2006-09-28 / Front Page

Les Cheneaux Watershed Project Awarded $618,400 Grant for Protection

By Amy Polk

The Les Cheneaux Watershed Project to protect water resources in the Les Cheneaux Islands area got a $618,400 jump-start this month.

The Department of Environmental Quality awarded the grant to the Chippewa/East Mackinac Conservation District, which will administer the grant for water quality protection activities, testing, creating a research database, and staffing. The grant will also reinstate Pat Carr of Hessel as the area's watershed coordinator.

Mr. Carr has served the Les Cheneaux Watershed project in various professional and volunteer capacities since he was hired in 2001 to help establish the Les Cheneaux Islands' first watershed council. The Conservation District, Nature Conservancy of Michigan, and Islands Wildlife co-funded the position, and Mr. Carr attributed the partnership to the success of the project in obtaining the grant. It was the second largest grant awarded in Michigan, after a $1 million grant awarded to the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy. Nineteen grants were awarded in all. Communities that succeeded in obtaining the grants had to submit watershed management plans, and Mr. Carr was in charge of compiling the plan for Les Cheneaux.

"I was originally hired to do this, and it has culminated in this (grant)," Mr. Carr said. "What really amazes me is the fact that it's the original donations from a local group like Islands Wildlife that helped reap about $800,000 in grant money for the Cedarville and Hessel areas over the last five years."

Mr. Carr said it proves that "smaller" donations, like Islands Wildlife's $2,000 contribution toward Mr. Carr's position in the first year, can produce big results.

"Every little bit helps," he said. "And if it weren't for their contribution, we might not have been here today. The state is now empowering the community to protect water quality."

Volunteer assistance from Les Cheneaux Watershed Council members also provided the necessary resources and legwork to identify areas needing protection, and to help Mr. Carr complete sections of the watershed management plan.

The Conservation District actually applied for the $905,000 in state and federal grants for funding a watershed coordinator, hazardous waste collection, water quality monitoring, road improvements at stream crossings, zoning ordinance improvement, and several other activities. The Watershed Council and Conservation District agree the most important component of the plan, however, is to have a full-time employee to coordinate water protection and seek future funding. The projects and Les Cheneaux Watershed coordinator position will be funded through 2009. Grants may also provide money for a summer intern.

Another important project is consolidating all of the information on water quality testing, geology, fish population reports, maps, habitat, and topography in the Les Cheneaux Islands area. Since he started working here, Mr. Carr has envisioned creating a database where everyone can access all of the information about the area at central location. The database is expected to be available online.

Since the awarded amount is almost $300,000 less than what was originally sought, some of the activities will be cut or scaled down to fit within the budget, Mr. Carr said. He does not know which projects yet, because he needs to re-negotiate and prioritize projects with the Department of Environmental Quality and the funding partners to make the projects fit the amount of money pledged. He plans to do that over the next three months, as DEQfunded projects are supposed to begin within 90 days of the grant award.

When Mr. Carr applied for the grant, another $322,000 in matching funds and in-kind service had been pledged by local organizations and agencies, including Mackinac County and Chippewa County road commissions, Lake Superior State University (LSSU), the Les Cheneaux Watershed Council, Islands Wildlife, Luce- Mackinac-Alger-Schoolcraft Health Department, Chippewa County Recycling, Upper Peninsula Resource Conservation and Development Council, and Clark Township Board. That amount will also probably be adjusted.

Mr. Carr pointed to the list of state and local partners in the Les Cheneaux Watershed Project as a sign that "people are realizing that this is an area that is worth protecting."

"People recognize that we're on track for development and we don't want the area to be

destroyed," Mr. Carr said. "It's going to be a balancing act in the future: Balancing the natural environment with improving the economy and creating jobs."

He called the state's grant "a gift" to the people of the Les Cheneaux Islands area, and said,

"I think we need to take our hats off to the DEQ for recognizing the Les Cheneaux Islands as one of the most ecologically valuable places on the Great Lakes."

Mr. Carr expects to begin working full-time on the Les Cheneaux Watershed Project by

January 1, 2007. In addition to serving as a member of the Les Cheneaux Watershed Council, Mr. Carr has been working on the Sault Ste. Marie Area Watershed Management Plan and the St. Marys River Rapid Watershed Assessment Project.

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