Thursday, May 29, 2008

Northern Michigan's Online Ride Board

I have had a great car pool arrangement for the past few months, riding about three days a week with a guy who doesn't like to ride in other people's cars and would rather have homemade bread than gas money. Unfortunately, Joel has decided to move out west and gave his two weeks notice last week. Everyone at work is thinking about alternate transportation ideas, so I thought I might as well talk about the Northern Michigan Transportation Alliance online ride board.

This is an online version of those old college bulletin boards where people posted where they we going and whether they needed a ride or wanted someone to share the gas. It is well planned as a website; you can enter your start point and destination, your schedule, specify smoking or non. It is under utilized and under publicized. Probably it needs a block of people, like me and my coworkers, to move in and be the first adopters.

The site has the shortest user's agreement I've ever seen; unfortunately if you read the user agreement, there is no button to get you back to the registration page -- I had to start all over again. The site uses Google Maps; don't skip the street address or mapping part or you'll lose all your schedule input when it tells you to resubmit. It's also hard to figure out when you've completed the process of posting a ride. I ended up pushing submit three times before I gave up and went to see if my offer was posted. I was sure to put an end date since some of the rides showing now have been there for a couple of months.

I don't know if I'll get a new carpool out of this, but it's worth a try. The site needs much more advertisement and use.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Michigan Water - Public Trust or Product?

The Sunday Record-Eagle had more background information on the water bills before the Michigan Legislature. George Weeks summed up the situation like this:
In Lansing, there's debate about whether Michigan can say "no" to large water withdrawals, including by those who export huge amounts in small containers.

Yes, we can say no, insists Michigan Director Cyndi Roper of East Lansing-based Clean Water Action, who is among those whose voices under the dome are politically faint compared to well-funded interests pushing for commercialization and privatization of our water.

At issue: The state Senate passed legislation related to the Great Lakes Compact that is weaker on withdrawal of groundwater for bottling than action by the House. Said Roper in a Detroit Free Press commentary:

"The Senate legislation requires only those pumping more than 2,000,000 gallons per day to ask permission on that water use. Compare this to Minnesota's permission trigger, which is 10,000 gallons per day, or Wisconsin's, at a million gallons. Both states have created a system to allow public input and oversight at levels up to 200 times more protective than the Michigan Senate approved. Michigan's senators thumbed their noses at the public's rights to have a meaningful voice in decisions about massive water withdrawals."

Late last week, with further legislation pending in the House, Roper sent e-mail missives to environmentalists urging them to "inundate lawmaker offices demanding they fight for our water and stand up to the corporate interests wishing to seize control of our water."

Traverse City attorney Jim Olson, advocate of the Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation's long legal fight against Nestle's bottling operation in Mecosta County, called the Senate action "the great give-away of Michigan's water -- 25 percent of it! Other countries, private investors, will be thirsting to get their taps into Michigan. It'll be like the Oklahoma Gold Rush, only this time it's the Michigan Water Rush."

Olson says MCWC and others are "holding fast to the principle that water in Michigan, because it is the source of all streams, lakes, and most of inflow into the Great Lakes, is subject to a public trust. This means the state owns the water and must protect and manage it for citizens, not privatize or hand over control to private interests for profit as the primary purpose of a water project."

Water -- a public trust, not a product. A quaint, but correct, notion.
I usually don't use those boilerplate messages when writing to my legislators; I think a more personalized message is more effective. But time is of the essence in this case, so I broke down and used the message at Progress Michigan:

The time to stand up for Michigan's waters is now. Unfortunately, the State Senate voted last week to allow up to 25% of some of our precious lakes and rivers to be open for withdrawal.

If that wasn't bad enough, the Senate also allowed proposals that undermine public control over our water. Without strong laws that support public control of the Great Lakes, our state is vulnerable to corporations and special interests that seek to export and misuse our water.

That's why I urge you reject the Senate Bill 860. Don't allow our inland lakes, rivers and aquifers to be available to the highest bidder. As Michiganders, we have a special duty to protect our lakes, rivers and aquifers - our drinking water sources.

