Muskegon Lake Mill Debris Site Investigation

Muskegon Lake Mill Debris Site Investigation

MLMD-barkonshore-2014

Mill debris along the shoreline of Muskegon Lake

If you’ve ever walked the shoreline of Muskegon Lake, you may have noticed old pieces of wood sticking out of the water or washing up on shore. Locals have even named one area “Bark Beach” for the quantity of tree bark and wood chips that line the shore.The presence of this wood – known as sawmill debris or mill debris – is not natural, but is a remnant of the logging and paper industry that dominated the Muskegon Lake shoreline in the late 1800s. During that time, byproducts from sawmill operations, when sawdust and slabwood were routinely dumped into the lake and along the shoreline, mostly along the south shoreline of the lake. As a result of these and other industrial impacts, Muskegon Lake became heavily degraded with significant impairments to the native ecological community that persisted for decades. Learn more about the history of Muskegon Lake.

MLMD-locatormap-2014

Location of mill debris

Today, Muskegon Lake is a work in progress and the vision of a clean and healthy lake is in sight. Environmental remediation and restoration conducted over the past 25 years have focused on cleaning up the errors of the past and restoring natural habitat to support healthy native fish and wildlife populations. However, little research has been conducted on the impact of slabwood and mill debris on the health of freshwater lake ecosystems. Evidence suggests that sawmill debris may be associated with reduced diversity of native species(Kirkpatrick et al., 1998) and resource managers believe that mill debris has impacted the quality of the benthos, or lake bed (see definition). Before initiating any restoration, the West Michigan Regional Shoreline Development Commission (WMSRDC) and several partners, with funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), initiated a project to identify and classify the presence of mill debris and evaluate impacts to the benthos in order to determine the location of potential restoration sites.

The Problem

Degradation of benthos is one of nine Beneficial Use Impairments identified at Muskegon Lake. Resource managers initiated this study to determine the condition of the lake bottom and to evaluate the costs and benefits of restoration in the presence of mill debris.

MLMD-Benthos-2015Lake-wide, benthos in Muskegon Lake improved with the end of the lumbering and industrial eras (and the common practice of dumping debris into the lake or on the shoreline), and with the elimination of direct wastewater discharges in 1973.

While significant areas of Muskegon Lake remain impacted by mill debris, the extent to which benthos is  negatively impacted was unknown. Restoration of mill debris sites has been conducted successfully at Muskegon Lake before, but removal of fill and mill debris from an open lake can be costly, time consuming, may result in the release of contaminants from adjacent degraded sites, or may not be supported by the local community.

MLM-GL&VDredgeBefore-2014

Example: Before mill debris restoration

MLMD-GL&VDredgeAfter-2014

Example: After mill debris restoration

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Results of the study are provided in the final report completed by Grand Valley State University Annis Water Resources Institute and a summary report completed by the firm Cardno JFNew.

The Site

MLMD-Sitelocation-2015

Site of the mill debris investigation

 

The Muskegon Lake Mill Debris site, also known as the Lakeshore Trail site, is a shallow, 40-acre littoral zone of Muskegon Lake contained within the public waters offshore from the Lakeshore Trail bike path and Lakeshore Drive within the City of Muskegon, Muskegon County, Michigan.

This area is filled with mill debris, comprised primarily of historic sawmill slabwood, wood chips and sawdust. Proposed restoration sites within this area exhibit little submerged vegetation and the benthic community is likely degraded. The mill debris site was selected for investigation because it represents a priority site for the restoration of fish and wildlife habitat at Muskegon Lake AOC.

 

Project Team

Several partners were engaged in the project including:

Methods

To complete the ecological assessment and evaluation of potential restoration needs within the mill debris site, WMSRDC and its team built upon several evaluation techniques along with public stakeholder input and an assessment of potential offsite impacts.

