Alan Steinman, director of GVSU’s Annis Water Institute, was the featured speaker at the Sept. 23 kickoff event for the White Lake Environmental History project.
“White Lake has much to be proud of,” Alan Steinman, director of Grand Valley State University’ Annis Water Institute in Muskegon, told the audience who crowded into the community room at the White Lake Community Library on a Sunday afternoon (Sept. 23) to celebrate the kickoff of the library’s White Lake Environmental History Project.
Steinman referred to the community’s efforts at restoring the lake which was the “poster child” for industrial pollution in the 1970s, and the subject of Audubon magazine’s Sept. 1985 feature story, “Montague and the Temple of Doom” which chronicled the environmental devastation as a result of Hooker Chemical Company’s operations.
“It’s exciting to be a part of the kickoff,” added Steinman, who has headed the Annis Water Institute since 2001.
The speaker presented a program which described the geological description of the lake as a “drowned river mouth lake” which is unique in the Great Lakes, but common on Michigan’s Lake Michigan shoreline, joining Pentwater Lake, Muskegon Lake Duck Lake and Lake Macatawa in Holland.
Those lakes are a result of the receding glaciers, he said.
Steinman said White Lake’s environmental history began in the 1800s with the logging which “raped” the landscape with the removal of trees.
That was followed by discharge of community waste into the lake, and then in the 1950s with the industrial development, the beginning of industrial discharge into the lake.
“White Lake and Muskegon Lake were treated as sewers,” Steinman said.
Now, as a result of many years of hard work by state and federal agencies, and local governments and community members, White Lake is on the cusp of being only the third of 42 EPA Areas of Concern on the Great Lakes to be delisted because of cleanup activities.
The future, Steinman said, is a “Bluewater Economy” as a result of clean lakes. Steinman referred to a study that predicts funds used to clean up the Great Lakes can be returned six-fold in economic growth.
Shelley Williams, director of the White Lake Community Library, introduced the project which is being funded by the Michigan Humanities Council, Alcoa Howmet, Montague Museum and Historical Association and Friends of the White Lake Community Library.
The year-long project will include special events, educational components, gathering of historical records and personal accounts of a history of pollution and cleanup.
The project already has a website (restoringwhitelake.com) which Tanya Cabala of Great Lakes Consulting and a local environmentalist, outlined for the audience. Cabala submitted the grant application for the project to the Michigan Humanities Council and is implementing it through the year.
The website describes the project, lists upcoming events, provides a history, will have historical photos and will provide contact information and ways to become involved.
Cabala said she hopes this year-long project will continue and eventually result in a published book on White Lake’s environmental history.