photo of the harbor, with boats, in Arcadia, Michigan

Michigan Sea Grant (MISG) and the State of Michigan have launched the next phase of a project to support small harbors’ efforts to become economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable, and to equip coastal community leaders with the tools to assess and strengthen their waterfront assets.

The $175,000 project includes $125,000 from National Sea Grant plus $50,000 provided by the State of Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE). The project will update the 2017 Sustainable Small Harbors Tools and Tactics Guidebook findings regarding small harbor sustainability.

The guidebook emerged from an earlier phase of Sustainable Small Harbors project, which involved MISG and project partners hosting visioning workshops in coastal communities like Rogers City, Au Gres, and New Baltimore. The workshops helped residents and local leaders brainstorm ways to enhance their existing waterfront resources. In the years since, some communities have begun putting those proposed solutions into place; their feedback and lessons learned will help improve the next version of the guidebook.

Donald Carpenter, Principal, Drummond Carpenter, is the lead researcher on the project, which is anticipated to be completed by January 2024. “I’m glad we were able to obtain a grant from National Sea Grant to expand this project and to continue our long standing partnership with EGLE,” said Michael Fraker, MISG Research Program Manager.

This project will gather information on emerging tools and tactics and update best practices, including strategies related to fluctuating water levels, climate resiliency, decarbonization, changing economic activity, and state and federal funding and programs. It will include additional success stories for small coastal communities seeking resiliency, new and improved coastal resiliency tools, and steps toward a just transition to decarbonization.

Many of these harbor towns are underserved or environmental justice communities. “These harbors are a critical component of the state’s Blue Economy, generating billions of dollars in recreational boating and other revenue annually throughout the Great Lakes,” said Carpenter. “This project will gather updated information and resources to support decision-making by these small harbor communities.”

The project is kicking off with workshops this fall with local, state, and regional leaders and will start to build a network for wider use and implementation of the Guidebook’s recommendations. This project will collect and share information among small harbor communities to support their planning and risk assessment, resiliency, funding identification, and project implementation. The revised Guidebook will also incorporate issues related to environmental justice that may affect policy implementation, and how to address them.

“Michigan’s harbor communities have weathered many challenges in the last few decades including extreme fluctuating water levels, aging infrastructure, shifts in the state’s economy and decreased federal funding for maintenance,” said Emily Finnell, Great Lakes Senior Advisor and Strategist with EGLE. “This work will support local government, coastal communities, planning and economic development organizations, and others to ensure their sustainability.”

Local, county, and state governments support more than 80 small public harbors and marinas throughout Michigan.

Michigan Sea Grant is a cooperative program of the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. We fund research, education, and outreach projects designed to foster science-based decisions about the use and conservation of Great Lakes resources.

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