Muskegon Lake was designated an Area of Concern by the federal Environmental Protection Agency in 1985. For decades now, state and local groups have been completing a wide variety of projects in order to clean up the area and get it off the Areas of Concern list. One of the groups that’s been working on projects to restore the lake, the West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Corporation, says that its goal is to have all of the projects completed by the end of 2021, and off the EPA’s list shortly thereafter.
The area has a history of both industry and farming. As a result, contaminants like heavy metals polluted the lake, along with nutrients and pesticides as a result of agricultural runoff. There’s also physical debris in Muskegon Lake, as well as manmade remnants of its industrial past.
Kathy Evans is the environmental planning program manager for the WMSRDC. She says one crucial aspect of cleaning up the lake is habitat restoration.
“We’re restoring habitats for native Michigan wildlife populations. The types of fish that we would find here naturally are anywhere from bluegill and bass to sturgeon. And then we’re also restoring habitats that will help support native populations of frogs and turtles and marsh birds, and of course the mammals that use the shoreline.”
One project WMSRDC is currently overseeing is on a former Amoco site, now owned by the city of Muskegon. Unnatural fill composed of broken concrete was used to build a dock for Amoco, made worse by sawmill waste that had been dumped in the river for years before that. A concrete wall separates the natural wetlands from the lake’s waterways. Evans says industry disrupted the natural patterns of waterways around the lake.
“The concrete wall that’s going to be removed is going to be able to reconnect wetlands with the lake. The lower Muskegon River project will reconnect the Muskegon River to a restored natural wetland,” Evans said.
The funding to restore Muskegon Lake to its natural state comes from the EPA’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, and the money then goes through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA. Evans says NOAA most commonly deals with projects having to do with ocean pollution, so it’s good to be able to get some money for the Great Lakes.