NOAA-GLC Partnership Projects 2013-2016

 Buffalo River AOC Habitat Restoration


The Buffalo River prior to restoration

The Buffalo River restoration projects are
working to enhance and restore habitat; create
more natural and stable shoreline; control and manage invasive species; reduce erosion;
and control sedimentation in the AOC

The Great Lakes Commission, NOAA and Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper are partnering to complete these projects in 2016 and 2017.BNR_logo[expand title=”Learn more about the Buffalo River projects ” swaptitle=”Close” trigpos=”below”]

  Project Outcomes

  • Create economically valuable waterfront destinations
  • Enhancement and restoration of nearly two miles of shoreline and twenty acres of habitat, across 8 sites in the Buffalo River AOC
  • Increase natural and stabilized shoreline
  • Aid in the treatment of stormwater, reducing erosion and limiting sedimentation
  • Global example of economic health being directly-related to the health of water, ecosystems and surrounding communities

History of the River

Historic riverbend site

The Riverbend site in 1973

The Buffalo River is am 8 mile long river that winds through the city of Buffalo before emptying into the eastern end of Lake Erie. The Buffalo River was considered biologically dead as recently as the 1960s, with extremely low levels of dissolved oxygen, high temperatures, stagnant flows, and lack of any life other than extremely hardy or pollution-tolerant species. The legacy of the Buffalo River is one of heavy industrialization and subsequent contamination of sediments, poor water quality, and degraded and altered habitat.  In 1987 the Buffalo River was declared an Area of Concern (AOC) by the International Joint Commission due to possible impairment of 14 beneficial uses.  Since being designated an AOC, nine of fourteen Beneficial Use Impairments (BUIs) were declared to be “Impaired” or “Likely Impaired” by the Buffalo River RAP Remedial Advisory Committee.  The ultimate goal of the AOC program is to address each Beneficial Use Impairment and “delist” the AOC.

Three of the BUIs currently listed for the Buffalo River are habitat-related and are being addressed by the NOAA-GLC partnership including: degradation of benthos; degradation of fish and wildlife populations; and loss of fish and wildlife habitat.  In partnership with Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, the NOAA-GLC partnership will result in the Engineering design and restoration of eight sites and achieve the BUI delisting targets.

Project Overview and Status

Riverfest 12may2014 (8)

River Fest Park prior to restoration

  • RiverBend Phase II restoration
  • Riverbend Phase 1 restoration post-construction management
  • River Fest Park restoration of in-water habitat
  • Blue Tower Turning Basin restoration of in-water habitat
  • Old Bailey Woods shoreline restoration
  • NYSDEC Ohio St. Boat Launch (formerly Deadman’s Creek) shoreline riparian restoration
  • Toe of Katherine St. Peninsula shoreline riparian habitat
  • Buffalo Color Peninsula shoreline riparian habitat


$4.68 million in funding comes from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) through the regional Partnership between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Great Lakes Commission (GLC).

For More Information Contact

  • Heather Braun, Project Manager for Habitat Restoration, Great Lakes Commission, 734‐971‐9135, [email protected]
  • Matt Mattison, Assistant Director – Bioregional and Urban Design, 716-852-7483, [email protected]

Learn More


Project Factsheet


St. Marys AOC Habitat Restoration

Water behind the Little Rapids causeway

 The Little Rapids Habitat Restoration Project is working to restore water flow to 50-70 acres of aquatic habitat and re-establish a portion of the rapids historically found in the St. Marys River

The Great Lakes Commission, NOAA, Chippewa County Road Commission, Lake Superior State University and Eastern Upper Peninsula Regional Planning and Development Commission (EUP) are partnering to complete this project in 2016


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 Community BenefitsEconomic BenefitsEnvironmental Benefits

Project Outcomes

  • Replace two failing culverts under the existing causeway with a bridge approximately 600 feet  long to increase water flow
  • Provide safe pedestrian access for fishing along the bridge
  • Create critical habitat for valuable sport fish and other aquatic resources
  • Complete required restoration on the U.S. side of the St. Marys River as a crucial step toward its eventual removal from the list of Great Lakes AOCs or “toxic hotspots”

History of the River

Overview of the project location

Rapids habitat on the St. Marys River has historically been impacted by various forms of development, including dredging, filling, diversion, and urban development. Construction of the causeway across the Little Rapids degraded the rapids and damaged the health of the native fish community.  However, with proper engineering and design, the site can be restored to provide foraging, spawning, and nursery habitat for a wide variety of sport fish as well as other aquatic organisms needed for a healthy river system. Restoring the Little Rapids area has been identified as a priority for addressing fish and wildlife impairments in the St. Marys River and is the final restoration action needed on the U.S. side of the river. This project is the culmination of nearly three decades of work by state and local partners to address a legacy of pollution in the St. Marys River, including removing contaminated sediments, stopping combined sewer overflows, reducing nonpoint source pollution, and controlling harmful invasive species like sea lamprey. Completing the project will contribute to the eventual delisting of the St. Marys River as an AOC.

