Sustainable Harbors and Marinas Initiative

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In November 2006, the Lake Michigan Forum proposed an initiative centered on mercury in ports and marinas. After some preliminary investigation, the initiative was reframed with the broader scope of environmental management, providing greater long-term impact to the ports around the Lake Michigan Basin.

Ports facilities are highly concentrated industrial areas near water and contain a variety of facilities including container terminals, boat repair shops, and industries related to the transportation of goods. However, the role of ports and their potential for improvement of environmental quality is relatively unexplored. Ports have a unique position between land and water, government and industry, public and private, and economic and environmental issues, which could be a powerful catalyst in fostering more sustainable practices and improve environmental quality and economic growth around Lake Michigan and the Great Lakes.

Generally, individual ports are represented by quasi-governmental entities know as Port Authorities. The broad role of the Port Authority is as the advocate and spokesperson for the industry by educating elected officials and the public in general on the economic, social and environmental impact of port and marina facilities. Port Authorities also coordinate harbor activities, manage land-side facilities for ships and facilitate inter-modal transport corridors, and manage development activities. However, there are many Lake Michigan communities with small commercial ports that do not have Port Authorities. As a result, the port and marina entities do not speak with a unified voice or share a unified vision for the economic growth and sustainability of the local community.

As a result, the Lake Michigan Forum is encouraging a dialogue between port and marina representatives, Forum members and other Lake Michigan stakeholders. Initially, the Lake Michigan Forum would like to discuss how ports could improve environmental quality in Lake Michigan. Issues to be explored could include:

  • The role of ports in mitigating the introduction and spread of aquatic invasive species;
  • Pollution prevention (source and non-point source) along the shoreline as well as toxics reduction;
  • The use of Port Authorities to stimulate sustainable economic development.

To this end, the Lake Michigan Forum tasked the Delta Institute, facilitator of the Forum, with benchmarking the environmental footprint of port and marina operations along Muskegon Lake. Delta employed its ecosystem-based, environmental management systems (ECO-EMS) approach to document the emissions and discharges from facilities that have port operations or entities that directly service port operations, such as railroads. This document is the first product from the Lake Michigan Forum’s Sustainable Ports Initiative.

The Lake Michigan Forum hopes that the environmental benchmarking of Muskegon ports and marinas will lead to the development of an implementation plan to address identified priorities. The implementation planning process will include the identification of stakeholders to participate in the project and give guidance to the realities of the area and the feasibility of implementation. The stakeholders would assist in creating a local consensus for port project and act as a unified entity while implementing activities in their own operations.

The goal of this ECO-EMS process is to benchmark current environmental performance, so ports and marinas can measure improvements over time. Delta does not provide this information to implicate facilities for poor management practices, nor is Delta implying that the facilities along Muskegon Lake are making illegal discharges. In fact, all of the emissions and discharges identified within this report are within permitted levels. However, some of the data used in this report can be misleading if one does not understand the process by which the data is compiled. This is particularly true for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxic Releases Inventory (TRI), which requires regulated companies to report the chemical composition of waste products, not the waste product itself, implying that the manufacturer released chemicals directly to the air, water or land. Thus, without an understanding of how the government collects the data, one is likely to get a false impression of the environmental contamination around Muskegon Lake.