TRAVERSE CITY — Don Cunkle wasn’t thinking about the environment when he started Recycle-A-Bicycle, he was just trying to turn his hobby of fixing bikes into something that could help people without transportation.
Cunkle was surprised to find out he was nominated for, and then won, an “environmentalist of the year” award from the Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council.
“I thought this was about air quality and clean water and environmentalism,” said Cunkle, who started the program about eight years ago. “We’re not burning any fuel, we’re giving people independence so they’re not dependent on neighbors or family or the bus system for transportation.”
NMEAC hosted its annual awards dinner tonight. The event is intended to recognize groups and individuals for their work over the last year, whether advancing a cause or using sustainable practices.
Seventy-one people and groups from the northern Michigan area were nominated to receive 14 awards across various categories.
“We put it on to celebrate the year’s accomplishments by some remarkable people in all different arenas, not just environmentalism,” said Ken Smith, the executive director of NMEAC.
The area’s environmentalists celebrated not only each other, but the first legal battle won using money from NMEAC’s environmental legacy fund.
NMEAC and other stakeholders argued that officials at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality violated state wetlands laws when they issued a permit to a St. Louis man looking to develop property on Green Lake’s north end. The permit would have allowed the man to dredge and fill wetlands on the property.
“We had a really significant victory last week in the first action we took being financed by the legacy fund,” said Smith. “Judge (Thomas) Power in the circuit court in Traverse City ruled in our favor and in that ruling upheld the integrity of the Michigan wetlands protection act."
Michael Delp, the co-editor of the “Made in Michigan” book series and an author who writes about water, was the keynote speaker of the event. He praised NMEAC for fighting a legal battle and encouraged members of the group to take their fights to court.
“I hope we can rise to the level of our passion and rise to what we claim to be,” Delp said.