Instead please take action now and support legislation that will protect our precious Great Lakes. Please support a bipartisan legislative package, House Bills 5065-5073, that will safeguard our freshwater supplies. HB 5065-5073 gives citizens a voice in decisions affecting the withdrawal, shipment and misuse of Michigan
waters. This bipartisan package protects Michigan's water users - boaters, property owners, farmers, industry, tourism, fishers - from outside water takers.

We urge you to send a clear signal that Michigan's Water is NOT FOR

There is a short window of opportunity to make your opinions on this issue known. I know I want to keep the water in our lakes.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Michigan's Great Lakes Threatened By Michigan Legislature

Just a quick post today, about Michigan Senate Bill 860, recently passed by the State Senate and under consideration by the State House. While we hear noise about building a pipeline to divert Great Lakes water to thirstier states, the real danger is massive bottled water operations like the ones that would be permitted under SB 860.

The legislators characterize the bill as a "a fair and common sense plan in which science is the measuring stick":
An automated point-and-click computer tool will allow users to determine if a proposed withdrawal will be within legal limits. The user will enter key data into the computer, including location, proposed pumping rate, and depth of well, and the computer based model will automatically assess whether or not the proposed use is within the legal limit. The computer will also generate a certificate that the withdrawal is in a safe limit and that certificate will help to provide the user with the assurance that they are OK to move forward.
Environmental groups note that the bill allows for a diversion of a heck of a lot of water:
By contrast, SB 860 relies solely on the newly developed ‘Water Withdrawal Assessment Tool’ for decisions about new or expanded water withdrawals. Consequently, SB 860 would not require permits for large water withdrawals even if the proposed withdrawal is in an area with marginal water availability. Without permits, there is no opportunity for local input into water withdrawal decisions. Further, as written, SB 860 designates from 22-40 % of stretches of natural wonders like the Jordan and Au Sable Rivers as available for withdrawal; in stretches of other water waterways, withdrawals as could be allowed for as much as 46% of the flow.
Somehow, I'm reminded of the birthing scene in Monty Python's "The Meaning of Life", in which the doctors are so transfixed with their technology ("The machine that goes "beep!") that they leave the laboring mother alone out in the hall.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

What Else is Happening

As predicted, I am tripping over tomato and basil plants while we wait for weather warm enough for planting. I am trying peanuts this year; my first attempts at starting them inside resulted in rotting seeds that smelled awful. I was advised to try again, with charcoal in the soil to lighten it up. I had a spot in the warmer part of the garden where I had burned before, so I tried some outside with wall-o-water cylinders to warm the soil. No news on that, yet.

The potatoes are in, the peas are up, and we've been eating greens from the garden. I also tried dandelions from the yard this year. They were good, parboiled for a few minutes and then sauteed with a little garlic. You just need to clean them very well because the stray blade of grass is like trying to chew dental floss. Rhubarb is up and very vigorous. I've been selling a lot to passersby and to the Covered Wagon Farm for pies. Rhubarb traffic is a constant interruption, but rhubarb lovers are such nice people that I don't mind.

There is one more bake sale, this Saturday, in front of the Leland Mercantile, for the Odyssey of the Mind teams that are going to world competition. They have managed to raise over $1o,000 in a about six weeks, though bake sales, car washes, a movie premier, large and small donations, and grants from the Leland Educational Foundation and the Oleson Foundation.

I will be baking again for this sale, but I have to go to work earlier and attend a noon meeting so my output will be less than the 20 loaves I baked last time. Maybe some Rhubarb Crumb Cake would be in order.

All this happens, but we still stop to admire the orioles, indigo buntings, and hummingbirds. And to hunt for morels. I never find any, but all that hunting gives me opportunity to note the locations of raspberries and gooseberries so I can go back later in the summer. I came home from work late one night and found a Cool Whip container of morels on my kitchen table. It seems the neighbor was weed whacking when he found the mother lode of morels on the site where the former neighbor cut down an apple tree 12 years ago. Not many people will share morels, but I have wonderful neighbors.

Leland Township Trustee

I think it was Al Gore's book, The Assault on Reason, that got me thinking about rejecting the default role of consumer and more fully embracing the role of citizen. This was the underlying subtext of my decision last week to file as a candidate for Leland Township Trustee.

