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Climate change threatens Lake Michigan's shoreline communities that have legacy industrial sites

Saugatuck Dunes

Shoreline communities along Lake Michigan should be planning ahead for increased risks from climate change, according to a new report from the Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC).

ELPC attorney Howard Learner said higher water levels and more frequent and intense storms are especially worrisome, because so many industries near the lake use toxic materials.

"Some of those legacy old industrial facilities were built and sited along the shoreline, 30, 50, 60 years ago, when water levels were much lower, and environmental protections were lower," he said. "Frankly, their location, and the materials they're handling, if they're toxic or hazardous, that was based on outdated data."

The report mentions South Haven's wastewater treatment plant as an example. It's in a low lying area by the lake, subject to flooding and periodic discharges of partially treated sewage.

The report also mentioned these sites as being of particular concern:

Wisconsin: Two Rivers – Wastewater Treatment Plant, Manitowoc – Wastewater Treatment Plant, Sheboygan – Alliant Edgewater Coal Plant

Illinois: Zion – Nuclear Spent Fuel Site, Waukegan – Johns-Manville Corp. Superfund Site, NRG Waukegan Coal Plant, North Shore Gas “North Plant” Superfund Site, Outboard Marine Corp. Superfund Site, Akzo Nobel Aerospace Coatings, North Shore Gas “South Plant” Superfund Site

Chicago, Illinois: Far North Side – Communities, Central – Transportation Infrastructure,
South Shore – Community, East Side – Confined Disposal Facility, Iroquois Landing, Metal Management Sites

Indiana: Hammond – State Line Coal Plant Site, Gary – U.S. Steel Gary Works Steel Mill

Learner said Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan can draw on a new influx of federal funding to respond to the problem.

"There's about $350 to $400 million a year in the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative," he said. "We need to use those funds wisely when it comes to cleaning up the toxic areas of concern, when it comes to wetlands restoration, and other ways to mitigate the threat."

Lerner said land use policies also need to be based on the new reality of climate change going forward. He said those decisions will need to be made by local and state governments, and all of the communities and states bordering Lake Michigan should jointly act to respond to the threat.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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