Climate change on a county level

Pilot project focuses on Marquette County

Work continues on cleaning up the parking lot at Shiras Park at Picnic Rocks in Marquette. The lot was damaged following the Oct. 24 storm that brought hurricane-force wind gusts to the area. Climate-related events were a focus of the recent Climate@Noon seminar at Northern Michigan University. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

MARQUETTE — Marquette County, in recent years, has experienced several major climate-related events, the most recent being Oct. 24 when a large windstorm produced huge waves on Lake Superior, which in turn caused damage along the shoreline, not to mention downed power lines and toppled trees inland.

Just look at the parking lot of Shiras Park at Picnic Rocks in the city of Marquette. Boulder-sized rocks are scattered on the lot, making it virtually “unparkable,” possibly until spring.

Offering more information about the impacts of climate change, the Michigan Climate and Health Adaptation Program’s pilot project in Marquette County was the focus of Friday’s Northern Climate Network’s Climate@Noon seminar — held at Jamrich Hall at Northern Michigan University in Marquette.

Giving the presentation was Brad Neumann, senior educator of Michigan State University Extension, based in Negaunee Township.

The project, which is being worked on under the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, looks at climate change from a perspective other than natural resources, for instance.

“This project has us looking at human health impacts from climate change,” Neumann said.

Marquette County was selected as a pilot county as a rural project. The team is composed of the MDHHS; MSU Extension-School of Planning, Design and Construction; the Marquette County Health Department; and the Michigan Climate Adaptation Task Force.

Planning and engagement is planned for 2016-17, followed by development and feedback for 2017-18 and, from 2018 onward on a timeline to be determined, rollouts and implementation.

A project goal is to create a rural climate adaptation guidebook, which includes actions, for example, to mitigate a property from wildfire, that in turn could be used to create resiliency or safety from Lyme disease, Neumann said.

Many population sectors are involved.

“What are some adaptation strategies and some mitigation strategies, but primarily adaptation strategies, that county leaders — either in, say, the public health arena or the local government arena, also in nonprofits that are serving, say, vulnerable populations — what are the things that all these different entities can do to try to make the population more resilient to impact from climate change?” Neumann asked.

Even the Upper Peninsula should be studied.

“We know that these things are all happening in the Michigan and the U.P.,” Neumann said.

Consider these changes discussed at the meeting:

≤ Temperatures are rising, especially in winter, which results in an increase in ice and freezing rain.

≤ Spring is coming earlier.

≤ The frequency and intensity of severe storms are on the rise.

“What a public health person … will tell you is that there are these climate health pathways,” Neumann said.

Extreme weather events like increased flooding, storms and wildfires, he noted, can lead to damaged infrastructure, property loss and contamination of a water source.

“Think about a rural well that … a river flooded, and now the well has been inundated, and that can introduce contamination of that drinking water source, and then those things, of course, lead to things like water-borne illness if it’s water contamination, or injury or death,” Neumann said.

The MDHHS said that statewide, the top five climate-related health priorities are: respiratory conditions; heat illness; injuries, which stem from things like storm-related poisoning or downed tree limbs; water-borne disease; and vector-based disease.

Local concerns, according to Neumann, include wildfires and even a water shortage.

How is that possible, with the region located along Lake Superior?

“There’s only a small portion of the county that drinks Lake Superior water,” Neumann said. “It’s the city of Marquette and a little bit of Marquette Township, and everybody else is on wells.”

Neumann also mentioned the need to think toward the future.

“Let’s jump all the way out, you know, 20 years, 30 years from now, and think about: What do we desire in terms of our resiliency?” Neumann said. “What do we see in the future if Marquette does this right?”

For the project, Neumann said stakeholders named primary priorities as flooding, water shortage, access as it mostly pertains to transportation, and wildfires. Secondary priorities are concerns relating to ticks and Lyme disease, and air quality.

Strategies to deal with local climate-related changes involve public education, regular well and septic testing, rain gardens, green space to reduce heat stress, bicycling to reduce the use of vehicles, and energy efficiency, among others.

John Forslin is the local contact for The Climate Reality Project, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization dedicated to education and advocacy related to climate change.

“I’m impressed with the scope of your inclusion,” Forslin said.

However, he said the directions and solutions that have been brought up appear to be mostly defensive and mitigatory as opposed to “truly radical thinking” in changing the way society operates.

He suggested talking to sources that already are engaged in such solutions.

“Education could be the strategy that comes out of this,” Neumann said. “Not just education from a public health standpoint, but maybe municipal education on energy options.”

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.