MLMD-Stream Samplers-Rediske-2015

Researchers from GVSU taking samples

In addition to reviewing literature, project partners coordinated with ongoing monitoring efforts at Muskegon Lake to add rigor to the evaluation process including the NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL) Muskegon Lake Acoustic Sediment Classification Study and the Grand Valley State University (GVSU) Annis Water Resources Institute (AWRI) Benthic Macroinvertebrate Community Assessment. In addition, Cardno JFNew commissioned the completion of core sampling and sediment characterization across the 40-acre offshore area, coordinated with stakeholders and the local community, and completed a due-care type evaluation, typical of restoration sites near areas of know to contain contaminants.

  1. Sediment Classification and Habitat Mapping:
    [expand title=”click to continue reading” swaptitle=”click to collapse content” trigpos=”below”]
    NOAA GLERL classified sediments and performed benthic surveys between 2009 and 2011 to develop benthic habitat maps of Muskegon Lake (Lozano et al. 2012). Over the three-year period, 387 in-situ samples were collected for biological and physical characterization. Acoustic data was also collected in August and November 2011. The mapping of benthic habitats was completed by combining direct biological or geological observations with data from remote-sensing acoustic systems (see Lozano et al., 2012 for more information). Recent advances in acoustic technologies offer new opportunities to explore and map lakebed habitats. When acoustic monitoring is used in conjunction with benthic data collection a higher level of accuracy and lakebottom coverage can be obtained. Unfortunately, while extensive data was collected for deeper portions of the lake, the shallow nearshore area targeted for this project was not sampled by acoustic monitoring surveys. As a result, this investigation and its results were of limited value to potential restoration efforts.[/expand]
  2. Core Sampling and Sediment Characterization:
    [expand title=”click to continue reading” swaptitle=”click to collapse content” trigpos=”below”] After learning that no sediment sampling or acoustic monitoring transects were conducted within the mill debris site, project consultant Cardno JFNew contracted with Russell Marine to survey the lakebottom. The substrate was assessed using a variety of surveying, navigation, side scan sonar, bottom probing and core sampling equipment. Bathymetric survey data, core samples and substrate characterization were completed to target a maximum depth of four feet across the survey area.[/expand]
  3. Stakeholder and Landowner Coordination:
    [expand title=”click to continue reading” swaptitle=”click to collapse content” trigpos=”below”] WMSRDC and Cardno JFNew coordinated with multiple stakeholders during the project period, including the Muskegon Lake Watershed Partnership, City of Muskegon, and BP/Amoco and their consultants. Stakeholders provided historical information, potentially restricted work areas and adjacent potentially contaminated areas. Input from the City of Muskegon was particularly critical as they are the owner of the property adjacent to the mill debris site.[/expand]
  4. Macroinvertebrate Assessment:
    [expand title=”click to continue reading” swaptitle=”click to collapse content” trigpos=”below”] Researchers at Grand Valley State University Annis Water Resources Institute conducted an investigation to provide a pre-restoration assessment of the benthic macroinvertebrate community at the project site in 2011 and again in 2013. Assessment of the benthic community would ensure that lakeareas most impacted by fill could be targeted for restoration. Due to the presence of sawmill debris, this location could not be sampled with a Ponar dredge, and so alternative methods of collection were employed.  A suction sampler was used to collect benthos to document current conditions, and artificial substrates (baskets filled with limestone rocks) were used to measure the pre-restoration status of the benthic invertebrate community. Samples were also taken at a control location to serve as a reference.  Several parameters were assessed at each sample location including mill debris coverage, water quality and benthic macroinvertebrates. When more refined restoration sites were identified in 2012, supplemental surveys were conducted in 2013.[/expand]
  5. Due Care Type Evaluation:
    [expand title=”click to continue reading” swaptitle=”click to collapse content” trigpos=”below”] CardnoJFNew contracted with Fleis & VandenBrink Engineering, Inc. to conduct an evaluation of human exposure potential in relation to proposed restoration activities at the mill debris site (see Fleis & VandenBrink Engineering, 2013). This evaluation was similar to a Due Care Plan conducted in compliance with Part 201 of Michigan’s Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, but because the site has not been deemed a “Facility,” there was no requirement for the partners to complete this evaluation. Instead, the assessment was completed as a matter of prudence due to the presence of a known facility (Amoco Tank Farm) just west of the site. Soil samples were taken throughout the mill debris site. No volatile organic compounds (VOCs) or semivolatile organic compounds (SVOCs) were detected. Metals found in the sediment samples were below levels included in sediment quality guidelines.[/expand]
MLMD-sitelocationmap-2015