But the more direct reason is that friends were asking me to run. I, in turn, kept asking other people to think about running, but in the end, at the deadline, there were two candidates filed for two trustee offices. I filed as a Democrat, so we will all be unopposed in the primary, but three wil vie for two seats in November. (An independent candidate has until July to file for the November election.)

When I was trying to recruit other people to run, I did some thinking about what makes a good candidate. I came up with a list of three themes:
  • Stewardship: We think of land stewardship, but in the older sense, stewardship is a word that means "caring for the things that belong to the community." The community assets could be tax dollars or dark skies or a volunteer's hours. Stewardship is the opposite of using an elected office to enrich one self or one's cronies. Efficiency in government is a form of stewardship, making sure that tax dollars are not wasted. Respect for volunteer efforts is also a form of stewardship; you don't waste the many volunteer hours that went into developing a Master Plan by treating it as a nuisance or a joke.
  • Good Government: We follow the law to ensure that decisions are made fairly, with all parties having meaningful input, and avoiding even the appearance of impropriety. Good government values transparency, avoids conflicts of interest, follows procedures, and operaties under the rule of law, especially in regards to the Open Meetings Act, the Freedom of Information Act, etc.
  • 21st Century Vision This was a hard one to articulate last winter, but events have caught up to us. Far-off goals like vibrant villages, universal broadband access and a local food chain are suddenly very much on everyone's minds as we confront ever-rising fuel prices and wonder how to rework our lives for greenhouse gas reduction. Today's entrepreneurs would love to locate their businesses in our area, but they simply can not do so without up-to-date internet access. We have alternative energy entrepreneurs here already --if we help them with zoning and utility decisions that support their work, they will support us in crafting new, energy efficient ways of living. We have family farmers, some who have been here for generations and some brand new farmers. We value them, not just as scenery, but a source of food security and an economic driver of our community. Another economic driver is tourism. We cannot afford to take tourism for granted and mindlessly remake our community to look like everyplace else. The future of our community depends on forward thinking and flexible government and citizenry.

I'm not sure if these are values, personal attributes, or overarching themes. I just know we need more of this in government on all levels.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Climate Change: No More "Belief" Debate

It was nice to see the headline "McCain Differs With Bush on Climate Change". Suddenly, finally, we are not debating whether we believe in climate change, we are beginning the debate on how to best address climate change.

I've said all along that my two big issues in this presidential election are climate change and restoring our constitution. It looks like we might see an actual discussion of one of my issues between now and November. I'm getting ready by studying Obama's energy policy and McCain's Cap and Trade proposal and climate change page.

Obama is talking cap-and-trade, too, but it is only one part of his comprehensive plan. Obama specifies a 100% auction cap and trade system; McCain is not very specific, so it would appear that he intends to "grandfather in" some current carbon emitters. Doing so has been criticised as amounting to a windfall for existing polluters.

Of course, making a serious effort at combating climate change will take a whole host of plans, not just a cap and trade plan. Obama is ahead of the pack on this, addressing everything from conservation to reinventing the electrical grid. I think that we will see more ideas from McCain, and I'm welcoming the chance for a healthy debate.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Leelanau Grand Vision

Anna, a few years ago, in the garden, eating peas and offering them to her dog
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I participated in the Leelanau Grand Vision workshop at Suttons Bay School last night. A lot of other people participated as well; the venue was packed and the presenters seemed a little overwhelmed by the crowd. The idea was to gather input from the community our how we would prefer to see our area grow, and then use that to formulate a coordinated plan for the Grand Traverse area. Our elected officials can then refer to this plan when they are making decisions about zoning, transportation, energy, and other infrastructure.

I found out that I'm not that much into scenery. Or maybe that my idea of scenery is a lot broader than other people's idea of scenery. They started out by giving us a score sheet and asking us to give our first reactions to a series of outdoor scenes. Much of the audience was murmuring in approval or tsking in disapproval at various pictures. I was in the back, and couldn't see that well, but all I saw was buildings, grass, and trees. Or sometimes grass, trees, and buildings. My responses were all in the middle range. There was one picture of a vineyard, but no gardens, no playgrounds, no livestock, no orchards, none of the scenes that I find pretty or restful. It was like they looked at Leelanau through the eyes of a suburbanite and couldn't see anything else. (The photo above is closer to my idea of nice looking scenery.)

