Government, Lakeshore, and Sustainability

Federal grant will be used to restore Muskegon Lake wetlands

Project should be final piece needed to remove the lake from the areas of concern list.

August 26, 2016
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Muskegon River
The grant money will be used for a wetlands site along the Muskegon River at the end of Wood Street. Courtesy Great Lakes Commission

The restoration of Muskegon Lake is worth millions.

Michigan’s U.S. senators, Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow, announced the Great Lakes Commission was awarded a $7.9 million grant from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a multi-year plan to restore and preserve the Great Lakes. The money will be used for the restoration of Muskegon Lake, a Muskegon freshwater lake that forms an approximately 12-square-mile broad harbor on the shoreline of Lake Michigan.

“We are proud to receive this recognition of our longstanding commitment to restoring toxic hotspots across the Great Lakes and excited to continue the work of restoring Muskegon Lake,” said Tim Eder, executive director of the Great Lakes Commission.

“This is the third regional partnership the Great Lakes Commission has been awarded since 2008, with over $70 million being directed to key sites across the basin. We look forward to continuing this critical work in collaboration with our federal and local partners.”

Founded in 1955, the Great Lakes Commission, headquartered in Ann Arbor, is an interstate compact agency that works to enhance the economic stability and health of the natural resources of the Great Lakes basin and St. Lawrence River.

“We work like a nonprofit, but we were established by Congress,” said Heather Braun, senior project manager for coastal conservation and habitat restoration at the Great Lakes Commission. “Our goal is to help the states speak with one voice in respect to the Great Lakes’ economy and environment.

“The GLC has been involved throughout the state with other partners to restore habitats in the Great Lakes ‘areas of concern.’ We’ve been actively receiving funding and passing them on to the partners on the ground who implement habitat restoration.”

GLC recently entered into a new $40 million regional partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The new $7.9 million grant for the Muskegon Lake project, which is part of that partnership, is expected to be the last habitat restoration needed to remove Muskegon Lake from the areas of concern list, Braun said.

The three-year cooperative partnership will enable GLC to continue its mission to collaborate with state and local partners to clean up several Great Lakes Areas of Concern, which are considered to be designated geographic areas within the Great Lakes basin that show significant environmental degradation.

The grant money will go toward a site that is located along the Muskegon River at the end of Wood Street in Muskegon Township. The property was acquired a couple years ago with funding that also came from the NOAA, Braun said.

“This is, hopefully, our final project to remove the fish and wildlife and use impairments in that area of concern,” she said.

“At the site we’re working on through this particular project, we’re working on a former farm field that used to farm celery. It’s adjacent to the river and separated by dikes. The soil in that wetland area is just loaded with excess phosphorus from the history of agriculture.”

Muskegon Lake was registered a Great Lakes Area of Concern in 1985 because of poor water quality coming from industrial pollution, as well as habitat loss from shoreline alterations and filling in of wetlands.

The Muskegon Lake project will reconnect former wetlands with the Muskegon River, restoring fish passages as well as a habitat for a variety of native fish and wildlife. This will mean the removal of three dikes and the restoration of approximately 53.3 acres of wetland. The project is designed to increase tourism and enhance the Muskegon Lake fishery, contributing an estimated $1.3 million annually to the local economy, Braun said.

Local implementation of the project will be led by the West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission. The project is expensive and involves moving large amounts of soil, Braun said, adding there also is funding in the planning budget for ecological monitoring.

“The project has not been contracted out, yet. The funding will go from GLC to the West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission, and they will work with an engineering firm to propose requests for contracting firms to complete the construction,” she said.

“As far as timing, we expect the project to be constructed in the summer of 2017. We’re finalizing designs right now and (will have) the bid packet go out in the winter.”

The project makes sense from an economics standpoint, Peters said.

“From fishing and boating to tourism and shipping, Michigan’s Great Lakes and waterways drive our economy,” said Peters, who is a member of the Senate Great Lakes Task Force. “The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is vital to protecting our precious water resources, and this funding will help restore critical habitat for fish and other wildlife and boost West Michigan’s economy with increased outdoor recreation opportunities.”

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