When the United States and Canada amended the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement in 1987, they designated 43 sites as Areas of Concern (AC) for environmental restoration around the Great Lakes region . Fourteen of these sites were in Michigan.
The decades that followed saw slow but steady successes. Michigan’s AOC program has become a model for large-scale regional ecosystem restoration through community planning, contaminated sediment cleanup, and habitat restoration, in collaboration with federal and local partners. Three Michigan Areas of Concern – White Lake in Muskegon County, Menominee River in the western Upper Peninsula, and Deer Lake in Marquette County – have been successfully restored and “delisted”. Progress continues at the other 11 sites.
The latest to approach write-off is Muskegon Lake AOC. Located along Lake Michigan in the Lower Peninsula, it includes the 4,149-acre Muskegon Lake and parts of its tributaries: Ruddiman, Ryerson, Four Mile, Bear, and Green Creeks; arm of the Muskegon River; and Bear Lake. The sediments were contaminated with excessive nutrients, heavy metals, petrochemicals, pesticides, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) from municipal and industrial sources long ago. Several remediation projects over 20 years included wetland creation, sediment removal, culvert replacement, shoreline softening, debris/fill removal and habitat restoration at 18 sites.
State, federal and local officials and other stakeholders gathered May 24 at Heritage Landing in Muskegon to celebrate the completion last fall of all required management actions prior to Muskegon Lake being delisted. Management actions are projects that target Beneficial Use Impairments (UBIs) at a contaminated site. BUIs are changes in chemical, physical, or biological conditions sufficient to cause significant environmental degradation and limit beneficial uses such as consumption of fish and wildlife, the beach, etc. Once all deficiencies are removed from an AOC, it can proceed to the delisting process. Muskegon Lake originally had nine BUIs; four remain.
“I hope you all recognize that your hard, smart and persistent work is transformative,” EGLE Director Liesl Clark told attendees involved in the cleanup. “I know you measure progress by actions completed, deficiencies removed, and areas removed. I hope you’re also proud of all the ripple effects: the lives you improve, the community pride you restore, the opportunities you create, and the brighter future you help build. »
AOC remediation typically involves removing or mitigating contaminants from river and lake bottoms, restoring fish and wildlife habitat, monitoring environmental health, and addressing issues. created by pollution. Corrective Action Plans (RAPs) track the status of environmental issues and BUIs in each Area of Concern.
Work in the Muskegon Lake Area of Concern repaired shoreline erosion, removed logging-era sawmill debris, restored 134 acres of habitat and over 6,000 feet of shoreline, and removed more than 150,000 tonnes of debris and sediment. In total, the sediment and habitat remediation work cost approximately $70 million. Although the cleanup is complete, ongoing environmental assessments will help the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the State of Michigan ensure that the environmental quality of the lake improves over time. Once the lake meets the applicable cleanup criteria, the process of removing the lake from the AOC list can begin.
EGLE coordinates the AOC program in conjunction with local, state, and federal partners. In Muskegon and other WCA communities, various stakeholders have come together to address contaminated sediments, loss of fish and wildlife habitat, degraded water quality, beach closures and many other BUIs.
In addition to cleanup and restoration, the long-term health of ecosystems for AOC communities also depends on regulatory programs, voluntary grant programs, and ongoing public involvement.
The Muskegon Lake Watershed Partnership has made full use of the RAP process, meeting monthly since 1993 and building strong working relationships. Beyond the major AOC delisting milestone, the partnership will continue to meet monthly to protect Muskegon Lake’s natural resources in the future.
Legend: EGLE Director Liesl Clark (in white jacket) at the EPA Area of Concern media event in Muskegon.