But that was that. The next part was the part where we got together with the people at our table and plotted the next 50 year's growth on a giant map of the county. Or a giant map of most of the county, as our map did not have Peshawbestown, the National Lakeshore, or the gravel pits in Kasson denoted. The group at my table included three younger people, one full time farmer, one part time farmer, three people from Northport, two from Suttons Bay, two people who worked with the Leelanau Conservancy, and a master gardener. Our group spent a good deal of time plotting out the best farmland in the county, then plotting out the Lakeshore and Pere Marquette Forest, then the critical bird habitat on the tip of the penninsula. After that, we were supposed to figure out where 20,000 more people were going to live, and how to get them the goods, jobs and services they would need.

We started out brainstorming a list of what we wanted for the future. We wanted everything --a protected environment, vibrant villages, open shorelines, broadband access, local food chains. The younger people wanted to walk everywhere -- to work, to shop -- or they wanted to ride bikes. The lady next to me kept saying "Ban Cars! No Motorized Traffic!" and I couldn't tell if she was serious or sarcastic. I threw out my own far-fetched idea, calling for small scale alternative energy -- wind and solar -- with a smart grid so that households could sell excess power back and local electricity storage so that our county could be self sufficient in electricity.

The people of our future were at least going to eat. We were given stickers that represented one household for every five acres, and we could trade stickers in to get fewer stickers representing higher densities. It was clear that if we let everyone have the 5 acre mini-estate, we would end up cutting up farmland and crowding out critical habitats. We would also end up with a scattered population that would be far from the village centers and harder to serve. But it was hard to envision any of our current villages absorbing even one whole sticker's worth of people, so we took the higher density stickers, cut them up, and shoehorned them in around the existing villages. That all took a lot of time, especially the part where we debated the exact size of an economically viable farm. So we quickly sketched in some light rail transit lines to connect the villages and drew in a few (not enough) bikes trails and Table 19's contribution was complete.

I had to be the presenter. (I always have to be the presenter.) The various tables had a host of different problems that they were trying to solve. Some groups were trying to move cars -- several groups proposed a bridge across South Lake Leelanau from Hohnke Road to Bingham; one group wanted to make M-22 one way north and Center Highway one way south. Several groups were trying to move people, and were plotting ferry routes. One guy said that he had already located some vintage ferry boats in good condition and made an appeal for investors in a new ferry business. One group made a vastly expanded Suttons Bay village the focus of their planning. One group presented their map with a bunch of population stickers out in the Bay. When asked for an explanation, they said "We didn't know where to put them." A guy in the crowd said, "I guess they just have to sink or swim."

Since we were last (I wasn't going to wait in line) I talked about the things that the other groups hadn't mentioned. I said that we were interested in food first so we had plotted out farmland first and shoehorned the populations around that. I got applause by saying, "We need broadband access everywhere." and more applause talking about small scale alternative energy. So I went out on a limb and spoke about dark skies, my own favorite sort of scenery. Finally I said, "Our table, like everyone here, likes the county the way it is, but we're willing to be flexible, so that others can enjoy what we have."

I'm not sure if that last statement was exactly true, exactly yet, but it can't hurt to portray ourselves as less selfish and more interested in the common good. Sometimes people learn to live up to their reputations.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

National Train Day

Yup. This Saturday is National Train Day, with events at train stations across the country. This is the 139th anniversary of the laying in 1869 of the Golden Spike at Promontory Summit, Utah, which completed America’s first transcontinental railroad. Amtrak is using National Train Day to highlight the growing popularity of trains as convenient, energy efficient, environmentally sound ways to travel.

