Andrew Trzaska | December 11, 2012
The property that once housed the now-defunct Willbrandt Farms in North Muskegon may be cleaned up using government dollars, if Muskegon County wins a federal grant next year.
The Muskegon County board of commissioners authorized the county administrator on Tuesday to apply for a funds from the Great Lakes Areas of Concern Land Acquisition grant program, which is affiliated in part with work done by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The administrator’s office will apply for $174,000 to buy the 26 acres on the west side of Witham Road, which used to house fields that, among other things, grew celery.
The fields run right up next to the east end of Bear Lake, and are considered an environmental risk because the contamination from years of pesticide use and intense crop growth could leak into Bear Lake, and potentially into Muskegon Lake and Lake Michigan by extension.
The Willbrandt property consists of land on both the east and west sides of Witham Street. The City of North Muskegon planned to buy the land on the east side side of Witham with grant money it previously secured, but transferred those funds to the county for them to purchase the east section earlier this year. The new grant, due in early February of 2013, is for purchase of the west parcel; it would complete the county purchase of the property in full. The West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission (WMSRDC) will be involved in the cleanup process as well in some capacity.
Other celery fields with similar contamination issues have received attention in the county recently. Two celery fields in Muskegon Heights have also been identified as environmental trouble spots. These fields drain into Black Creek, which drains into Mona Lake. While the Mona Lake Watershed Council planned to apply for funds last year, the county does not appear at this time to be planning to apply for grants to acquire the Muskegon Heights fields specifically through this grant at this time.
The grant’s purpose, according to the federal government’s grants website, is to “provide federal financial and technical assistance to land acquisition projects… within the U.S. Great Lakes Areas of Concern and their associated watersheds that meet NOAA’s mission to protect and restore coastal habitats that support the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Strategy (http://glrc.us/strategy.html) and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Action Plan.” Some of Muskegon’s watersheds are covered under these areas of concern, and therefore the county plans to apply for one of the five grants the federal government plans to award.