Muskegon: Bring us your blight
Partners research feasibility of collecting Great Lakes communities’ debris and repurposing it.
(As seen on WZZM TV 13) A new Muskegon-based study could result in a “deconstruction cluster” in the Port of Muskegon intended to repurpose structural waste from abandoned properties to be sold on the market.
The West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission is working with Michigan State University researchers, Muskegon County and other local stakeholders on a new project that could not only have an impact on sustainability efforts but also on economic prosperity in the Port of Muskegon area.
The new Muskegon County Deconstruction Cluster Feasibility Study will examine the possibility of creating and sustaining “an innovative, comprehensive building deconstruction cluster to collect structural debris from communities around the Great Lakes” to recycle and repurpose into marketable items.
Erin Kuhn, executive director of the commission, said the objective of the study is to look at the feasibility of collecting debris from abandoned structures that are planned for demolition and would normally go into a landfill and reusing the material as a commodity that could be sold on the market.
“(It is) looking at a large catchment area of the entire Great Lakes and utilizing the Port of Muskegon to bring in that material from other cities throughout the Great Lakes, repurpose it here in Muskegon, and then ship it back out through the Port of Muskegon,” said Kuhn.
The study builds on the work Michigan State University researchers began more than a year ago when they looked at blighted homes and structures in Muskegon Heights. MSU worked in partnership with Muskegon County at the time.
Rex LaMore, director of MSU’s Center for Community and Economic Development, is working with West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission on the project and indicated on MSU’s website the test site in Muskegon has more than 3,000 abandoned residential and commercial properties.
“The current practice of demolishing abandoned structures is wasteful, so rather than land-filling this vast amount of material, our project seeks ways to reuse and resell this waste, create economic opportunity, reduce environmental degradation and revitalize distressed Great Lakes communities,” said LaMore.
Kuhn said it made sense for the commission and MSU to partner on the study since the university brings research experience and both organizations collaborate with Muskegon County.
“It made sense for us, with our presence here in West Michigan and our five-county region, and being here in Muskegon and working with the county already, for our two agencies to partner and bring in the research expertise that MSU can bring to the table,” said Kuhn. “This was a really great partnership, we felt, and our federal partners also felt it was a strong partnership.”
In support of the study, the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration invested $111,706 in Local Technical Assistance funds, which were matched by local funds to reach a total of more than $224,000 for the project.
Kuhn said while the project started locally by assessing blighted properties in Muskegon Heights, the study has grown into seeing how feasible it would be to develop a mechanism or cluster in Muskegon that could assist other communities in the Great Lakes region to repurpose material, with multiple impacts.
“It assists with recycling: minimizing the waste that goes into landfill. The state of Michigan has a very aggressive recycling initiative that they are trying to get started right now, so that falls right into line with what the state is trying to do,” said Kuhn.
“I think that is a very large component, and then also locally creating a cluster that could add to the economic prosperity for the region and create jobs. Repurposing this material and moving the goods in and out of the Port of Muskegon is another layer to that, as well,” added Kuhn.
While the details of what a potential “cluster” would look like is yet to be determined since the study is still underway, Kuhn indicated it might be existing companies in the area or new businesses recruited to the area that would end up repurposing the material.
“MSU is doing a lot of research on this. They are looking at how many structures are out there in various communities throughout the Midwest that could be that capture base,” said Kuhn. “How many structures are out there slated to be demolished, and what are the characteristics of those structures?”
Kuhn indicated part of the process will be to identify which materials already have a market, the worth of the materials, and looking at how to mitigate risks with potentially hazardous materials such as asbestos and lead paint.
“That is a big question and a big issue that we are taking into consideration. Of that material, how much has potential hazards and how do we overcome those hazards?” said Kuhn. “So it is weighing the costs of having to deal with the lead paint or asbestos and is it cost-worthy.”
The commission is also working with a local steering committee that includes representatives from Muskegon County and the cities of Muskegon and Muskegon Heights, among others.
The study is expected to be completed by the end of this year or early 2017, which coincides with a port infrastructure and organizational analysis currently underway.
“They were both being funded by the same federal agency and they kind of dovetail together. Looking at the port infrastructure and identifying the needs of the infrastructure also is very vital to the deconstruction feasibility study,” said Kuhn. “Does Muskegon have the necessary infrastructure to not only accept this material but then also send it back out once it is repurposed?”
The West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission received $62,500 in grant funding from the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration, which was matched in local funding totaling $125,000, to conduct an analysis of the existing infrastructure and organization around the Port of Muskegon. The organization will work with the Muskegon County Port Advisory’s Economic Development subcommittee to look at current and future capacity for water, road, rail and air transportation.