Potential restoration sites

Results

Through this multi-pronged assessment, six potential restoration sites were identified. These sites were further evaluated based on other considerations, including benthic macroinvertebrate and aquatic impairment, potential contaminants and landowner requirements, described below, and none were found to be suitable for restoration.

  1. Sediment Classification and Habitat Mapping:
    [expand title=”click to continue reading” swaptitle=”click to collapse content” trigpos=”below”] While extensive data was collected for deeper portions of the lake, the shallow nearshore area targeted for this project was not sampled by acoustic monitoring surveys. As a result, this investigation and its results were of limited value to potential restoration efforts.[/expand]
  2. Core Sampling and Sediment Characterization:
    [expand title=”click to continue reading” swaptitle=”click to collapse content” trigpos=”below”] The combination of side scan sonar, probing, and core sampling indicated that the majority of sediment in the investigation area was actually sand.  There were six small areas of debris, cobble, slabwood or sawdust, but no large-scale or contiguous areas of mill debris were identified within the surface layers of the lakebed. These six areas were further evaluated based on other considerations; including benthic macroinvertebrate and aquatic impairment, potential contaminants, and landowner requirements. [/expand]
  3. Stakeholder and Landowner Coordination:
    [expand title=”click to continue reading” swaptitle=”click to collapse content” trigpos=”below”]Information provided by local stakeholders regarding the presence of mill debris within the restoration area was not confirmed by field testing. Stakeholders were engaged to provide input on the six small areas identified during the core sampling process. Sites 2 and 5 would need to be accessed from the shoreline with debris being hauled out down the lakeshore bike trail, or from the water, via barges. The City of Muskegon expressed concern over the use of large earthmoving equipment and staging areas along Lakeshore Trail. Removal of debris via open water barges was determined to be cost prohibitive so these two sites were abandoned. A third site, Site 6, located adjacent to an historic deep water shipping channel just east of a BP/Amoco property was also eliminated because of proximity to a potential source of historic wetland and sediment contamination. [/expand]
  4. Macroinvertebrate Assessment:
    [expand title=”click to continue reading” swaptitle=”click to collapse content” trigpos=”below”]Results of the Muskegon Lake Mill Debris Assessment completed by GVSU- Annis Water Resource Institute show variation in macroinvertebrate species richness, diversity and samples size across the sample areas, but with the exception of two areas, these differences were not attributed to the presence of mill debris. Further, where mill debris coverage was less than 40 percent, there did not appear to be any adverse effect on macroinvertebrate populations. These two sites did not correspond to the areas or high restoration potential as determined by the core samples, so additional monitoring was conducted at the three sites still under evaluation. This evaluation indicated that species richness was significantly greater at the sites with a mill debris/cobble mixture and that removal material and lakebottom restoration would not provide significant habitat benefit. As a result, the remaining sites 1, 3 and 4 were removed from consideration. [/expand]
  5. Due Care Type Evaluation:
    [expand title=”click to continue reading” swaptitle=”click to collapse content” trigpos=”below”] Soil samples were taken throughout the mill debris site. No VOCs or SVOCs were detected. Metals found in the sediment samples were below levels included in sediment quality guidelines. It was acknowledged that dredging, soil disturbance and debris removal could create an exposure pathway, but precautions during restoration could reduce or eliminate this potential. [/expand]

Conclusions

Five evaluation approaches were used to investigate the potential for benthic restoration within an area known to contain mill debris within Muskegon Lake. The combination of those approaches provided project managers with the ability to conduct a multi-level evaluation based on the geological, ecological, socioeconomic aspects and the ecological risk for multiple restoration sites. Results of this evaluation contributed to the overall decision to abandon restoration at this site rather than initiate work that was impractical from a cost-benefit perspective, that might negatively impact adjacent landowners, or that would provide minimal ecological impact.

