Fresh, October 31, 2023: Restored Wetlands in Southeast Chicago Offer Nature-Based Flood Protection

October 31, 2023

Fresh is a biweekly newsletter from Circle of Blue that unpacks the biggest international, state, and local policy news stories facing the Great Lakes region today. Sign up for Fresh: A Great Lakes Policy Briefing, straight to your inbox, every other Tuesday.

— Christian Thorsberg, Interim Fresh Editor

This Week’s Watersheds

  • A $1.2 million restoration project on Chicago’s Southeast Side to restore close to 200 acres of wetland habitat — natural protection against flooding — is now complete.
  • The City Commission in Muskegon, Michigan, bought 10 parcels of land on Lake Michigan’s shores, which will be turned into public parks and recreation.
  • A $10 million sandbar resiliency and sewage system project in Hamlin, New York, is now complete.
  • A University of Michigan study finds that efforts to clean the Great Lakes are increasing the region’s property values.

Hundreds of workers at the Saint Lawrence Seaway in Montreal are striking, temporarily shutting down a “main artery” of trade between the Great Lakes and ports overseas.

“These are jobs that require intense training, a high level of understanding of the health and safety risks, and that carry enormous responsibility for the well-being of seafarers and their cargo. They are irreplaceable.” — Daniel Cloutier, the director of Unifor Quebec.

Some 360 workers across five unions have formed a picket line at the Saint Lawrence Seaway on Lake Erie, demanding better wages for their work at the port which last year moved some $16.7 billion of cargo, CBC News reports.

In many ways the port is the economic heartbeat of Canada. According to CBC News, “the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River maritime ecosystem serves 75 percent of the country’s manufacturing capacity and nearly two-thirds of the Canadian population.”

The strike has ripple effects throughout the Great Lakes. As of Friday, more than 100 incoming vessels were waiting to enter the Great Lakes system, Wisconsin Public Radio reports. Inland ports, including a newly renovated $40 million facility in Milwaukee, are “feeling the squeeze.” Farmers throughout the region, unable to import supplies or export their crops, are continuing to fret as negotiations continued as of Friday, CBC reports.

Fresh from the Great Lakes News Collaborative

  • Water affordability bills receive first House hearing — Michigan Radio
  • Did auto industry pollute your Michigan town? Find out with interactive map — Bridge Michigan
  • Nibi Chronicles: Grand Portage Water Warriors — Great Lakes Now

The Great Lakes News Collaborative includes Bridge Michigan; Circle of Blue; Great Lakes Now at Detroit Public Television; and Michigan Radio, Michigan’s NPR News Leader. We work together to produce news and information about the impact of climate change, pollution, and aging infrastructure on the Great Lakes and drinking water. This independent journalism is supported by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. Find all the work here.

Wetlands Restoration Will Enhance Nature-Based Flood Protections

After more than three years, a project to restore “192 acres of wetland habitat, 630 linear feet of stream habitat and 45 acres of native vegetation” on Chicago’s Southeast Side is now complete, WTTW Chicago reports

Previously separate bodies of water — Powderhorn Lake and Wolf Lake — in the Calumet and Hegewisch areas have been reconnected with underground pipes, allowing for improved fish and turtle passage. This area, historically industrial and measured to have some of the worst air quality in the United States, is a hotspot and flyway for marsh birds and other migratory wildlife. Project partners — which include Audubon Great Lakes, the Forest Preserves of Cook County, the Great Lakes Commission and NOAA — hope the completed project will protect species whose numbers have diminished in recent years.

The project also facilitates nature-based protections. Residents have said that the area has been prone to flooding due to uneven water levels. While water levels are currently high, ecologists and engineers who have worked on the project say that climate change will cause them to drop. Improved wetland health can help stabilize these imbalances.

In the News

Muskegon Parcels: The Muskegon City Commission has approved a $1.5 million purchase of former paper mill land on the Lake Michigan lakefront, Crain’s Grand Rapids reports. The deal comes as part of the western Michigan city’s agreement with Parkland Properties, a real estate developer who will be purchasing a 122-acre adjacent site and building a $220 million luxury living complex. Some are worried that the complex limits public access to the lake — Parkland has pledged only six acres for “new public park space,” Crain’s reports. The ten parcels bought by the city will itself be turned into public park space. 

Hamlin Water Projects: A $10.3 million water resiliency project was completed this week on the shores of Lake Ontario in Hamlin, New York, ABC 13 WHAM reports. The project, part of the state’s newly developed Resiliency and Economic Development Initiative, seeks to protect lakefronts and infrastructure from severe weather and uncertain amounts of precipitation in a changing climate. Hamlin’s wastewater collection system was updated and a flood wall was built in Sandbar Park in Webster. Both projects, officials hope, will stabilize local infrastructure in the event of flooding and heavy rains, according to WXXI News.

Looking Ahead

Property Values: A new study from the University of Michigan has found pollution in the Great Lakes region to correlate with property values, Michigan Radio reports. Listing a contaminated site as an official “Area of Concern” due to legacy pollutants initially decreased property values by an average of $25,700 per house. This was for properties within 12 miles of the site. But cleanup efforts including the Great Lakes Legacy Act and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative have since made a difference. Property values have increased by $27,295. 

Upcoming Events

November 9-11 — Place-Based Education Conference — learn more and register

November 14 — Great Lakes Seminar Series: Valoree Gagnon — learn more and register

Other News

Line 5 Support from Michigan: Michigan’s Attorney General Dana Nessel, along with 27 Tribal nations — five of which are from Michigan — have expressed their support for Wisconsin’s Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa in their ongoing lawsuit against Enbridge, Interlochen Public Radio reports.

Gorge Metro Park Dam Removal: The U.S. EPA has announced a $100 million project “to clean up nearly 875,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment” in Ohio’s Cuyahoga River, the Akron Beacon Journal reports. The project is the first in a series of steps that will see the Gorge Metro Park dam removed.

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