Group forms Vision 2020 for Muskegon Lake
As large-scale restoration projects continue along the roughly 4,100-acre shoreline of Muskegon Lake, a West Michigan-based development organization is seeking community feedback for its Vision 2020 project.
The West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission, a state and federally designated planning and development organization, is hosting four public forums during the month of June at 200 Viridian Drive in Grand Valley State University’s Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center.
The forums are designed to develop a high-level of community involvement in the strategic vision of Muskegon Lake’s future.
It is anticipated the lake will be removed from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s “areas of concern” list in the next three to five years.
Organizations providing input include the Muskegon County Port Advisory Committee, which focuses on the Port of Muskegon’s future development, the Muskegon Lake Watershed Partnership, which develops restoration plans for the lake, and the Muskegon Area-wide Plan Advisory Committee, which advises on the Muskegon County land use plan.
Erin Kuhn, executive director of WMSRDC, said the organizations are working to help clean up Muskegon Lake and promote the Port of Muskegon as a regional logistics hub.
“We are facilitating the process of looking at different uses all around Muskegon Lake, and those include recreational uses on the lake, the environmental and natural resources of the lake, the commerce and port activity on and around the lake, as well as residential properties on or around the lake,” said Kuhn.
“We are going to hold four community forums — each one focused on one of those areas — to gather the community’s input, how they feel about those, is it equally distributed and is it where it needs to be around the lake.”
During each of the forums, community members will be asked to rate Muskegon Lake’s attributes in key areas such as quantity of resources, distribution of resources, aesthetics and accessibility.
“We have an expert coming in for each of those topics to talk about the current condition of that topic around Muskegon Lake to help us get a better understanding of where we compare to the standing of the lake right now and maybe where we could be in the future,” said Kuhn.
“We will pull it all together and have a document we will present to the community in the fall, which would be the full vision of where we want Muskegon Lake to be in the year 2020.”
Remaining forums include Les Brand, of Supply Chain Solutions, discussing commerce and port activity June 23, and Paul Isley, GVSU professor, discussing residential uses around the lake June 24.
“It needs to be a vision of the community. Many people, through past studies and efforts we have done, have identified lakes and our waterfront — specifically, Muskegon Lake — as a very important asset to our community,” said Kuhn. “We need their involvement on where they want the lake to be and what is most important to them about the lake to help us create this vision.”
Kuhn anticipates the document will be used by the various organizations already involved in Muskegon Lake’s environmental health and by municipalities surrounding the lake.
“We would like the various groups to take the document and help us implement it, have the local communities take the vision and reference it when they are making land use and other planning decisions within their own communities and hopefully incorporate it into their planning documents,” said Kuhn. “We also want to take the document to our state and federal partners and let them know we have a vision when Muskegon Lake is delisted.”
Kathy Evans, program manager for environmental planning at WMSRDC, said Vision 2020 is important for the future of Muskegon Lake.
“It will be more important than ever to work in a coordinated way with community partners to make sure what we have done is sustainable and to make the best use of Muskegon Lake as possible for as many stakeholders as possible,” said Evans. “Vision 2020 will help us springboard into the next phase.”
Muskegon Lake was designated in 1985 as a geographic area experiencing environmental degradation due to water quality and habitat issues from the historical discharge of pollutants, according to the EPA.
The lake comprises more than 4,100 acres of shoreline and tributaries such as Mosquito, Ryerson, Ruddiman, Green and Four Mile creeks.
“Overall, to delist Muskegon Lake as an area of concern, including projects completed and those underway now, the cost is probably about $90 million. Some of it has already been spent,” said Evans. “We have the budgets for those already approved. These are large-scale projects, very complex, and take a lot of time, not to mention Michigan’s weather. That is why it is going to take three to four years to complete these projects even though we are already underway.”
Funding for the restoration projects has come from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Restoration Center through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and continued financing provided by a federal program known as the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative launched in 2010 to accelerate efforts to protect and restore the lakes.
“We worked with NOAA in the past with a $10 million project funded through NOAA and through stimulus, widely through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. That project yielded some really great economic benefits,” said Evans. “The projects that are funded now are under the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. It is a very successful program, something that has been funded annually in the president’s budget. It is very gratifying to see the funding can be so well used by so many communities and makes such a difference.”