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Once a literal junk yard, initiative hopes to return Muskegon Lake back to its former glory

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After decades of environmental abuse, efforts are underway to return Muskegon Lake back to its original condition. As part of a $3.1 million initiative, crews will remove chunks of junk from the lake that had been used as a dump for the logging industry for years.

During the lumber era, sawmill debris was tossed into Muskegon Lake. Foundry sand and concrete were later dumped in it, along with wood and toxic wastewater.

The project also includes restoring the shoreline, wetlands and relocating a recreational path from the shore, said Kathy Evans, environmental program manager for the West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission.

The commission began the project earlier this month. It is being funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a federal agency that conserves and manages coastal and marine ecosystems and resources, according to its website.

In 1985, the lake was declared a Great Lakes Area of Concern by the Environmental Protection Administration.

Muskegon Lake has been contaminated with excessive nutrients, industrial discharges, heavy metals and petrochemicals, according to the administration’s website. The lake was also an open sewer for industry until 1973.

Evans said two more projects after the current one are needed for the lake to be removed from the Great Lakes Area of Concern list. The commission hopes to do that by the end of 2021, she added.