October 24, 2014

County’s watershed strengths, weaknesses identified at Huron Pines-hosted meeting

Tim Barnum
Tiffany Foco of Saginaw Bay RC&D looks for the best spot to place a sticky note identifying a positive aspect of the watershed.
Tim Barnum
Brad Jensen of Huron Pines talks about the organizations goals and how it has been working to meet them.
Tim Barnum
Ned Caveney, who specializes in forestry, places a sticky note on the county map to identify what he feels is a positive when it comes to natural resources in the county.
Tim Barnum
Josh Leisen of Huron Pines places a pink sticky note on a map identifying what it one of the weaknesses of the watershed.
Tim Barnum
Meeting attendees discuss the Saginaw Bay watershed in Arenac County.
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Au GRES — Representatives from several organizations came together June 27 to share what they felt are the strong and weak points of the watersheds in Arenac County, as well as possible ways to tackle some of the obstacles facing natural resource conservation in the county.

The meeting, which was held at the Au Gres Community Library and hosted by representatives of Huron Pines, included members of the Arenac County Conservation District, Saginaw Bay Resource, Conservation & Development, the Central Michigan District Health Department, Arenac County Parks and Recreation, Trout Unlimited, the Rifle River Watershed Restoration Committee, as well as a business owner and concerned citizens.

Those present shared what they felt are the strengths and weaknesses pertaining to natural resources. As the meeting wound down, four main issues that attendees felt needed to be addressed were prioritized as the top issues.

The top four issues were phragmites and invasive species at Charity Island, phragmites along the coast and the need to create a comprehensive weed management area, acquiring monies from the Department of Natural Resources Trust Fund and beach closures due to E. coli.

Concerning phragmites at Charity Island and throughout the Saginaw Bay, Tim Blanchet, who has been working on the issue at the island and in Sims and Whitney townships, said it is difficult to know how to get funded for phragmites treatments.

“The question is how do you marshal the resources to aerially spray, which is the only way,” he said. “You’ve got to kill it off and then burn it.”

Conservation District Administrator Dawn Hergott said many people were unaware of the scope of the phragmite problem until it was already a major issue.

“Before anyone realized what it was and what it was doing it was a big problem,” she said.

Tiffany Foco, of Saginaw Bay RC & D, said one issue throughout the Saginaw Bay when it comes to phragmites is that local organizations and conservation groups get enough funding to treat an area where the invasive plants are present, but are not allowed to treat state lands. Foco said phragmites have been sprayed and burnt in the past right up to state land in the Saginaw Bay area, but before long the invasive species would spread from the state land areas.

Brad Jensen of Huron Pines said setting up a cooperative weed management area in Arenac County could help curb the growth and spread of phragmites. He said last year he met with legislators who were taking a coastal tour and told them how north of Arenac County, the legislators would notice a significant decrease in the number of phragmites they saw, partially due to the formation of comprehensive weed management areas.

“I talked to the legislators about how what they were seeing along the coast was going to change as they went north,” he said.

Jensen said the weed management areas were formed between private companies and foundations, state agencies and local conservation organizations, and typically on a geographic region.

Hergott said recently the Saginaw County Conservation District has begun taking steps to form a weed management area that would include Arenac County.

Overall on the phragmites issue, Hergott said in her experience one of the biggest problems has been that several groups want to address the problem, but there is an overall lack of communication.

“We have all these groups pop up and that gets to be difficult for communication,” she said.

Hergott said the conservation district is hosting a workshop at White’s Beach Bar July 16 to discuss invasive species.

The DNR Trust Fund issue was a combination of many of the other problems discussed, in that securing trust fund monies to treat phragmites or do more research on E. coli in the Bay has been tough for the county.

Jensen said one way the county could have more success is to be unified in grant requests from the DNR.

“If you were to have something that the community could really get behind, that’s what the trust fund has to have,” he said.

In the past trust fund dollars were sought by Deep River Township for public access installation on the Rifle River, but as Ladd White, owner of White’s Canoe Livery, pointed out, the public was not wholly on board for the creation of more river access.

“You have a certain amount of people saying, ‘We want more access to the river,’” he said. “You have a certain amount of people saying, ‘We don’t want any more people going down the river.’”

Rifle River Watershed Restoration Committee member Dick Dell said he felt the county needed a few aggressive people in tune with what was happening in Lansing to keep in contact with legislators and push them to budget monies for the Saginaw Bay watershed.

“We have to let them know, stand on their toes, push them over backwards until they listen — ‘You must do this. You must provide money and funds for this. The public is demanding it,’” he said.

In regards to beach closures in Arenac County — three beaches are currently under contamination advisory by the Department of Environmental Quality — Jensen said he was shocked at how severe the problem was in the county.

“I was astonished when I saw that Arenac County was the leader in beach closures,” he said.

Alison Fegan of the health department, which samples and analyzes the water in the Bay to determine E. coli levels, said in some places, such as White’s Beach, the community is working on installing sewers, which could help alleviate the issue.

However, most of the meeting participants said the cause of the E. coli issue was not something that was simple to pinpoint.

Despite these and other issues raised by those who attended the meeting, many assets were also discussed. Assets range from a working relationship with Saginaw Valley State University and the establishment of the Blue Water Trail, to the high number of engaged community members and many ways to access the Saginaw Bay and Rifle River.

“If you look at the location of Arenac County, if you look at all the recourses we have, look at all the blue on that map, and look at all the coastline we have, this is the main area that people want to come visit,” White said.

Don Ferguson of the county’s parks and recreation board said getting on board with water trails would help the county’s reputation as a tourist destination, and that parks board members have seen people coming up with canoes or kayaks.

“The kayaks seem to be the up and coming thing — the kayaks and the canoes,” he said. “We talked about the people coming up now: you’ll see one or two kayaks on top of a car or a trailer with five or six on the back.”

A few of the other assets listed at the meeting include the Omer Sucker Derby, the amount of forest and public woodlands, the fishing and hunting opportunities and the interest from Au Gres-Sims’ remote-operated vehicle class in helping perform water sampling.

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