Project Overview and Status

Planning for this project was initiated over two decades ago with input from local stakeholders guiding restoration efforts. Key stakeholders include the St. Clair River Binational Public Advisory Council, Soo Area Sportsmen’s Club, Michigan DNR, Michigan DEQ, Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority, and Chippewa County Road Commission. In 2011, the EUP Regional Planning & Development Commission received GLRI funding for preliminary hydraulic modeling, engineering studies and an environmental assessment.  Permits are have been approved by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S Army Corps of Engineers. Additional site investigations were conducted in 2014 and 2015. In 2015 planning and fabrication of bridge components began, bridge construction will be complete in 2016 with additional restoration in 2017.

Funding and Partners 

Approximately $9.4 million is available for this project through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), a regional program that is supporting implementation of a comprehensive restoration plan for the Great Lakes, including cleaning up the Areas of Concern. The project funding comes from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) through a partnership with the Great Lakes Commission. The project is being managed locally by the Chippewa County Road Commission, which owns and is responsible for maintaining the causeway. Lake Superior State University is providing monitoring of the river before, during and after project construction.

For More Information Contact

  • Heather Braun, Project Manager for Habitat Restoration,Great Lakes Commission, 734‐971‐9135, [email protected] 
  • Rob Laitinen, Superintendent/Manager, Chippewa County Road Commission, 906-635-5295 [email protected]
  • Jeff Hagan, Executive Director, EUP Regional Planning & Development Commission, 906-635-1581, Toll Free: 855-885-3690 [email protected]

Learn More

St. Marys AOC- Timeline

AOC Timeline and History

St. Marys AOC- AOC & BUI Background

Status of the St. Marys AOC

Little Rapids Fact Sheet June 2015

Fact Sheet









Little Rapids FAQ2015_Page_1

Frequently Asked Questions



Muskegon Lake AOC Habitat Restoration

Muskegon Lake shoreline prior to restoration

The Muskegon Lake Restoration Projects are working to improve and establish shallow water benthos communities and re-connect and improve
coastal wetlands.  The projects will improve water quality and fish and wildlife populations.

The Great Lakes Commission (GLC), NOAA, West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission (WMSRDC) and The Grand Valley State University Annis Water Resources Institute (GVSU AWRI) are partnering to complete this project in 2016 and 2017.

GVSU Annis Water Resources Institute WMSRDC

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Project Outcomes

  • Complete restoration of Muskegon Lake at 4 project locations to remove it from the list of Great Lakes Areas of Concern (AOCs) or “toxic hotspots” as early as 2018
  • Provide habitat for native fish, turtles, frogs, songbirds, mammals, migrating birds and waterfowl including native lake bottom communities

History of the AOC

Within the lower Muskegon River watershed, lies the Muskegon Lake AOC, a drowned river mouth lake that flows into Lake Michigan at a shoreline that is part of the world’s largest assemblage of freshwater sand dunes. Muskegon Lake was designated an AOC in 1985 due to ecological problems caused by industrial discharges, shoreline alterations and the filling of open water and coastal wetlands. Since 1992, community groups, governmental and nongovernmental organizations have worked collaboratively to remediate contaminated sediments and to restore and protect fish and wildlife species and their habitats. Historic sawmill debris, foundry sand and slag filled 798 acres of open water and emergent wetlands in the AOC. Nearly 25% of Muskegon Lake’s open water and shallow wetlands were filled, and approximately 74% of the shoreline was hardened with wood pilings, sheet metal and concrete. This resulted in the loss and degradation of shallow water communities, isolation and fragmentation of coastal wetlands, and the associated degradation of water quality and fish and wildlife populations. With completion of this and several other projects in development, the U.S. EPA now expects to remove Muskegon Lake from the list of Great Lakes “toxic hotspots” as early as 2018.  Learn more about the three project locations below.

Veterans Park Restoration


Aerial view of Veteran’s Park, Michigan’s “Most Beautiful Mile”

The Muskegon River habitat restoration at Veterans Memorial Park will improve habitat for fish and wildlife by restoring wetlands, creating natural shorelines, and re-establishing passage for juvenile, adult and spawning fish.

In addition, this project will:

  • Re-establish the hydrological connection to the Muskegon River by replacing an aging water control structure to allow fish passage
  • Restore 2,257 linear feet of shoreline fish habitat, 1 acre of fish habitat, 2.3 acres of emergent wetland and 6.8 acres of native plant buffer
  • Restore 5.3 acres of open water wetland by removing 19,000 metric tons of sediment

History of the Park

Veterans Memorial Park is located along a historically significant parkway at the east end of Muskegon Lake. The park was created between 1928 and 1934 when the parkway was developed, by excavating and filling wetlands along the Muskegon River. Two ponds were excavated, the channel was straightened and the adjacent wetlands were filled, eliminating wetland, nursery and foraging habitats for native fish and wildlife. Installation of a water control structure in 1970 further degraded habitat by eliminating passage of desirable fish species from Muskegon River to the south pond. The structure also altered surface water flow between the Muskegon River and the south pond, which severely degraded water quality, aesthetics and desirable fish populations.

