Michigan’s extensive coastline includes many small harbors that face unique challenges. Although rural communities recognize the potential value of their harbors, they often struggle to evaluate development options, enact effective zoning, fund harbor maintenance and plan for climate change.

In five years, Michigan Sea Grant has initiated several projects to support waterfront revitalization, including starting a small harbor coalition, hosting a working waterfront conference, securing funding for and working closely with a NOAA Coastal Management fellow, and leading numerous workshops in coastal communities about smart growth, form-based zoning and water levels. These efforts involved close collaboration with state and university professionals and generated 11 case studies about working waterfronts.

In response, changes are being made at the state, local and federal levels. For example, Suttons Bay Township and Village participated in a Sea Grant workshop in 2010 about waterfront smart growth, which informed an innovative master planning effort that resulted in one of the few joint community plans in Michigan. They continue to collaborate with MSG to evaluate and promote form-based zoning. The successful work of Michigan’s Coastal Management fellow is continuing through two new grants to develop tools for redevelopment and climate issues. In addition, three state agencies agreed to collaboratively fund an Integrated Assessment about small harbor sustainability, which will be managed by MSG. Finally, increased federal funding for harbor maintenance has been approved by Congress.

MSG’s work supporting vital coastal areas has led to communities adopting best practices for waterfront development, a coastal management fellowship, an integrated research project and increased federal funding for harbor maintenance.

Partners include: Michigan Coastal Zone Management Program, Michigan Office of the Great Lakes, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Michigan State Housing and Development Authority, Michigan Economic Development Corporation, Great Lakes Integrated Science Assessment, Village of Suttons Bay, Suttons Bay Township and Michigan State University Land Policy Institute.