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New Videos Highlight Economic and Environmental Impact of Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Work at Muskegon Lake and St. Marys River

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 13, 2017
Contact: Beth Wanamaker, beth@glc.org
Office: 734-396-6082; Cell: 248-787-3920

Ann Arbor, Mich. – The Great Lakes Commission (GLC) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) today released videos highlighting the economic and environmental impact of work they are leading in Muskegon, Michigan, and at the Little Rapids portion of the St. Marys River. The GLC and NOAA are working together to restore the Muskegon Lake and St. Marys River Areas of Concern (AOCs) — two Great Lakes “toxic hotspots.”

The videos, produced by Michigan’s Issue Media Group, reveal how restoration work is enhancing quality of life for local and regional residents and businesses. When completed, the Muskegon projects are expected to increase property values by nearly $12 million, attract 65,000 new visitors annually, and enhance the Muskegon Lake Fishery, which each year contributes more than $1 million to the local economy. A 2011 study determined that over 15 years, dollars invested in Muskegon Lake restoration would result in a 6-to-1 return to the local economy. The Little Rapids Restoration Project has recently completed construction of a new bridge on Sugar Island in the St. Marys River, reestablishing the flow to the Little Rapids for the first time in more than 50 years. This work is expected to lead to improved habitat for native fish populations, revitalized tourism and sport fishing opportunities on the river, and better community access via a new pedestrian walkway.

Developer Dennis Kirksey, chair of the Muskegon Lake Watershed Partnership, is featured in the Muskegon video. He says that that a healthy environment is critical to future development in the region.

“In Muskegon, you are seeing a coming together of federal, state, and local partners to revitalize a shoreline and breathe life back into a community,” Kirksey said. “With this restoration project, we're recognizing that water is life, and it is the backbone of our region and state.” Kirksey and others are partnering with GLC, NOAA, and the West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission, where Kathy Evans, who is also featured in the videos, leads restoration work in Muskegon Lake. 

“NOAA's work in the Great Lakes is really focused on support for community-based, community-led restoration projects,” said Evans. “All of the projects, including right here in Muskegon Lake, benefit the environment, the economy, and the local community.”

U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-MI-2), co-chair of the Great Lakes Task Force, has been a longtime supporter of the Muskegon project. “By engaging stakeholders at the local, state, and federal level, the Great Lakes Commission has taken the lead in making sure Areas of Concern such as Muskegon Lake are properly restored. Restoring these sites will not only preserve the Great Lakes ecosystem for future generations, it will strengthen economic opportunity for residents of Muskegon county, West Michigan, and the entire Great Lakes region.”

Mike Ripley represents the Chippewa-Ottawa Resource Authority and is featured in the St. Marys video. “This area, the area where Lake Superior flowed into the St. Marys River over the Big Rapids, was a very important place to the Native people of the area because of the incredible abundance of fish and wildlife that was available,” Ripley said. “Thanks to the restoration work here, we hope to see more opportunities for fishing for all people and for future generations. Restoration of the Little Rapids is something people can truly be proud of.”

Muskegon Lake was designated an AOC in 1985 after serving as dumping grounds for foundries and paper mills for decades. In 1992, federal, state and local organizations began working together to remediate contaminated sediments and to restore and protect fish and wildlife and their habitats in the lake. Since 2013, the GLC has received Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) funding from NOAA to lead four projects at Muskegon Lake. This work is expected to eventually result in formal removal of Muskegon Lake from the list of Great Lakes Areas of Concern. 

In 1987, due to industrial and municipal discharges as well as loss of critical habitat, a portion of the St. Marys River was designated an AOC. The GLC received GLRI funding from NOAA to lead the construction of the bridge to replace a deteriorating causeway across a portion of the river. Planning for this project was initiated more than two decades ago, with input from local stakeholders continually guiding restoration efforts. Bridge construction started in spring 2016 and was completed in November 2016. Additional plantings, paving, and ecological monitoring, conducted by Lake Superior State University, will continue in 2017.

The GLC implements its restoration work through a regional partnership with NOAA, in close coordination with local, state and federal partners. The GLC has been awarded three Regional Habitat Restoration Partnerships since 2008, with up to $70 million being directed to key sites across the Great Lakes basin.

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The Great Lakes Commission, led by Chair Jon W. Allan, director of the Michigan Office of the Great Lakes, is an interstate compact agency established under state and U.S. federal law and dedicated to promoting a strong economy, healthy environment and high quality of life for the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence region and its residents. The Commission consists of governors’ appointees, state legislators, and agency officials from its eight member states. Associate membership for Ontario and Québec was established through the signing of a “Declaration of Partnership.” The Commission maintains a formal Observer program involving U.S. and Canadian federal agencies, tribal authorities, binational agencies and other regional interests. The Commission offices are located in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Learn more at www.glc.org.