The National Association of Rail Passengers puts it this way:

This year’s festivities come at a time when sticker shock at the gas pump is creating greater public interest in more passenger train service. What’s more, this interest was well established even before the current rise in gasoline prices, as reflected in polls, referenda, and ridership data on train systems across the country all point to one clear conclusion and that is we need more trains.
My congressman doesn't agree. Here is part of his response to my recent letter about the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement bill
:....policymakers have long debated the extent to which the federal government should fund rail transportation. This issue has its roots in a 1997 agreement between Amtrak and the federal government, which authorized $2 billion for Amtrak in exchange for the company's promise of self-sufficiency by the year 2003. While Amtrak has made progress in fulfilling the terms of the 1997 agreement, it is still far from being self-sufficient and its future remains unclear.
I remember 1997. Anna was a babe in my arms. Climate change was barely heard of. Gas was about $1.29 a gallon. Terrorism was something that happened in other countries, and it certainly wasn't funded with our gas money. It was still fun to fly back then, when you didn't have to stand in line and take off half your clothes to get on a plane.

It's not as if we could drive anywhere without federal investment in roads and bridges. Airlines also enjoy support from the federal government, as Jim Loomis points out at Travel and Trains and Other Things:

Here's another mind-boggler for you: One of our speakers this morning was Congressman John Mica (R-Florida) who is a key member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. He told us, among other things, that the federal government is going to spend five billion dollars -- that's billion, with a "B" -- to build one new runway for the Miami International Airport. Yes, I said "ONE new runway". Amtrak's funding request for a full year is one-third that amount.

It is -- I must tell you -- a frustrating and maddening situation. Fortunately, I do think there is a new awareness of the importance of rail transportation and of the benefits it brings to the country. Most of the Members of Congress now "get it." Bush and his people don't, won't and never will.

I'm glad to hear that most members of Congress are more on the ball than my guy.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Support Leland School -- Vote!

Tomorrow, May 6th, we have the opportunity to vote YES on two millage renewals to support Leland School.

The first is our regular renewal of the 18 mil tax on non-homestead properties. We pass this every year, and it is a provision of Proposal A that if we don't pass this, we won't get enough state funds to have school next year.

The second is a bond proposal to replenish our bus fleet and maintain our technology package. We are asking voters to approve .25 mils, which works out to $37.50 per year on a $150,000 home.

After writing those last two posts about Proposal A, it's nice to be able to talk about a simple way to support our excellent school. Polls will be open from 7 AM to 8 PM at your local township polling place.

Small Victories

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That's Richard, with one of the biggest walleyes he has ever caught. He got up early this morning and went down to the dock as the sun was just rising. He nailed this one on the first cast, then struggled to land it as it was surely going to break the line if he tried to haul it up conventionally. It weighed in over 6 pounds and yielded some beautiful fillets.

I woke up early (by my standards, but hours after Richard) to drive Anna to her dog sitting job. I was able to snap that picture because over the weekend I took my old broken camera to work and spent my breaks disassembling it and trying to figure out why the batteries drained within ten seconds of turning it on. I was looking for bad contacts or a short, but once I took the case off and tested it, it started working almost fine again. I say almost fine because it makes a strange new noise when the lens extends. Before I took the case off, the lens was totally stuck and the camera was wasting all of the battery energy trying to move the lens. Once it started working, I put it all back together, testing it at each step, and now I have a working camera again.

The camera is going on four years old, which is ancient in the world of digital cameras. Richard has his eyes shut in the picture, just like he had his eyes shut in Shelagh's graduation picture. I'm still wishing I had a camera with a screen that I could see without my glasses. But my wishes and my budget just don't coincide. It's good to have any camera again.

I spent all Friday baking bread for a bake sale to help Leland's Odyssey of the Mind teams go to world competition. Anna didn't do OM this year, but her old team members still have their teeth sunk into structure problems. Her old teammates now are split among two bound-for-worlds teams, and it's going to take the whole community to raise enough money to get them there. I contributed 20 loaves of bread, one of many bakers, and I hear the Saturday morning bake sale raised over $600. Their next fundraiser is dinner at the Steak Haus by Sugarloaf on Thursday May 15th from 5-8 pm. . All tickets are $15.00. You have a choice of either a steak dinner, battered shrimp dinner or a veggie alfredo dinner. Team members are selling tickets and they are also available at Northwoods Kitchens.

I keep getting interrupted by people who saw the rhubarb sign. I take them out to cut some rhubarb, chat a little, and take their dollars. Eggs are selling, too, faster than my hens can lay. I've started giving away my tomato plants, using them to encourage the many people who are starting new gardens this year.