Area of Concern "Beacons" in the Great Lakes Basin

IJC is concerned that progress regarding complex and expensive remedial programs in a number of AOCs has been stalled as a result of the problems outlined later in the Obstacles section of this report. These delays are largely for institutional and financial rather than technical reasons. There are AOCs where notable achievements have resulted in real progress toward the development and implementation of remedial actions. The following success stories are told to inspire and assist other AOCs to consider strategies and solutions that have worked elsewhere.

Black River: Strategic Planning

The Black River is located in north-central Ohio and drains approximately 467 square miles (1210 square km) before discharging into Lake Erie at Lorain, Ohio. The lower drainage area is primarily industrial and municipal while the upper drainage area is mainly agricultural.

In response to the land use pressures in the Black River watershed, the Black River RAP Coordinating Committee and its community partners resolved in January 1996 to restore, enhance and protect the Black River and its tributaries through a community based public-private initiative. The initiative relies heavily upon working with private landowners and land users to ensure protection of a privately held corridor along the Black River and its tributaries. This is considered to be the best way to combat non-point sources of pollution in the watershed. The Black River Stream Riparian Corridor Restoration Task Force was officially authorized by the Black River RAP Coordinating Committee in August 1995. Its assignment was to identify strategies that members of the Black River RAP could realistically implement to combat non-point source pollution. By May 1996, an aggressive and comprehensive riparian corridor implementation plan was developed as part of this resolution and became the basis of the Black River RAP long range plan.

In the Fall of 1996, the Committee endorsed the formation of a full watershed management plan to address the land use effects and beneficial use impairments of both point and non-point sources of pollution. This long range plan is an effort by the Committee to begin formulating its stage two report. The stage two report, which will include the long range plan and subsequent annual work plans, is intended to address the environmental health problems and beneficial use impairments of the Black River watershed.

The long range plan provides direction for the Committee to address the major land uses that are impacting the Black River watershed and was created through a series of meetings ranging from a large facilitated retreat held in October 1996 to smaller brainstorming sessions and one-on-one conversations. As a result, the long range plan not only reflects the needs of the Black River RAP, but takes account of the external land use patterns that impact the protection, restoration and enhancement of the watershed. The RAP Committee adopted the plan in March 1997. It identifies watershed management goals and objectives including specific implementation activities of the Black River RAP. The objectives are outlined in box below.

Black River RAP Long Range Plan Objectives


Watershed Management


The Black River RAP Coordinating Committee will address the various objectives by selecting activities for implementation through the formation of annual work plans. Progress will be documented in annual reports to the Black River watershed community.

The overall intent of the long range plan is to: 1) provide an ongoing focus for RAP activities, and 2) attract funding and resources for its objectives. It will be used to accelerate or surpass existing program agendas in order to address the land use pollution and beneficial use impacts to the watershed. Effects of this plans creation already are being felt.

Lessons Learned

Grand Calumet River/Indiana Harbor Ship Canal: Public-Private Partnership

This AOC is located in Indiana about 15 miles (24 km) southeast of Chicago, Illinois. It is highly industrialized and consists of the Grand Calumet River, the Indiana Harbor Canal and the near shore of Lake Michigan.

The state and federal environmental enforcement initiative in northwest Indiana has been successful in bringing the regulated community into compliance with environmental regulations and will result in remediation of five of the 20 miles (eight of 32 km) of contaminated sediment in the Grand Calumet River. However, given the magnitude of contaminated sediment, a successful cleanup will not occur through enforcement actions alone.

A partnership plan proposing a community-based, consensus driven, cooperative approach to cleaning up and restoring the Grand Calumet River was presented to the Citizens Advisory for Remediation of the Environment (CARE) Committee by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management in September 1995. Under the plan, the proposed Grand Calumet Area Partnership would coordinate the numerous ongoing efforts to clean and revitalize the environment of northwest Indiana. Coordination would ensure that limited funds are used efficiently and that cleanup and restoration projects do not recontaminate downstream areas.

The objective is to enable industry, municipalities, citizen groups and state and federal agencies to work cooperatively with pooled resources. CARE would enable each of the parties involved to contribute to the restoration of the AOC. Contributions could be in the form of funds or resources for administering, designing, dredging and sampling or in the form of land for disposal and habitat restoration.

