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425-mile Lake Michigan paddle boarding journey highlights Great Lakes protection and preservation; all captured on film.

The documentary titled 'Troubled Water' premieres in February at Grand Valley State University's Downtown Grand Rapids campus.

Written by Erik Howard on January 31, 2024.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Filmmakers and Great Lake enthusiasts William Wright, Davis Huber and Chris Yahanda grew up in Indiana, often traveling to the lakeshore to do just about everything.

"We've been doing mountain biking, surfing, even waterskiing slalom," Wright said. "Everything that you can do in the Great Lakes for as long as we can remember."

Lake Michigan, and the Great Lakes, have been the backdrop of so many adventures in Wright and Huber's lifetimes. 

What they weren't aware of, however, was that it was all under threat. 

"We actually were on a paddle trip trying to paddle from where I live in Petoskey to where Chris lives in Elk Rapids and we were shown that there was a Line 5 pipeline issue in the Straits of Mackinac," Wright said.

The Line 5 pipeline is a long-embattled installation from Enbridge Incorporated. It's drawn mass protest and concern for the threats a rupture poses to 21% of the planet's freshwater. 

The pipeline was a large talking point in then-Gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer's campaign, which she eventually took action on, attempting to shut it down.

After a long legal battle, Whitmer was unable to enforce her intentions to shut down the pipeline, prompting Enbridge to announce intentions to begin its Great Lakes Tunnel Project

The project is focused on creating a tunnel to house the pipeline safely underneath the lakebed, which Enbridge says will "virtually eliminate the chance of a pipeline incident in the Straits."

At the time Wright, Yahanda and Huber began their journey, debate was still ongoing and no action had been taken. This prompted them to set their sights on documenting this journey across Lake Michigan.

"I really wanted to do something big, something that could draw attention, something challenging," Huber said.

As the director, Huber said it was important to him that they got to travel back to the Great Lakes to tell the story. 

"For me, it was really special to be able to come back to the Midwest and tell an environmental story, and especially highlight the beauty of an area that I think a lot of people don't recognize is as beautiful and unique as Northern Michigan and the Great Lakes are," Huber said. 

So, the three set out on a 425-mile paddle-boarding journey that resulted in the creation of their documentary "Troubled Water."

The film follows Wright and Yohanda as they paddle, captured by Huber and a small crew driving the roads along their route to capture not only their efforts, but the beauty of Lake Michigan. 

The documentary works to highlight what could be lost in the face of a disaster surrounding Line 5. 

The film attracted attention and collaboration from climate activists who have long shared a desire for the removal of Line 5. 

One of those activists, Erica Bouldin, is a member of the Michigan Climate Action Network. Bouldin has long felt it's time for a change and sees "Troubled Water" as a vessel to inspire change.

"The whole world is dependent on these little tiny pockets that we have that are supplying freshwater. The animals that are there, the plants that are there, the insects that are there, they're all a part of this, like ecosystem that we don't get to see all the time," said Bouldin.

"If (oil) impacts even the little fish, the big fish feel that, the insects feel that, the plants feel that, and it spreads so much further than just Michigan," said Bouldin. "This is Canada, this is Wisconsin, this is Minnesota, this is Illinois. We're all touching this, this is a really large issue."

The journey of these filmmakers and their fight on the shoreline centers on inspiring the next generation of climate activists.

"Things like this documentary, we should all feel a little bit more confident talking about this," said Bouldin. "Because it's our beach, right? It's our backyard. And we deserve a saying in that."

"From the beginning, we wanted to tell the story about taking action and doing what you can to protect the place that you love, which I think is a message that that resonates (from the film)," added Huber.

At the documentary's core, Wright said there's something he hoped everyone would remember.

"It's a very enjoyable watch. When you come away with it, there's a very easy call to action to say, 'Hey, is this something I love? Is this something that I would like to maybe sign a petition, or write my local representative?'" 

"There's something you can do to help," he said. 

"Troubled Water" will premiere in West Michigan on Feb. 1 at 6:30 p.m. in the Loosemore Auditorium at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids

Tickets are $5 and available for purchase on the Michigan Climate Action Network's website.

13 ON YOUR SIDE also reached out to Enbridge Inc. for a comment and received this response:

"Enbridge is investing in a cleaner energy future and the transportation systems that deliver energy resources safely, affordably, and reliably. 

Our commitment to protecting the Great Lakes continues to drive our work to build the Great Lakes Tunnel, deactivating the section of Line 5 that currently sits in the waters of the Straits and locating a replacement section inside the confines of the tunnel, deep under the lakebed. 

We remain fiercely committed to protecting the natural resources of Michigan and the Great Lakes region, and to building the Great Lakes Tunnel. We have been pursuing permits for the construction of the tunnel since 2020 and currently hold permits from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy and the Michigan Public Service Commission. We await a permit from the US Army Corps of Engineers. 

The Great Lakes Tunnel for Line 5 at the Straits makes what has always been a safe pipeline even safer, ensuring energy access and reliability, and supporting jobs and the economy throughout the Great Lakes Region. Building the Great Lakes Tunnel has the support of 70 percent of Michiganders. 

As we proceed with this modernization project, we remain committed to operating Line 5 responsibly with enhanced safety measures in the Straits that protect Michigan’s natural resources and infrastructure in the Straits."


This article first appeared at 13 ON YOUR SIDE.

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