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Contaminated Sediments Program

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Project # GL-97520801-0


White Lake Contaminated Sediment Outreach

For Comments or Questions, Contact: 
Dr. Marc Tuchman
, Environmental Scientist
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Great Lakes National Program Office
77 W. Jackson Boulevard [G-17J]
Chicago, Illinois  60604

Final Report To:  
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Great Lakes National Program Office 

Submitted By:
Lake Michigan Federation 
October 10, 2001


Introduction and Background

contaminated sediment cores from Tannery Bay
Contaminated sediments from
Tannery Bay, White Lake
Contaminated sediment on the bottom of the Great Lakes and its tributaries and inland lakes has been receiving more attention recently from state and federal environmental agencies. Once thought "out of sight, out of mind," sediments contaminated by wastes from pipes; runoff from streets, parking lots, and farms; and toxic chemicals from air pollution are now considered a serious environmental problem. Fish "take up" pollutants from the sediments when they feed on bottom dwelling or benthic organisms and pass them on to humans when they are eaten.

Lack of public involvement has been recognized as a primary obstacle to successful remediation of contaminated sediments in Great Lakes Areas of Concern (AOCs). Effective community based participation in the AOCs is necessary to initiate, move forward, and ensure successful sediment cleanups. 

Funding of cleanups has increased, i.e., the Clean Michigan Initiative exit EPA, and proposed federal "legacy" legislation and an increasing number of contaminated sediment cleanups are underway or in the planning stages. Unfortunately, AOC communities are not now equipped to fully participate in these efforts as funds for public advisory councils and their education and outreach efforts continue to dwindle. Because contaminated sediment cleanups are lengthy, complicated, costly, and controversial, communities need to maintain and expand their role in the decision-making processes. Local officials, public advisory councils, and other community-based organizations in AOCs require substantial education and information on the science and technical issues related to contaminated sediments, especially regarding remedial options, and assistance in dealing with the myriad of agencies and legal jurisdictions involved. Local leaders also need specific assistance in identifying effective decision-making models and outreach strategies, and in learning how other AOCs achieve community consensus on remedial options so they do not expend valuable time and energy reinventing the wheel.

aerial view of White Lake
Aerial view of White Lake

To respond to this need for improved public involvement, the Lake Michigan Federation exit EPA, working with the White Lake Public Advisory Council (PAC), pioneered an innovative approach in the White Lake AOC in Muskegon County, Michigan, aimed at developing a community decision-making model to facilitate increased and effective public involvement in contaminated sediment cleanups. The Federation carried out a model decision-making process that combined education and outreach, in conjunction with the state's effort to proceed with a cleanup of contaminated sediments in Tannery Bay, White Lake. 

Although the cleanup has not yet taken place, a decision has been made to proceed with a sediment cleanup in 2002 with a plan that is fully supported by the White Lake community. The model used in the White Lake AOC for involving the public in selecting cleanup options worked well and effectively engaged the local community. The Federation's outreach, combined with the efforts of the City of Whitehall, local groups, and citizens truly helped to increase consensus and successfully supported state agency efforts to obtain a settlement for a comprehensive cleanup.

The Federation's project was to:

  1. Increase public knowledge of the problem of contaminated sediments in White Lake, including health impacts to fish, wildlife and humans, and benefits of remediation;
  2. Involve all community sectors in a comprehensive public participation process designed to increase meaningful and effective public input;
  3. Refine a model public participation process for transfer and use in other Great Lakes Areas of Concern, and;
  4. Inspire successful remediation and public involvement campaigns in other Great Lakes Areas of Concern.

Increasing Public Knowledge of the Problem of Contaminated Sediments

Genesco lagoons
Genesco lagoons
The Federation developed a framework for public outreach that included media contacts and releases, questionnaires, and public forums and meetings.

Media Strategy 
The Federation made effective use of media as part of the outreach project and maintained close contact with reporters from the local weekly, The White Lake Beacon, and Muskegon County's daily paper, The Muskegon Chronicle exit EPA, to inform and update them on outreach activities. We also issued news releases for public meetings, in addition to using outreach elements as part of a media strategy. For example, both papers were very interested in reporting on the results of the questionnaires and public meetings, in addition to using educational information developed as part of the project.

The White Lake Beacon ran a front-page news article on the outreach project in the same edition in which the initial questionnaire was placed. Later, the paper printed a summary of cleanup options developed by the Federation. And finally, a September 2001 Muskegon Chronicle article detailed some of the historical information and studies associated with the sediment contamination and listed the Federation as the source. The public outreach project provided an information base for use by reporters and increased overall media coverage of the issue. At least twenty news items, editorials and articles associated with the outreach were published in the Beacon and Chronicle from May 2000 to September 2001, a period of sixteen months.

