Lakefront parking areas to be made green

Aug 26, 2011

Metro Beach, Veterans Memorial parking areas to be renovated to reduce pollution with $1.25 million in federal funds

Parking lots at two lakefront parks will be turned environmentally friendly to reduce beach-front E. coli bacteria and other water pollutants, thanks to two federal grants totaling $1.25 million announced Friday.

Federal, state and local officials gathered at Veterans Memorial Park in St. Clair Shores for the announcement of the grants awarded under the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which is doling out $300 million this year.

The bulk of the funds targeted for Macomb County, allocated through the Environmental Protection Agency, will be used to renovate the massive parking lot at Metro Beach Metropark in Harrison Township, and about $250,000 will be used for a project at Veterans Memorial at Jefferson Avenue and Masonic Boulevard. The projects should be constructed next year.

Two other grants, worth slightly more than $1 million, also were awarded for project outside Macomb. One is for the Detroit and Rouge rivers in Wayne County, and the other is for the Nature Conservancy for weed management and phragmites control in the area of the Detroit River and western Lake Erie.

The Huron Clinton Metropark Authority will receive $1 million and chip in $650,000 to renovate Metro Beach’s 45-acre, paved lot to reduce polluted storm waters that runoff from the lot into Lake St. Clair. Environmental engineers will plant vegetation to filter storm water, which collects toxins, including E. coli-contaminated animal waste, before it reaches the lake.

“We will have more greenery to capture storm water in the parking lot,” said Paul Muelle, chief of natural resources for the HCMA. “It’s a huge parking lot. You’ve got all these automobiles and seagulls. That pollution goes straight into the water system.”

Designers will try to preserve as many parking spaces as possible, but he noted that the lot is rarely full and often nearly empty.

At Veterans Memorial, a relatively small, paved lot at the entrance will be replaced with a 15,800-square-foot porous paver driveway and 11,500-square-foot rain garden, according to Gene Schabath, deputy county Public Works Commissioner. The project will be overseen by Public Works Commissioner Anthony Marrocco and his staff.

“It will mean a cleaner Lake St. Clair off of Memorial Park,” Schabath said. “We know it works because we have both porous pavers and a rain garden at our new public works office.”

The efforts are designed to try to curb the frequent closings of beaches at the parks due to high E. coli levels.

The Initiative started under President Barack Obama with $475 million in fiscal year 2010 and $300 million this year. Obama is proposing $350 million for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, but congressional Republicans are expected to try to cut or reduce it.

U.S. Reps. John Dingell, D-Dearborn, and Sander Levin, D-Royal Oak, vowed Friday to push for the funding.

“We’re going to fight like hell to get the money, but there’s a lot of work to do,” Dingell said following the news conference, citing the importance of cleaning the Great Lakes.

“The next great shortage we’re going to face in our county is the availability of fresh drinking water, and we don’t want to skunk it up,” he said.

Dingell said although the projects are spread amid a wide geographic area, they’re all related since the water system is connected. “We’re all beneficiaries,” he said.

The Initiative projects have been hailed as an ongoing investment in the Great Lakes to improve the quality of life and generate tourism. Michigan received about 40 percent of the funds in the first year.

County Executive Mark Hackel, who spoke Friday, called Lake St. Clair “a jewel, a gem.”

“It’s something we need to restore to its natural beauty,” he said. “It’s our Great Lake. It’s the urban center of the Great Lakes water system.”

“This is an outstanding opportunity for restoration,” added Anne Vaara, executive director of the Clinton River Watershed Council.

In an Initiative grant announced last year, $1.5 million is being spent to revive up to 500 acres of marshland at the Metro Beach that has dried up over the past several decades.

In a separate program, several entities received $500,000 for phragmites control at the Metro Beach and the St. John’s Marsh in St. Clair County.