A retrospective on the AOC program after spending more than 30 years in the program

Today’s article on MI Environmental Areas of Concern by Kathy Evans, the program manager, West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission, is from the State of the Great Lakes Report. Areas of Concern are the subject of the annual Areas of Concern Conference in Muskegon May 24-26. The registration deadline for the conference is May 13.

Michigan’s Areas of Concern (AOC) program was established with a “remedial” approach to restoring its toxic hotspots or “areas of concern” in the Great Lakes. Corrective Action Plans have been developed to identify the status of environmental issues and related beneficial use impairments in each of Michigan’s 14 Areas of Concern.

Over the years, the Michigan program has become a shining example of how large-scale regional ecosystem restoration can be accomplished through community planning, cleaning up contaminated sediments, and restoring habitat in some of the most severely degraded and environmentally complex Great Lakes. water places.

During the 1990s, the AOC program became fragmented and there was a need for stronger local, state, and federal partnerships to drive progress. In the early 2000s, Michigan’s Public Advisory Councils (PACs) began establishing science-based goals and criteria for the elimination of Beneficial Use Impairments (BUIs).

As this work evolved, the State of Michigan developed statewide guidelines for several BUIs, greatly accelerating the process. The program is now well coordinated by EGLE, working with a strong coalition of local, state and federal partners. Those involved in Michigan’s AOC program are among those most dedicated to restoring the Great Lakes.

In Muskegon and other AOC communities, the AOC program has brought together diverse stakeholders to implement ecosystem plans that address contaminated sediments, loss of fish and wildlife habitat, degradation of water quality, beach closures and many other BUIs.

The Great Lakes communities involved in the AOC program are fortunate in that they can tackle a wide variety of environmental issues, all under the umbrella of a single Corrective Action Plan (RAP). This ecosystem approach allows communities to participate in an effective and holistic planning process to address the most serious deficiencies in their area of ​​concern. It is a process that makes sense to local people.

The Great Lakes Legacy Act and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative provided the support needed to tackle these complex environmental issues. In addition to cleanup and restoration of AOCs, the long-term ecosystem health of AOC communities also depends on regulatory programs, voluntary subsidy programs, and ongoing public involvement.

The Muskegon Lake Watershed Partnership has fully benefited from the RAP process, has met monthly since 1993, developed strong partnerships, and on September 30, 2021 celebrated the completion of all management actions necessary to remove Muskegon Lake from List of Great Lakes Areas of Concern. (The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will formally acknowledge completion of management actions at the AOC conference.) We get things done because everyone is on the same page.

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

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

Legend: Heritage Landing on Muskegon Lake in Muskegon, Michigan, a few years after habitat restoration. (Photo courtesy of the Michigan West Coast Regional Development Commission)

Kathy Evans is environmental program manager for the West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission, based in Muskegon, Michigan. She has spent over 30 years working with Michigan’s AOC program, with a particular focus on restoring Muskegon Lake AOC.

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