Genesco on Tannery Bay
Genesco on
Tannery Bay
Questionnaires were used to survey the target audience for their level of knowledge of the contaminated sediment problem in White Lake and expectations at the beginning of the project, throughout the project, and at its completion to measure the project's success and identify improvements to the public participation model.

The first questionnaire was distributed as in insert in a March 2002 edition of the White Lake Beacon to 5,000 households in the White Lake area. The purpose of the questionnaire was to solicit input on what methods to use for conducting public outreach, and what information was needed by the public, in addition to allowing for the expression of general comments. Over 300 questionnaires were returned, whose general responses overwhelmingly supported a cleanup of White Lake in the area of Tannery Bay. A summary of questionnaire results and copies of each questionnaire were provided to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers exit EPA (USACE), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality exit EPA (DEQ). Use of the business reply mail stamps significantly increased the return rate of the questionnaires. A final questionnaire will be utilized after the completion of the cleanup in 2002.

Fact sheets and educational information based on the information gathered from the first questionnaire, the following fact sheets were written and distributed:

  1. What Are Contaminated Sediments?
  2. Effects of Contaminated Sediments on White Lake and Benefits of Cleanup
  3. Benthic and Sediment Studies
  4. Environmental Dredging

Tannery Bay shoreline
Tannery Bay Shoreline
A poster was also developed that chronicled the history of the contamination of the Whitehall Leather site and scientific studies of the contamination that have been done to date. The poster was laminated and mounted on gator board to be used as part of a traveling display. Other display items include laminated news clips and pictures.

Using the information gathered from meetings with the PAC and questionnaires to direct its development, a web site was created and can be viewed at


The site has the fact sheets listed above, online questionnaire forms, questionnaire response summaries, a Federation and Sierra Club exit EPA document on community decision-making, and a link to White Lake sediment studies, as well as links to the Great Lakes Dredging Team, U.S. EPA, and the International Joint Commission exit EPA Web sites.

Involving the Community in a Comprehensive Public 
Participation Process

Through meetings and questionnaires we solicited addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses, from which we established a database to inform residents of upcoming meetings and the status of cleanup process.

DEQ presentation
DEQ Presentation

public meeting
Public Meeting
Public Meetings/Forums 
The structure and content of every public meeting/forum was carefully planned to encourage optimum participation by community residents and facilitated to ensure that technical information was presented clearly and succinctly and that adequate time was allowed for public questions and comment.

A kick off meeting with the public was held March 29, 2000. About 30 area citizens attended the meeting for information and to ask questions about the status of the cleanup decision. The public involvement framework was reviewed, in addition to presentation of an update on the cleanup process, and review of the fact sheets. The meeting facilitator provided a summary of the first questionnaire and solicited additional specific input from the audience. A timeline was provided that outlined the community involvement role in the cleanup process.

A month later, the Federation hosted a public meeting to address concerns raised at the initial meeting and in the returned questionnaires about dredging and potential re-suspension of contamination. A representative of the USACE presented information on environmental dredging techniques. About 50 local residents attended.

In May 2001, the Federation received the draft concept design documentation report for sediment remediation, prepared by Snell Environmental Group for U.S. ACE. Staff created a summary of the report to assist local residents in understanding available options in the cleanup process. The summary was printed in the May 22 edition of the White Lake Beacon through which a second questionnaire was distributed to solicit specific comments on the cleanup options and measure the effectiveness of the outreach to date. The questionnaire was also placed online. 117 respondents reported that they preferred the option of placing the sediments on Genesco property and utilizing in-situ remediation. A majority of those responding strongly opposed one option that would place sediment on a new city park to dry before landfilling. 