In April 1996, the state of Indiana and the Grand Calumet Task Force held a joint meeting to discuss the partnership approach with local business. This meeting emphasized the benefits of participation in a cooperative effort. A series of meetings with individual businesses and groups of businesses followed to determine potential liability, to relate benefits of the partnership, to determine the resources available and to uncover possible impediments to participation by some businesses. Meetings are presently underway to establish the partnership, receive commitments and set milestones for action.

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management has also entered into two contracts with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to develop a plan for sediment cleanup and restoration options. The plan will determine total volume of contaminated sediment, appropriate cleanup methods, implementation sequence and disposal options. It also will be used as a basis for partnership-based and enforcement-based cleanup activities.

The Grand Calumet cooperative project moves beyond a traditional regulatory approach and teams the U.S. EPA and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management with the local industries in a voluntary cooperative effort. These companies have agreed to undertake actions to ensure that free-phase hydro-carbons on their properties are not released to surrounding waterways.

Lessons Learned

Hamilton Harbour: Working Toward Sustainable Development

Hamilton Harbour, situated at the western tip of Lake Ontario, has a surface area of 215 hectares (0.83 square miles). With the exception of the Burlington Ship Canal, it is separated from Lake Ontario by a sandbar.

In 1989, a sustainable community initiative was begun as a philosophical basis and framework to consider several items: the Hamilton-Wentworth regional governments policy goals and objectives; the regions official plan and economic strategy; budget decisions; and other initiatives including the implementation of the Hamilton Harbor Remedial Action Plan. Over a period of two and one half years, a citizens Task Force on Sustainable Development met with more than 1,000 citizens and developed a consensus of the community vision, then produced the document Vision 2020: The Sustainable Region. Vision 2020 describes the type of community that Hamilton-Wentworth could be in the year 2020 using principles of sustainable development as a guide for decision making. Follow up documents, Directions for Creating a Sustainable Region and Detailed Strategies and Actions for Creating a Sustainable Region identified more than 400 recommendations for effecting policy shifts to make this vision a reality.

The Hamilton-Wentworth regional government incorporated these recommendations into a new official plan for land-use entitled Towards a Sustainable Region that incorporates almost 100 of the detailed recommendations. In November 1994, the Renaissance Report was adopted by Hamilton-Wentworth regional council as its strategic plan for long term economic development. A transportation review and a comprehensive municipal pollution prevention plan also have been developed with the goals of the vision statement in mind.

The Hamilton-Wentworth regional council now requires that all new proposals and projects be assessed for sustainable community implications and a sustainable community decision making guide is used as a tool to evaluate all proposed and existing policies, programs and projects. The region hosts an annual Vision 2020 Sustainable Community Day at which the progress of the region relative to the goals of Vision 2020 is presented in the form of a report card.

The incorporation of the recommendations of Vision 2020 into the long range plans for the region of Hamilton-Wentworth shows a level of commitment to the goals of sustainable development that is recognized both at the national and at the international level. Hamilton-Wentworth has been selected as one of 14 communities worldwide by the International Council for Environmental Initiatives Local Agenda 21 Model Communities Programme. The Programme is a research and development project in which the 14 municipalities design, test and evaluate planning frameworks for sustainable development. In 1994, the Hamilton-Wentworth region received the 1994 Canadian Environmental Achievement Award in the local government category.

The regions vision of the future is radically different from its past with the local economy once dominated by the steel industry. As this industry downsized, the community began to discover high-tech companies and small businesses as the new driving force for its economy. For example, one city of Hamilton task force has a goal of creating a centre of environmental excellence with a plan to focus on new areas of global economic growth. This approach relies, among other things, on the premise that a healthy environment is needed to attract the small businesses and high-tech companies that will form the basis of the regions growth potential in the near future.

Lessons Learned

Ashtabula River: Effective Use of a Partnership

The Ashtabula River flows into the central basin of Lake Erie at the city of Ashtabula, Ohio. The lower part of the river and its outer harbor serve the community as both a commercial and recreational harbor. Fields Brook, a major tributary, is designated as a U.S. Superfund site. Superfund is a legal designation given to heavily contaminated areas because the release of chemical pollutants from the site pose a potential or actual threat to human health. Site cleanup is still underway, with millions of dollars having been spent over the last 14 years in litigation between U.S. EPA and the companies and individuals potentially responsible for the contamination.

