Environmental excursion: WSU Law professor leads boat tour of Detroit River

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– Photo by Steve Thorpe


Wayne State University Law School professor Nick Schroeck talks to participants about the Detroit River and the laws that affect its environmental health. Schroeck heads the law school’s Transnational Environmental Law Clinic and is executive director of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center.

By Steve Thorpe
Legal News

About 200 people recently were able to combine a beautiful day out on the water with a learning experience about the laws protecting the Great Lakes as the Citizens Environment Alliance held its State of the Detroit River Boat Tour 2015.

The four-hour tour earlier this month aboard the Macassa Bay cruise ship also offered expert narration about the river’s environmental issues, wildlife habitats and the laws that affect them.

Professor Nick Schroeck, director of the Transnational Environmental Law Clinic at Wayne State University Law School, was one of the speakers. He is also executive director of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center. He was enthusiastic about the educational potential of the river excursion.

“It’s an opportunity for folks on both sides of the river to learn about some of the key threats we’re facing on the Detroit River and Great Lakes,” he said. “We’ll also see some of the positive things, like cleanups and improved wildlife habitat.”

Other speakers included John Hartig, manager of the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge and Phil Roberts, executive director of Parks for the City of Windsor.

Radio personality Peter Werbe acted as master of ceremonies for the tour. Werbe is host of Nightcall on WRIF and a morning interview program on WCSX, both in Detroit.

Derek Coronado is coordinator of the Citizens Environment Alliance and one of the main organizers of the annual event.

“We’re a research and education non-profit focused on Great Lakes environmental issues,” he said. “When we started 30 years ago, our name was Clean Water Alliance and we had a special focus on water issues. We eventually realized that there are so many things that affect water quality that we had to broadly address all environmental issues.”

If a boat tour seems an unusual way to deliver a message, Coronado said that was by design.

“We translate the science into information that the public can easily understand,” he said. “This annual boat tour is one of the ways we do that. It brings information to the people,  but it also brings the people right to the river.”

Windsor City Councillor Hilary Payne was one of the public officials on the tour.

“I’m interested in conservation and I’m interested in what happens on both sides of the Detroit River,” Payne said. “This my third trip and I’ve seen what you’re doing on the U.S. side and it’s great. Congratulations.”

Schroeck pointed out the long history of environmental cooperation between the U.S. and Canada, calling it a model for the world.

“The U.S. and Canada have the longest running peaceful border in the history of the modern world,” he said. “Back in 1909 we signed the Boundary Waters Treaty, which regulates pollution across that imaginary dotted line in the river. We work together collaboratively on the issues.”

Most of those on board were not experts or officials, but simply citizens interested in the issues. Colleen and John Orton may have been more interested than most because they actually live right on the Detroit River.

“We live near Amherstberg opposite Turkey Island,” John said. “Biologists come to our property to study rare species like Blanding’s Turtles, Spiny Softshell Turtles, Queen Snakes and Lake Erie Water Snakes. We’re very much in touch with the health of the river.”

In his presentation, which started and stopped as different points of interest passed, Schroeck gave the audience an overview of the legal landscape as well.

“I try and give an introduction to the laws and regulations we use as tools to protect the river and the Great Lakes,” he said before the tour began. “Also, a lot of it will be what I call policy information, how we’d like people to be engaged with this tremendous resource. I’ll mention the Clean Water Act and how it governs both point and non-point pollution.”

Schroeck also gave examples of some of the newer laws and their impact.

“It’s estimated that 182 of the invasive species in the Great Lakes come from international shipping,” he said. “We have new U.S. Coast Guard regulations that require these ‘salties,’ as we call them, to flush their ballast tanks 200 miles outside the St. Lawrence Seaway before they enter North America.”

One of the main sponsors of the cruise was Detroit River Canadian Cleanup. DRCC is a community-based partnership started in 1998 to clean up, enhance and sustain the river ecosystem.

Partnerships within the DRCC aim to promote and implement the Remedial Action Plan to restore the Detroit River’s beneficial uses with the ultimate goal of removing the Detroit River from the list of Great Lakes Areas of Concern.

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