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Great Lakes Legacy Act
Restoring the Centerpieces of Our Coastal Communities

The Great Lakes are the foundation of an economy that provides everything from the cars we drive, to the food we eat and water we drink. Their shorelines supply an essential quality of life for residents and visitors alike, abundant fresh water for cities and water-dependent industries, a maritime highway for raw materials and finished goods, and a thriving tourism industry based on world-class boating, fishing, beaches and other recreational opportunities. Millions of dollars in revenue come to the communities around the basin that help support some 35 million people who call the Great Lakes home with more than 1.5 million jobs and $62 billion in annual wages.

Investing in the Great Lakes

Economic Benefits

The direct economic benefits of restoring the Great Lakes total at least $50 billion. Restoration will:

  • Lead to direct economic benefits of $6.5 billion to $11.8 billion from tourism, fishing, and recreation.
  • Directly raise coastal property values $12 billion to $19 billion by remediating Areas of Concern (AOCs).
  • Reduce costs to municipalities by $50 million to $125 million.
  • Yield a $2–$3 return for every $1 spent.
  • Make the region more attractive to business and workers.

From the Brookings Institution, "Healthy Waters, Strong Economy: The Benefits of Restoring the Great Lakes Ecosystem," September 2007

Contaminated sediment in the 30 Areas of Concern, together with degraded former industrial sites, or brownfields, are major impediments to communities struggling to revitalize their waterfronts with new commercial enterprises, real estate and recreational amenities that can boost tourism.

Sediment is most often contaminated with toxic chemicals such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), heavy metals like mercury, and oil, grease or other petroleum byproducts. Before modern pollution laws went into effect, these pollutants settled into sediment at the bottom of rivers and harbors that flow into the lakes, where they continue to threaten public health, contaminate fish and wildlife, and make waterfronts unusable to our coastal communities.

Despite the complexity and expense of cleaning up the Areas of Concern, many states and local communities are seeing success from their past efforts. Federal funds are available to support cleanup efforts and help communities fulfill the promise of economic revitalization, increased property values and an improved quality of life. Under the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and other federal agencies are prioritizing cleanups in the 30 AOCs.

Partnering to Revitalize Waterfront Economies

Great Lakes Areas of Concern
Map of Great Lakes Areas of Concern

(Click to enlarge)

In the 1980s, the United States and Canada identified 43 highly degraded shoreline areas along the Great Lakes, including 26 on the U.S. side and 17 in Canada, with five shared between the two countries. Known as "Areas of Concern" or "AOCs," these areas are the focus of comprehensive cleanup efforts involving federal agencies, the Great Lakes states, municipalities and other partners. The most common problem affecting these toxic hotspots is contaminated sediment from past industrial practices. Today, 30 AOCs exist wholly in the U.S. or are shared with Canada.

Under the first priority of the GLRI, the Great Lakes Legacy Act provides federal funding to accelerate the pace of contaminated sediment remediation in AOCs. The GLRI's Legacy Act has been a tremendous success. Since its passage, U.S. EPA has invested some $288 million to clean up contaminated sediment in the AOCs, of which $119 million has been leveraged from nonfederal sponsors. This work has resulted in cleanups at 10 sites, with four additional actions under way. More than 1.3 million cubic yards of contaminated sediments have been remediated to date. The Legacy Act program has also been used to evaluate 23 additional sites, at full federal expense, to characterize the extent of sediment contamination and position them for future cleanups.

A key reason for the success of the GLRI's Legacy Act is its ability to enable strong partnerships with states, federal agencies, municipalities and businesses through a collaborative approach to cleaning up contaminated sites. For this reason, some 34 companies from various industries have contributed more than $50 million to Legacy Act cleanups, providing nearly half of all nonfederal contributions to date.

Completed cleanups have been a springboard for local communities to convert areas that were once a detriment to economic growth into valuable waterfront economic assets. These communities are transforming former toxic hotspots into amenities and building a foundation for future growth.