In 1993, U.S. EPA determined that movement of sediment from Fields Brook contaminated sediments in the Ashtabula River and its outer harbor. Based upon this determination, U.S. EPA announced plans to designate the river and outer harbor as part of the Fields Brook Superfund site. Coupled with this announcement, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers determined that it was no longer able to maintain the navigational channels due to PCB contamination that precluded open lake disposal of dredged sediment. With this determination, the Corps proposed to build a confined disposal facility at a cost of $12 million (U.S.) for disposal of the sediment. With this cost added to the estimated total AOC cleanup costs of $30 to $50 million, the Ashtabula community faced the crisis of not being able to find resources to fund its share in the project, while facing closure of its commercial and recreational harbor due to lack of dredging. The proposed solutions imposed too great a financial burden on the community, necessitating the development of new solutions.

During this time, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency was attempting to energize the Ashtabula River RAP process. A group of government agencies involved in the RAP process developed a remedial plan and presented it to the community in January 1994. The plan called for the development of a cooperative, local voluntary effort by which to clean up the river. This approach gathered unanimous acceptance resulting in the formation of the Ashtabula River Partnership. A Partnership Charter was signed in July 1994 by the involved agencies, the industrial potentially responsible parties and involved elected leaders. The Partnership recognized the links between the interests of U.S. EPA and the Corps of Engineers -- commercial and recreational navigation interests and complete remediation of the river.

The Partnership drew from the experience of northwest Indiana and the Grand Calumet River/Indiana Harbor Ship Canal AOC, which had recently faced a similar task and proposed building a multi-party, multi-purpose disposal facility. At Ashtabula there were three existing planned projects, each requiring a disposal facility to contain dredged sediment. The Partnership has been able to identify common elements in the projects in order to coordinate one project instead of three. The Partnership, again following the Indiana example, formed an independent, non-profit foundation to undertake the task of AOC remediation. U.S. EPA has withheld designating the Ashtabula River and harbor as part of the existing Superfund site in order to allow for the demonstrating of progress through this partnership approach.

A key element in the approach was obtaining tax-exempt status under Section 501 (c) (3) of the Federal Tax Code. The Ashtabula River Foundation was granted this status in November 1996 and is dedicated exclusively to charitable, educational and scientific activities that lead to the restoration of beneficial uses of the Ashtabula River. The Foundation can accept gifts, bequests and contributions, either outright, in trust or in any other form and can use, apply, invest and reinvest the principal or generated income to advance remediation. Its immediate objective is to support the dredging of the Ashtabula River and harbor. Once this is accomplished, it will support further restoration of all 47 miles (76 km) of the Ashtabula River.

Numerous commitments have already been made for funding the costs of sediment removal and disposal. They include seven million dollars from the state of Ohio along with a commitment by the Corps of Engineers to match funding for dredging sediment that affects navigational interests. It is hoped that funds from the private sector will result in additional matching of federal dollars. In addition, there are current plans to float a tax exempt environmental bond. This approach is now being looked upon by various implementing agencies as a new model for community-based environmental protection.

Lessons Learned

Bay of Quinte: Phosphorus Trading

The Bay of Quinte is located on the north shore of Lake Ontario and is virtually isolated from the lake by Prince Edward County. Four major rivers flow into the upper bay: the Trent, Moira, Salmon and Napanee.

Eutrophication with its undesirable high levels of algae due to continued high phosphorus loads is a major water pollution problem in the Bay of Quinte. There are many phosphorus sources, including point source discharge from municipal sewage treatment plants and industrial sites, as well as non-point sources of pollution, such as agricultural runoff, urban storm water runoff and failing septic systems.

Various abatement actions have been introduced, including sewage treatment and industrial upgrades. While these actions are important, they are often an expensive solution. A 1995 study estimated costs of $10 to $4,500 (Cdn) per kilogram (1 kg = 2.2 lbs.) of phosphorus removed for sewage treatment plant upgrades needed to meet phosphorus targets. Industrial upgrades are also expensive ranging from $518 to $2,300 per kilogram removed. Costs to control non-point sources are often significantly less. Measures taken on agricultural land, such as conservation tillage and retirement of erodible lands, cost between $30 and $60 per kilogram of phosphorus prevented from running off into waterways. Milkhouse waste and barnlot runoff controls range from $60 to $100 per kilogram, fencing livestock out of waterways ranges from $300 to $400 per kilogram and septic system repair costs are more than $1,000 per kilogram. An opportunity exists for point source and non-point source dischargers to work together to implement cost-effective pollution control measures and achieve phosphorus targets.

