Economic Development, Lakeshore, and Sustainability

Process outlines priorities for Muskegon Lake by 2020

February 5, 2016
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A lakeshore community has set its sights on improving the quality and sustainability of social, economic, residential and recreational activities for one of its greatest assets.

Representatives from the West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission recently presented the results and key priorities outlined in the Muskegon Lake Vision 2020 report during a Muskegon County Port Advisory Committee meeting at Grand Valley State University’s Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center.

As a comprehensive assessment report, Muskegon Lake Vision 2020 not only provides information on the current community perceptions of assets, but also outlines a unified vision to guide sustainable development, stewardship and use of Muskegon Lake in the future.

Erin Kuhn, executive director of WMSRDC, said the organization embarked on a public involvement process with a diverse group of stakeholders to look at the community’s perceptions of the quality of Muskegon Lake assets.

“We wanted to provide information and a platform for a unified vision to guide sustainable development and utilization of the lakeshore well into the future,” said Kuhn.

In collaboration with the Port Advisory Committee and the Muskegon Lake Watershed Partnership, the WMSRDC launched a series of public forums last June to gather feedback from community stakeholders on natural resources, outdoor recreation, commerce and port use, and residential assets related to the more than 4,200-acre lake.

“We are looking probably at about a half-mile buffer all the way around Muskegon Lake, so it does reach up into the downtown area, into some of the residential areas, as well as up the river mouth and the wetland areas up there,” said Kuhn.

During each of the four public meetings, industry experts presented information regarding the current status of the lake’s assets, and community stakeholders provided feedback on polling questions and engaged in breakout sessions.

“We had anywhere between 40 and 60 people attend each of those forums,” said Kuhn. “What we have done since June is pull all that together and identify priorities of the community’s perceptions and how they would like the lake to change over the next five years through 2020.”

Some of the top priorities included: increased promotion of recreational opportunities; cleanup of blighted properties; additional recreational activities; continued habitat restoration, softening of the shoreline and environmental stewardship; and more public access.

Improved signage and wayfinding, protecting and improving scenic beauty and lake views, increased housing options, better communication, and increased cooperation and collaboration also made the priority list.

Kuhn said the goal is to maintain a positive relationship among the assets and remain sustainable well into the future.

“In the past we haven’t always been sustainable in the development, and that is apparent with the Area of Concern designation the lake received back in the ’80s with all the environmental degradation that happened around the lake through previous uses and assets,” said Kuhn.

“What we want to do and what the community wants to do is maintain, sustain and further develop the lake, but have it done in a sustainable manner where all of these assets can thrive.”

The report indicated two impending events also served as a catalyst for the Muskegon Lake Vision 2020 as community leaders seek to diversify the tonnage moved through the Port of Muskegon, increase commercial activity, sustain environmental integrity and maintain recreational opportunities.

Muskegon Lake is not only three to five years away from being delisted as an Area of Concern, but also could lose up to 640,000 tons of coal moved through the port annually as Consumers Energy’s B.C. Cobb Plant is expected to close in April and be dismantled by 2018.

To assess the future economic impact of commercial development around Muskegon Lake, Consumers Energy commissioned Development Research Partners, which is based in Colorado, to look at the economic benefits of expanding the Port of Muskegon from 2016 to the end of 2020.

The firm’s report indicated four businesses — Verplank, Andrie Inc., LaFargeHolcim Cement and the West Michigan Dock and Market Corp. — have a direct economic benefit of $20.9 million and employ nearly 120 workers.

By expanding shipping opportunities at the port, the report said there is a direct and indirect benefit to the state valued at $94.6 million produced by 428 direct and indirect workers during the construction period alone. The annual net impact of expanded port activity for Michigan has the potential of reaching an additional $282.9 million in direct and indirect output from more than 1,740 workers earning $91.3 million each year.

In terms of the 13-county West Michigan Prosperity Alliance Region 4, the economic benefit could reach an additional $243.2 million in direct and indirect output produced by more than 1,300 workers, while Muskegon County alone could see an additional $16.6 million in direct and indirect output from 117 new workers.

Kuhn said while WMRSDC didn’t conduct the study, the numbers in the report are pretty exciting.

“It looks at what … is currently being moved and where the impact is happening. Coal is in there, as well, but we are losing that, and really the goal is to replace the tonnage we are going to be losing from the loss of the coal plant and the shipments, and also diversify,” said Kuhn.

“The purpose for the study is really to give justification for furthering the regional logistics hub,” she added.

The report indicated all of Muskegon Lake’s identified assets contribute to overall direct and indirect benefits to the area. An additional study from a 2011-2013 Muskegon Lake habitat restoration project by GVSU determined the socio-economic benefits of softening the shoreline, which was identified as a priority by the community through the Muskegon Lake Vision 2020 process, had a $60 million benefit during a 10-year period with an additional 65,000 visitors each year.

“The community really wants all assets taken into consideration, no matter what kind of development is happening around the lake, to maintain that sustainability,” said Kuhn. “We hope the plan will be used as a reference for communities as they plan for future development.”

The Muskegon Lake Watershed Partnership already has begun a strategic planning process focused on the natural resources of Muskegon Lake using the outcomes of the Muskegon Lake Vision 2020 process, according to Kuhn.

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