[expand title=”click to continue reading” swaptitle=”click to collapse content” trigpos=”below”]

The report from Cardno JFNew concludes that removal of mill debris for habitat restoration purposes is not appropriate for all situations, but may occur under the following conditions:

  • Lakebottom impacts necessary to remove marine debris should not exceed the benefits gained through removal of such debris;
  • The cost of debris removal should be weighed in comparison to the benefit gained;
  • Knowledge of the presence and proximity of known contaminants to the proposed restoration area should be considered in determining whether the debris should be removed; and
  • Marine debris covering less than 40-70% of the lakebottom should not be removed unless it can be proven that the debris is having a significant negative impact to the benthic community.

Based on the conditions at Muskegon Lake, three of six sites were excluded because they were of high ecological quality.  A fourth was excluded because of proximity to a source of potential contamination. It was determined that restoration should not be completed in the two shallow area sites at the Lakeshore Trail location due to the high cost of access via water and barge, and lack of access from the shoreline.

Partners remain interested in potential benthos restoration at Muskegon Lake and an investigation is planned for woody debris removal near the deep water immediately offshore from this study site, where acoustic data was collected by NOAA-GLERL and Cardno JFNew investigations. With funding through a grant from NOAA and Great Lakes Commission, WMSRDC will use the same methods of investigation at other Muskegon Lake locations to examine the impact of mill debris as a whole, rather than at just one distinct location.

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Lessons Learned

Benefits:

  • The presence of mill debris does not automatically indicate a severely degraded habitat
  • Research suggests that removal of wood debris will enable benthic organisms, emergent and open water wetland vegetation, and fishery habitat to re-establish
  • Surficial wood debris can shift with lake currents and destabilizes benthic habitats while also presenting hazards for boating and recreational uses
  • Scientific investigations are required to locate and characterize wood debris composition, monitor macro-invertebrate populations and determine the restoration costs/benefits to habitat prior to restoration
  • Regular communication with partners is critical to maintain schedules, provide updates, and overcome unforeseen obstacles
  • Local stakeholders, and the public, support the removal of mill debris to restore aquatic habitat, especially when there is potential for re-use and repurposing of the material

Challenges:

  • Removal of wood debris deposits is an expensive operation, with limited funding sources
  • Partners expertise is important to develop removal plans, designs, and developing the trust of potential funders
  • Even with intentional communication, some communication issues may arise. Efforts must be taken early in the process to ensure all project objectives, the location of investigation areas etc., are aligned.
  • Patience is required. Investigative activities are weather dependent, with limited qualified restoration contractors available. Ensure you give your project team enough time to complete the work.
  • In areas with historic, industrial, uses you must use due-diligence to identify potential contaminants associated with, or adjacent to, wood debris sites to ensure construction oriented restoration work does not result in the release of any stable sources of pollution.

References

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  • CardnoJFNew. 2014.  Mill Debris Site Investigation Summary Report.  Lakeshore Trail Mill Debris Site, Muskegon Lake. March 2014.
  • Fleis & VandenBrink Engineering. 2013. Due care evaluation, Muskegon Lake shoreline mill debris site project area. February 2013
  • Kirkpatrick et al., 1998 (see rediske for citation)
  • Lozano et al. 2012. Muskegon Lake sediment classification and habitat mapping. Draft National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory technical memorandum. Ann Arbor, Michigan. September 24, 2012.
  • Rediske & Nelson. 2013. Muskegon Lake AOC habitat restoration design, Muskegon Lake mill debris assessment. Final project report. Grand Valley State University Annis Water Resources Institute. December 2013.

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