One practical, environmentally-sustainable and innovative option is a phosphorus permit trading program. In simple terms, a trading program establishes the total amount of phosphorus permitted to enter the bay from all input sources, assigns a percentage of the total amount to each source, and allows the sources of phosphorus to buy and sell these allocations among themselves as long as the total permitted amount is not exceeded. Within the Bay of Quinte watershed, there are three possible types of trades:

  1. trades between point source dischargers;
  2. trades between point and non-point sources; and
  3. trades between non-point dischargers.

In its 1997 feasibility study of phosphorus trading, the Bay of Quinte RAP developed a number of economic models to evaluate trading between point and non-point sources as a mechanism to meet the RAP targets. With out trades, the cost to implement point source controls would be $2.1 million annually to remove 12 more tonnes (13.2 tons) of phosphorus from the effluent stream each year. Trading to achieve the same targets cost $0.5 million annually and removed 16 tonnes (17.6 tons). Thus, trading would save $1.6 million annually over traditional pollution control and reduce phosphorus inputs to the Bay of Quinte by four more tonnes (4.4 tons) per year.

The study examined three trading systems: 1) open market; 2) trading by auction; and 3) trading in an administered market. Open market trading has no administrative controls, rather, it allows parties to trade and negotiate costs directly with each other. Trading by auction, as its name suggests, sells permits to the highest bidder. An administered market includes a trading association to manage trades and set prices, overhead costs for program administration, additional rules, and possibly, membership fees. Each trading system has its merits, although an administered market may be preferred in any initial implementation work to target smaller areas within the watershed and assess the full impact of trades.

The study also reported that optimal trading would occur if point source abatement costs are greater than $100 per kilogram of phosphorus removed, while the selling cost for implementing non-point source remedial measures is less than $50 per kilogram. In an administered market, the study concludes that $50 would be a reasonable base price for seeking trades.

Several outstanding issues require clarification prior to implementing a phosphorus trading program. Issues include uncertainties regarding the quantity and diversity of non-point source inputs, projected population growth, the role of regulatory controls, adjustments for seasonal impacts and the rules and mechanisms for renewing trades.

Reductions from point sources are determined with relative certainty by end-of-pipe monitoring while non-point source discharges are difficult to measure and interpret. To account for the uncertainty and provide greater environmental protection, a trading ratio can be used. Using a 2:1 ratio, a point source discharger would have to acquire two kilograms from a non-point source for every kilogram of phosphorus discharged from the point source. Modeling analysis suggest that a ratio between 2:1 and 4:1 non-point to point source would guard environmental quality and maintain economic feasibility. As the trading ratio increases (e.g., 8:1 or 10:1), the economic rewards diminish and trading, as a result, decreases.

Future scenarios for population growth were modeled. With expanding urban populations, phosphorus loads from point sources will increase. In one scenario, point source phosphorus inputs rose to nine more tonnes (9.9 tons) by the year 2,016 over 1995 levels. If trading were employed, pollution controls would cost $1 million -- this is $1.1 million less than the "no trade" scenario before population growth.

In summary, permit trading, in certain situations, is an imaginative solution for achieving and sustaining water quality improvements. In the Bay of Quinte, trading may, as the modeling suggests, provide another tool to effectively link point and non-point source cleanup actions, address water pollution problems in parts of the Bay of Quinte watershed and create new economic opportunities for urban and rural areas.

Information Sources

  1. Phosphorus Trading Program - Evaluation and Design (Final Report) - Bay of Quinte Remedial Action Plan. Draper and Associates. March 1997.
  2. Concern for the Future (Public Report #2 on the Cleanup of the Bay of Quinte). Bay of Quinte Remedial Action Plan Implementation Advisory Committee. 1996.

Lesson Learned

Manistique River: Superfund Remediation

The Manistique River/Harbor AOC lies on the south shore of Lake Michigans Upper Peninsula. Three areas of contaminated sediment fall within the boundaries of the city of Manistique, with PCB concentrations that far exceed U.S. EPAs 10 part per million (ppm) cleanup level. The most highly contaminated site has a PCB concentration measured at 2,510 ppm. Surface water analysis indicates that about 100 pounds of PCBs are washed annually into Lake Michigan. The potentially responsible parties include a paper company, electric utility, local salvage yard and companies that previously sent materials to the salvage yard.

The U.S. EPA remedial recommendation for this area was to dredge contaminated sediment and to dispose of it at a suitable landfill, however the potentially responsible parties identified capping as a potential less costly alternative to dredging and disposal. After considering both alternatives, U.S. EPA concluded that approximately 120,000 cubic yards (92,000 cubic meters) of sediment and waste material would be dredged from the river and harbor and transported for off-site disposal. As a result, the potentially responsible parties agreed to pay U.S. EPA the cost equivalent of capping contaminated areas in the harbor rather than the cost of dredging and disposal and, in exchange, U.S. EPA agreed to absolve the parties of any future liability associated with this site. The total estimated cost of the project is $16 million (U.S.).

