Towards Great Lakes Coastal Value: Sustaining Local Engagement within Michigan's Legacy Coastal Communities

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The State of Michigan’s 2016 water strategy (Sustaining Michigan’s Water Heritage) calls for sound management of water resources “to ensure healthy citizens, vibrant communities, sustainable economies, and” a strong stewardship ethic.  The strategy highlights four interwoven value sets that derive from sustainable, healthy water resources: environmental, economic, social, and cultural.  The challenge of revitalizing legacy, freshwater coastal communities requires attention to this same suite of water-driven community value sets. 


In this experimental course we will work directly with the Michigan Office of the Great Lakes (MI-OGL), to explore the factors influencing variation in effective community engagement across a subset of coastal communities that contain Areas of Concern (legacy industrial contaminants and impairments); and using our lessons learned, provide recommendations to the MI-OGL regarding improvements to AOC Program implementation.  This course will be coordinated with several classes from other UM schools (TBD), that will focus on complementary aspects of AOC community revitalization.  Classes will meet jointly once per month to share experiences and perspectives; with a final session for shared presentations.  Coordination is through the Michigan Engaging Communities through the Classroom (MECC) initiative.


We will: (1) Come to understand the stories and challenges of selected AOCs and their proximal coastal communities, through both literature study and direct engagement with the key actors; (2) Apply a conceptual framework developed from literature and case examples; to discuss and examine the patterns, relationships, and stories of local implementations of the state AOC Program; and (3) Synthesize our lessons learned into written and oral recommendations to the state AOC Program staff.


Under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, the federal governments of the United States and Canada established the Area of Concern Program, whereby they agreed to identify geographic areas where significant impairment of beneficial uses has occurred and to address those problems.  Michigan’s 14 Areas of Concern (AOCs) represent the state’s legacy of industrial contamination impacts on Great Lakes tributary and nearshore ecosystems, and related challenges to the sustained vitality of proximate coastal communities.  Federal and state officials have been working with local communities for >25 years to remediate contaminant effects, restore aquatic ecosystem health and services, and revitalize coastal community quality of life.  The state’s AOC Program recognizes that local expression and prioritization of societal values are integral to success, complementing traditional emphases on technical and engineering solutions.  Local community leadership of AOC remediation via individual Public Action Councils (PACs) has evolved uniquely, and effectiveness has varied greatly, across the 14 AOC sites.  This rich set of experiences can provide lessons regarding successes and challenges. 





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