he is us.  So how do we make us stop?

I’ve been spending a lot of time studying the history of this area, particularly the history of a time when Elk Rapids was smoky with heavy industry and the mill in Torch Lake Village was a dangerous place to work. A time when cholera epidemics swept through Traverse City and Elk Rapids and the far reaches of Antrim County. I try to reassure myself that we changed course then, and created a much healthier region. Surely we can do that again. The only problem is that we didn’t exactly decide that we didn’t want to do this to ourselves anymore. Instead, the economy went to blazes and we made a virtue of a necessity.

Now, with the renewed intensity of gas and oil extraction in Antrim County, are we going back to our bad old ways? Is is OK to sling the bright yellow pipeline into a trench along the US 31 right of way and forget about it? OK to pump fracking fluids into the shale without full disclosure of what those fluids contain? 

Meanwhile, the signs go up all along the Kalamazoo: ” . . . this river is closed for all swimming, boating and fishing until further notice. Recent contamination as a result of the Enbridge Energy oil spill has made this river unsafe to use.”