Highlights of this remediation success story include the cooperation achieved between industry, government and the public, participation by U.S. Representative Bart Stupak and a timely remediation period that is expected to be three to four years shorter than the typical clean-up effort.

Lessons Learned

Muskegon and White Lakes: Creative Fund Raising

The Muskegon Lake AOC is located on the east shore of Lake Michigan. Water and habitat quality in Muskegon Lake and its tributaries have been degraded by discharges of industrial process wastewater, municipal waste-water, combined sewer overflows, urban runoff and filling of the lake and wetlands. The White Lake AOC is located approximately 15 miles (24 km) north of Muskegon Lake and is administered together with the Muskegon AOC.

The Muskegon Lake Public Advisory Council (PAC) was established in 1992 through a grant from the Lake Michigan Federation. Since the PACs inception, members have used creative methods to fund and support their activities. The group meets monthly wherever free meeting space is available and relies on the Muskegon Conservation District to provide administrative support. The PAC has successfully involved a broad range of stakeholders in the RAP process. The diversity of persons and groups involved has contributed to expertise available to the projects in Muskegon.

The PAC is now on its third grant from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. Michigan has provided funding to maintain the PAC and support public education efforts, however, each grant has been successively smaller. The start-up funds have raised public awareness and opened the door to the present monetary support received from the community. The PAC has been industriously writing grant applications to obtain additional funds. The goal is not to raise funds for operation of the PAC itself, but to direct funds to appropriate implementation activities. Kathy Evans, of the Muskegon Conservation District states: "Many successes have been achieved in securing funding for small projects such a beach cleanups and storm drain stenciling programs. But, the much larger and more expensive projects, such as sediment remediation, still lack funding." The PAC is now looking to grants from U.S. EPA and other sources to support these activities. It is currently taking advantage of a program funded by U.S. EPA and provided by the nonprofit organization Clean Sites to support Michigan PACs for strategic planning and conflict resolution.

Public involvement and community awareness have fostered the formation of many partnerships. The LakeWatch program trains volunteers to monitor water quality in Muskegon and White lakes. The samples gathered are analyzed through a partnership with NOAAs Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory. Other partners in this project are: Muskegon Conservation District, Muskegon Sportfishing Association, White Lake Area Sportfishing Association, White Lake Rotary and the Timber Land Resource Development and Conservation Council, which is supported by a Phillips Environmental Partnership grant.

Muskegon Conservation District provides coordination, materials and training for the Adopt-a-Stream Program. Volunteer teams become caretakers on a stretch of stream or lake shoreline. These groups perform a range of tasks including cleanups, water quality tests, wildlife surveys and storm drain stenciling. Tasks are tailored to the schedules, interests and expertise of the group. For example, Orchard View High School biology students monitor a stretch of Four Mile Creek. The students perform water quality tests and study benthic organisms to monitor water quality. PAC members monitor amphibians in several areas around Muskegon and White Lakes. Scout and church groups have stenciled storm drains and cleaned trash from shorelines.

The city of Muskegon is presently revising its master plan. The PAC and local conservation groups have encouraged the inclusion of a natural features inventory section. A 1995 habitat assessment provided a solid framework on which to build this section. Inclusion in the master plan is the first of a series of stages to build political will to protect natural areas and restore degraded habitat.

The PAC has chosen to support projects that will be visible in the community, such as habitat rehabilitation. It feels this is necessary to maintain the momentum of the RAP. Less visible projects, such as sediment remediation and dealing with groundwater contamination are more expensive, and these large cleanup projects cost more than the community can afford. While the community is doing its part to raise funds and form partnerships to sustain the RAP, more complex and costly environmental problems remain unresolved. Listed below are recently awarded grants for the Muskegon Lake or White Lake AOCs. While receipt of these grants allows the continuation of useful and visible activities, the effort necessary to prepare appropriate grant applications represents a significant portion of volunteer time.

1996 Grants Received for Muskegon or White Lake

RAP Implementation/PAC Support 47,000
Muskegon Lake RAP Activities 5,000
White Lake RAP Activities 5,000
Montague Drain Project 15,000
Muskegon County land Use 4,500
White Lake Benthic Study-interagency 140,000
Green Belts 20,000

Lessons Learned