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After spending more than 30 years in the AOC program, a retrospective of the program

After spending more than 30 years in the AOC program, a retrospective of the program

Heritage Landing on Muskegon Lake in Muskegon, Mich. a few years after habitat restoration. Photo courtesy of West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission.

Heritage Landing on Muskegon Lake in Muskegon, Mich. a few years after habitat restoration. Photo courtesy of West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission.Today’s MI Environment Areas of Concern story by Kathy Evans, The program manager for West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission (West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission) is from the State of the Great Lakes Report. AOCs will be the subject of the Muskegon Areas of Concern Conference, which will take place May 24 to 26. The deadline is Register for the conference is May 13.

Michigan’s Areas of Concern (AOC) program was established with a “remedial” approach for the restoration of its Great Lakes toxic hot spots or “Areas of Concern.” Remedial Action Plans were developed to identify the status of environmental problems and related Beneficial Use Impairments in each of Michigan’s 14 AOCs.

Over the years, Michigan’s program has evolved as a shining example of how large-scale, regional, ecosystem restoration can be accomplished through community-based planning, contaminated sediment cleanups, and habitat restoration in some of the Great Lakes most severely degraded, environmentally complex water bodies.

In the 1990s, AOC programs were fragmented. It was imperative to establish stronger partnerships between the federal, state, local and federal levels to make progress. During the early 2000s, Michigan’s Public Advisory Councils (PAC) began establishing science-based targets and criteria for the removal of Beneficial Use Impairments (BUI).

The State of Michigan created statewide guidance for several BUIs as a result of this work. This greatly accelerated the process. EGLE is now coordinating the program, along with a strong coalition from federal, state, and local partners. The people involved in Michigan’s AOC program are among those who are the most dedicated to Great Lakes restoration.

Muskegon and other AOC communities have a program called AOC that brings together diverse stakeholders to create ecosystem-based plans to address contaminated sediments and loss of wildlife habitat.

The Great Lakes communities participating in the AOC program have the benefit of being able tackle a wide range of environmental concerns under one Remedial Action Plan. This ecosystem approach allows communities and other stakeholders to take part in a holistic planning process to address the most serious impairments in their AOC. It’s a process that makes sense to local people.

The Great Lakes Legacy Act (GLLA) and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) have provided the necessary support to address these complex environmental issues. AOC communities’ long-term ecosystem health depends on the sustainability of their ecosystems. This is in addition to the cleanup and restoration.

The Muskegon Lake Watershed Partnership benefited from the RAP process. They met monthly since 1993 and developed strong partnerships. On September 30, 2021, they celebrated the completion all management actions required to remove Muskegon Lake’s AOC designation. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will officially recognize completion of management actions at AOC conference. Because everyone is on the same page, we are getting things done.

The role of many PACs has been to advance the cleanup needed to bring a water body to a state that is “no more degraded than other water bodies not designated AOCs.” Ultimately, Michigan’s AOC program will delist all 14 of its original AOCs, with three already delisted. Over the past decades, many PACs became part of established watershed groups and/or have become closely affiliated to an organization whose mission is the improvement of water resources.

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The Muskegon Lake Watershed Partnership will continue to meet monthly, provide a place for partnership development, and be good stewards of Muskegon Lake’s natural resources into the future, beyond the major milestone achievement of AOC delisting.

CaptionSeveral years after habitat restoration, Heritage Landing at Muskegon Lake in Muskegon (Mich.) (Photo courtesy West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission

Kathy Evans is the West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission’s environmental program manager. She is based in Muskegon.

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