Public Comments from 
May Meeting on Cleanup Options 

  • Good format tonight, there is a need to continue to educate.
  • Format was good. I liked the monitoring of discussion. Good meeting
  • Continue generally with format of public participation.
  • Excellent meeting organized well and offered plenty of time for public comment.
  • Good format.
  • This meeting was well formatted, set up, and presented. Keep up the good work!
  • Keep up the good work.
  • This was great, very complete. It was wonderful to have all the experts at one meeting.
  • The meeting was conducted well and everyone was given a chance to talk.
  • Keep people informed about meetings as you have. Keep up the good work. Thanks.
  • This was good. Any public input is valuable and usually productive. Education is crucial so that the people of the area understand the problem and solution.
  • I think you provided a good format.
  • Please have more! I like the format we had plenty of time, it was conducted well, no one was rushed, technical answers were enlightening.
  • Thank you everyone for making progress so far. Keep it up.
On May 24, 2001 over 120 people, including more than 30 high school students, attended a public meeting hosted by the Federation. Two TV stations, the Muskegon Chronicle, and the White Lake Beacon covered the meeting. DEQ and USACE officials presented information on their agency's role and responsibilities and presented the options under consideration for the cleanup. There was a thirty-minute question and answer period and citizens were encouraged to make comments on the cleanup options. After all citizens had the opportunity to offer comment, the next steps in the public involvement process were outlined. At the end of the meeting, participants were asked to submit written evaluations. The evaluation forms, which offered positive feedback, were made available to the USACE, DEQ, and EPA. The responsive summary developed by DEQ and subsequent decision made much later on a cleanup plan, clearly reflected attention to community priorities and sentiment expressed in the questionnaire responses and meetings.

In November 2000, after Genesco offered a cleanup option utilizing capping to the DEQ, the Federation hosted a public forum for White Lake and neighboring Muskegon Lake, on the technique of capping contaminated sediments, with Dr. Michael Palermo, Director of the Center for Contaminated Sediments, as the presenter.

In January 2001, the DEQ asked the Federation to conduct a process similar to that used for the earlier cleanup proposals to gather input on Genesco's cleanup proposal with a questionnaire and public meeting. All input gathered from the questionnaire and meeting was forwarded to the DEQ and USACE.

Community Presentations 
Through the public meetings and direct inquiries, a presentation to local churches, community groups, and civic organizations was offered.

In May 2001, staff presented information on the cleanup to the White Lake Area Lions Club and participated in live discussions on several local radio talk shows. In July, the display and fact sheets were presented during Celebrate White Lake, a daylong festival that showcases area work on the preservation of White Lake

School Outreach 
At the beginning of the outreach project, Whitehall and Montague science and social studies teachers were sent information and an invitation to participate in the public participation process. The packet included a printout on Great Lakes Areas of Concern, information on contaminated sediments, an article describing the Federation's outreach project from the local newspaper, The Muskegon Chronicle, and a Toxic Mud fact sheet. Once the fact sheets and chronological poster were developed, copies were provided to each classroom. Students from the science class of Montague High School attended all three of the public meetings and were awarded school credit for their participation. Whitehall High School classes attended the May 24 meeting.

After the May 24 meeting, teachers were asked to evaluate the process. Comments included, "This is a really important issue." and "It (student involvement) brings the issues they read about closer to them by listening to the experts and the reactions of the citizens involved."

Refining the Public Participation Process

The initial public participation model was refined primarily in two ways. 

1) To reflect the status of the cleanup decision. Prior to this project, a number of public meetings, some formal and some informal, had already taken place in addition to litigation and extensive negotiation between the DEQ and Genesco. New plans for outreach had to take incorporate earlier outreach efforts.

2) To meet the rigid schedule established by the DEQ and USACE in coming to a decision on a cleanup. The questionnaires and public meetings had to be fit into that schedule in order to include the public comment solicited as part of the project into the agency decision-making processes.

Lessons Learned 
The Federation confirmed what was learned from prior work and summarized in the report, Community Decision Making in Sediment Cleanups. We learned additional lessons as well.

From our work in White Lake, we learned that the fundamental elements of effective public participation efforts include: a public participation framework, effective relationships of groups and agencies, and capacity at the community level to facilitate citizen awareness and involvement.

Public Participation Framework 
Establishing a clear process or structure for the public to be involved in the cleanup decision helped in a number of ways. First of all, it provided certainty. People were less frustrated and anxious because they knew opportunities to provide their input was going to be available. This is especially important in communities where there has been a history of tension and antagonism between citizens and state and/or federal agencies regarding pollution incidents.

Having a local organizing group facilitate the public involvement, such as the White Lake Public Advisory Council, also made a tremendous difference in how the outreach effort was perceived by the community and ultimately in the breadth and depth of public participation. People simply seemed to feel more comfortable at meetings hosted by a local entity and trusted that their input would be seriously considered.

The groups and individuals we worked with stressed the importance of making it easy for the public to participate, for example, using business reply questionnaires, and having a variety and number of input opportunities. We found that even though meetings are the most typical method used by government agencies to disseminate information on sediment cleanups and solicit input, they are not the most universally liked or utilized by the public. By offering information and opportunities to comment via local newspapers and on the Web, in addition to the public meetings, we were able to reach those people who simply could not attend the meetings.