Project Progress

Today, there is very strong community support for restoration to increase public uses of the park for passive outdoor recreation. Several partners support the project including the Muskegon County Board of Commissioners, Muskegon County Veterans Council, Northside Lions, Muskegon Lake Watershed Partnership, Lakeshore Museum Center, City of Muskegon and City of North Muskegon. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2016.


Approximately $2.6 million is available for this project through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), a regional program that is supporting implementation of a comprehensive restoration plan for the Great Lakes, including cleaning up the AOCs. Project funding comes from the NOAA-GLC Partnership. The project is being managed locally by WMSRDC and ecological monitoring is being performed by the GVSU AWRI.

Learn More


Veteran’s Park Fact Sheet


Muskegon Lake Mill Debris Removal

Mill Debris removal wood pile

Re-claimed slab wood

The Muskegon Lake Mill Debris Removal project improves lake-bottom habitat and repurposes historic, logging-era wood.  The wood provides a variety of beneficial uses for shoreline brownfield redevelopment projects, artwork and unique furniture.

In addition, this project will:

  • Remove 122,673 metric tons of mill debris
  • Restore 4 acres of open water and emergent wetlands

History of the Lake

Historical deposits of sawmill debris and other types of marine debris continue to impact the ecological quality of Muskegon Lake. The presence of mill debris is not natural, but is a remnant of the logging industry that dominated the Muskegon Lake shoreline in the late 1800s. During that time, byproducts from 47 sawmill operations (sawdust and slabwood) were routinely dumped into the lake along the south and north shorelines. 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.

Project Progress

Final engineering and construction will be based on conditions at each site as well as the overall impact to Muskegon Lake. Social, economic and environmental benefits will be considered in deciding the appropriate quantities for removal, potential re-use opportunities of wood, restoration activities and the methods to be used to permanently protect the restored resources. This project builds upon the work funded by a NOAA GLRI grant received by WMSRDC in 2010 to investigate the restoration potential of mill debris sites and complete engineering and design for two.  One site was partially restored under a previous grant and is being completed under this grant.  GVSU AWRI is implementing a pre-post restoration monitoring protocol to help determine the impact of mill debris on the plant and wildlife on the lake bottom after restoration.


Approximately $2.8 million is available for this project through the GLRI. Project funding comes from the NOAA-GLC Partnership. The project is being managed locally by WMSRDC and ecological monitoring is being performed by the GVSU AWRI.

Learn More


Mill Debris Fact Sheet


Bear Creek Hydrologic Reconnection and Wetland Restoration Project

Bear Creek Overview

Aerial view of Bear Creek running along the former celery farm ponds and into Bear Lake in the distance

The Bear Creek Restoration Project will restore fish passage and remove sediments that contain harmful levels of phosphorus, restoring natural water flow and native fish and wildlife habitat.

In addition, this project will:

  • Restore 36 acres of wetlands to improve water flow and fish passage to Muskegon Lake
  • Remove approximately 182,735 tons of harmful sediment from wetlands along Bear Creek
  • Restore 2,015 feet of stream bank

History of the Creek

One of the barriers to delisting Muskegon Lake as an AOC is eutrophication (an un-naturally high level of phosphorus) in Bear Lake. High phosphorus levels in Bear Lake are a result of fertilizers used at an earlier celery farm located on two ponds along Bear Creek near where it enters Bear Lake. The installation of earthen berms between the celery farm ponds and Bear Creek also prevented water and fish passage between the wetlands, Bear Lake and Muskegon Lake.

Project Progress

In 2013, funding from the NOAA Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program allowed Muskegon County to purchase the ponds in preparation for restoration work. The Muskegon Lake Watershed Partnership and several private property owners are also coordinating with project partners to support restoration of the site. Today, pre-restoration monitoring is underway to assess surface and groundwater quality and fish and wildlife within the project area.  During the spring of 2016, native fish and wildlife will be relocated and water will be pumped to the Muskegon County Wastewater Treatment System.  Sediment from behind the dike will be removed before the creek is re-joined to its natural floodplain by removing an artificial earthen dike.  Native vegetation will be planted as part of the restoration process. Major construction will be in full swing during the summer of 2016.


Approximately $7.9 million is available for this project through the GLRI. Project funding comes from the NOAA-GLC Partnership. The project is being managed locally by the West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission (WMSRDC) and ecological monitoring is being performed by GVSU AWRI.

Learn More


Bear Creek Fact Sheet


For More Information Contact

  • Heather Braun, Senior Project Manager for Habitat Restoration, Great Lakes Commission, 734‐971‐9135, [email protected]
  • Kathy Evans, Project Manager, West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission, 231-722-7878 x 17, [email protected] /