How Communities Can Take Advantage of the GLRI's Legacy Act

Accelerating On-the-Ground Actions

The GLRI's Legacy Act was a response to frustrations over the slow pace of cleaning up contaminated sediments in Areas of Concern—or toxic hotspots—across the Great Lakes. This program provides an unparalleled opportunity to reinvest in the future of valuable shoreline properties. Many cleanup opportunities remain, and with support from the Great Lakes states, local leaders, industries, and other partners to secure nonfederal matching funds, more communities can realize a similar return on investment and leverage the full economic potential of their waterfront areas.

Advantages of the Legacy Act

The Legacy Act focuses on projects and achieving efficient and effective results:

  • Aligns partners in risk/benefit decisions
  • Focuses on getting work done
  • Provides a quick process
  • Saves money by allowing for timely field decisions
  • Integrates remediation and restoration

How it Works

The Legacy Act requires that at least 35 percent of project costs be provided by a nonfederal sponsor, with U.S. EPA providing up to 65 percent. Nonfederal sponsors must also cover 100 percent of the project's operation and maintenance costs. The nonfederal contribution may include in-kind services from a nonfederal sponsor, or funds or services provided under a settlement agreement or judicial consent decree. However, funds provided as part of a unilateral administrative order or court order cannot be used as the nonfederal cost share.

Approaches for Generating Nonfederal Cost Share

U.S. EPA's rules for administering the program allow for projects to be proposed by a variety of nonfederal sponsors, including entities that may bear some legal responsibility for the pollution being cleaned up. Several different approaches can be used to generate the cost share:

Linking waterfront land revitalization and sediment cleanup efforts

An investor (such as a port authority or developer) provides nonfederal match for a Legacy Act cleanup associated with a waterfront revitalization project. The investor benefits when cleaning up the contaminated site increases the value of, and potential revenues from, an adjacent site. Studies show significant potential for economic revitalization associated with contaminated sediment remediation.

Combining brownfield revitalization and contaminated sediment remediation

Activities from a nonfederal source to restore a brownfield site can be used as match for a Legacy Act cleanup associated with that site. By recognizing the connection between the upland and aquatic environments, this would be considered a more "complete" restoration effort.

Establishing public-private partnerships

Private entities are generally more amenable to entering into a Legacy Act project agreement if a public entity is a partner as well. This lends more credibility to the effort and generates support from a wider variety of partners.

Establishing a nonfederal coalition

Local entities can establish a coalition under the auspices of a not-for-profit organization to provide a venue for generating nonfederal match and coordinating cleanup efforts. This coalition could consist of industry, civic organizations, municipalities and academia. This allows for effective communication as it brings different perspectives and expertise to a potential project.

State bond programs

Bond programs can be used for the nonfederal match required for cleanups conducted under the Legacy Act. Michigan's Clean Michigan Initiative bond program included $25 million that has been used to leverage millions in federal cleanup funds.

In-kind services

Project partners provide in-kind services as part of meeting their nonfederal match. These services can include activities like:

  1. values of land, easements or rights-of-way for constructing or operating and maintaining the project;
  2. staff time for individuals who work on the Legacy Act project;
  3. construction materials or equipment usage for the associated project, and;
  4. design or engineering services that are part of the project.

Using money or in-kind services provided under a settlement agreement or judicial consent decree

Work conducted under a settlement agreement in an AOC that addresses the area's environmental problems, including contaminated sediments, can be counted as a match for Legacy Act projects.

Using Clean Water State Revolving Funds

Under the Clean Water State Revolving Fund program, states provide a 20 percent match to U.S. EPA funds. Usually these funds are used to build or improve wastewater infrastructure, but they can also be used for nonpoint source projects as long as they are identified in the state's nonpoint source management plan under Section 319 of the Clean Water Act. While the grant funds from U.S. EPA and the required 20 percent state match are federal funds, loan repayments, earned interest and proceeds from state bonds are considered nonfederal funds. These nonfederal funds can be used as match for Legacy Act projects.

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