Effective Relationships of Groups and Agencies 
We found that the quality of the relationships both within the community and with outside agencies, like DEQ and USACE, definitely influenced the effectiveness of the outreach effort. For example, the White Lake community was singularly unified in its opinion and approach to the contaminated sediment issue and solution. This was due to a number of factors:

  1. The active role of the City of Whitehall; 
  2. The involvement of the White Lake Association, a local riparian group and the White Lake Public Advisory Council (which had representation of all groups) and Federation staff; 
  3. Regular interaction between the groups over the years preceding the outreach project, in addition to considerable exchange of information on the issue, and; 
  4. Existing and effective relationships with DEQ and USACE officials.

The groups worked well together, exchanged information readily, developed coordinated strategies, and presented a unified front for the community. Very importantly, the individuals leading the groups and those representing agencies demonstrated a strong personal commitment to determining a cleanup decision in the best interest of the community. This in turn influenced and increased media coverage and ultimately affected the final decision.

Capacity at the Community Level to Facilitate Citizen Awareness and Involvement 
By far, the single most important factor in increasing and improving public involvement in the White Lake AOC was the capacity at the local level to facilitate the broader public awareness and involvement of the entire community. Individuals and groups already had specific knowledge of the technical issues related to the contaminated sediment issue. There was a "local infrastructure" that could ensure that citizens would have the information and opportunities for input. They also had resources, most especially the Federation, with its funds from USEPA, to host meetings, develop, print, and disseminate information fact sheets, develop Web pages, bring in technical experts, contract with a facilitator, coordinate activities with DEQ and USACE, mail out meeting notices, and pay for the printing, dissemination and return of questionnaires. The groups also had the "know how" to work with the agencies and their procedures, and the ability to focus on critical issues of concern. In addition, the groups were also skilled at working at the local level.

Ultimately, we learned that the same basic processes or methods work well regardless of where they are employed in a contaminated sediment cleanup will transfer easily to other Great Lakes AOCs decision process if the outreach is guided by the history/background and needs of the local community and conducted with the specific goal of increasing and improving public involvement.

Inspiring Additional Public Involvement Campaigns in 
Great Lakes Arcs

The Lake Michigan Federation regularly disseminated results of the outreach effort in the White Lake AOC throughout the duration of the project, both through newsletters and public meetings. The project was highlighted in the Spring 2000 edition of the combined White and Muskegon Lakes publication, Lake News and Views. The project was also described in regular White Lake updates included the Statewide Public Advisory Council (SPAC) newsletter, published quarterly. The Federation participated in the development and sponsoring of a SPAC workshop on contaminated sediments held at Muskegon Community College in the fall of 2000, in addition to serving on panel at the event to speak on the role of community involvement in sediment cleanups.

The Federation has received addition USEPA funding to transfer these lessons to other Great Lakes AOCs. The Federation is well poised to provide this strategic assistance to Great Lakes AOC communities because it already has long-standing and effective partnerships with many local and regional Great Lakes organizations that will serve as a strong foundation for increased partnering on contaminated sediment cleanups.

Working with the Sierra Club's Great Lakes Program Office, we have determined several target AOCs in which to work - the Kalamazoo River and Deer Lake in Michigan, the Maumee River in Ohio, and Buffalo, New York. The AOCs we chose are representative of Great Lakes AOCs because they are at different stages in decision-making on contaminated sediment cleanup have varied contaminated sediment problems, and dissimilar local constituencies. We plan to set up meetings with local leaders and organizations, and solicit community interest and needs in relation to the ongoing or future cleanup. Guided by input from the Sierra Club, groups, and public, we will develop plans to assist each AOC with specific outreach on topics such as the background of contaminated sediment issues, cleanup authorities, cleanup criteria, remediation technologies, community decision-making models, and lessons learned in other communities.

In addition, we will offer support for meeting and event planning, leadership training, media strategies, public outreach, and information development. Overall, we will facilitate the networking of the AOCs to foster sharing of information and strategies. There are a number of existing Great Lakes forums where we will further communicate strategies on increasing and improving public involvement in sediment cleanups, such as the State of the Lakes Conference 2001 in Muskegon, Michigan, where Federation staff will make a presentation on the topic.

Transferring the lessons learned in White Lake will result in a broader understanding of contaminated sediments and relevant decision-making processes, refinement of existing public involvement mechanisms, and increased and improved public participation in cleanups. More effective community involvement could also increase consensus and boost and/or support agency efforts, as it has in White Lake. Ultimately, partnerships between local, state and federal entities will be strengthened and local organizations will be better equipped to initiate and sustain long-term environmental protection in their AOC.


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