Where Ohio Meets the Lake: Managing the North Coast

Scudder Mackey, chief of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Office of  Coastal

Scudder Mackey

Management, spoke at the 4th Annual Edith Chase Symposium on June 1. The coastal management office is responsible for managing and protecting both the 312-mile-long Lake Erie shoreline that runs from Conneaut to Toledo and the Lake Erie Islands–all while balancing economic, cultural and environmental interests.

Mackey talked about meeting Edith Chase within a couple of months after he began to deal with coastal management in 1992 and believes that she would approve of the current direction the office is taking. In addition to Mackey, three technical engineers provide aScudder Mackey, the Chief of the Office of Coastal Management, Ohio Department of Natural Resources, spoke at the 4th Annual Edith Chase Symposium on June 1, 2018. This Office is responsible for managing and protecting the 312 mile-long Lake Erie shoreline that runs from Conneaut to Toledo as well as the Lake Erie Islands, while balancing economic, cultural and environmental interests. Mr. Mackey talked about meeting Edith within a couple of months after he began to deal with coastal management in 1992 and feels that she would approve of the current directions they are taking. Beside himself, there are 3 technical engineers who provide assistance and guidance—both in the office and going out into the field.

True color photo images of Lake Erie harmful algal blooms on August 14, 2017
(Photo Credit: Aerial Associates Photography, Inc. by Zachary Haslick)

The Coastal Management staff are trying to develop more responsive programs. For the first 25 years he’s been there, they did mostly regulatory programs and some technical stuff. Now they want to shift to on the ground advice and implementation. They are looking for innovative ideas to do things differently, not just follow the past. They have received enhanced funding that allows for the enhanced interagency cooperation. They are gathering new people to look at science-based decision making, which was very important to Edith Chase as well.

But before we get into that, he did discuss their many responsibilities, which include:

  •  Decrease algal blooms (50% funded by NOAA pass thru funds)
  • Improve water quality (no mandate do this but they do work with the OEPA)
  • Control Estuary (CELCP) and Sea Grant money
  • Manage the Old Woman Creek National Estuary Research Reserve
  • Manage Public Lands Trust

Permits issued by the office include:

  • Shore Structure Permits
  • Coastal Erosion Area Permits
  • Salvage Permit
  • Submerged Land Lease Consistency reviews (state and national state can stop feds if doesn’t meet federal law. State has primacy.)
  • NEW: Temporary Structure Permit when there is catastrophic damage (The application is only 2 pages instead of 16 pages and they respond within 24-36 hours instead of 6-8 months that it takes to get the regular permit approved—This allows people to modify their structure in the best way possible for more positive/softer designs to increase habitat benefits and not just as it was before.)

He talked about the significant storm damage and flooding over the last year caused by storms with 2.5-3ft. waves, shorelines over the seasonal rise of lake levels over that of previous years and 1 ft. over last year. He showed pictures of their office parking lot in Sandusky, with trash dumpsters floating because the lake is now 24” above the long term mean and only 2” below the all time high water mark. This illustrates one of the challenges of current realities.

But this also leads to opportunities. Extra funding is allowing Ohio’s Office of Costal Management to do something no other costal projects in the U. S. are doing: They are using innovative ideas identified by various groups to develop a portfolio of projects that meet the goals and objectives of Ohio Coastal Management and the Costal Zone Management Act, as well as local groups that also have broader goals. They are applying Leverage Conservation Design concepts and getting training in systems thinking and spatial design to facilitate linkage to these groups. They have developed a portfolio of 39 potential projects from now to next 10 years—in sequenced increments. Partners need time to get non-federal and state funded matches—so they need to be able to anticipate projects and align resources.

Right now, we treat all Ohio shoreline the same, but there are several different types of shore structures so we shouldn’t. Can you increase nearshore water quality and increase sand resource for recreation and protection at the same time? 75% of Lake Erie’s coastline is armored to stop erosion— but when the water hits the hardened area it stops the movement of sand and increases erosion in adjacent properties. This changes nearshore habitats, and has increased zebra mussels attaching on rocks instead of in the sand.

Other goals such as coastal biodiversity, maintaining sustainable fishing and managing invasive species also present questions we need to be able to answer based on science. But we often don’t have data we need to make accurate decisions. For example, we had no data on nearshore fish populations, because until recently we had only studied and managed fish in deep water. For the past 4 years, nearshore populations have been studied through grants and surveys, giving the information we need to ask the right questions of people and to answer the question of how to manage the nearshore.

A big question on everyone’s mind is the goal of a 20% decrease in phosphorus loading by 2026. The Office of Coastal Management is working with the OEPA on this issue.

One large science-based project is focused on nitrogen-based algal bloom in Sandusky’s Inner Bay, where the blooms start before they get to Lake Erie’s Western basin. The team looked at the 6 ft deep inner bay as a system and is using a series of natural filtering wetlands so the water gets to Lake Erie cleaner. The goal is 40% cleaner by 2025. Commercial shipping is in the Outer Bay, so this does not interfere The project is funded by grant from the USEPA’s Great Lakes Research Initiative, which is passed thru to Sandusky. They are considering doing this in the Maumee Bay but there is no real opportunity to do this at other river mouths in Ohio because most are too altered/hardened, but the Sandusky project can be a pilot to show other states how to do this.

Another professor is studying internal loading so we have information for total phosphorus loading in the Western Basin. And Ohio State is researching what shifts the algae to become a toxin.

They are also working hard to clean Cuyahoga River industrial area by building a sediment processing site — where materials are pumped, the impurities settle and the water is cleared before it is drained to the lake. The sand left is mined and sold for road construction, which offsets the costs. This is working successfully.

A bed-load interceptor is another process which extracts sediments before they hit lake. They want to pump the sediments onto agricultural sites. Already loaded with phosphorus, they can be useful to the crops. This project is planting crops themselves to prove to agricultural people that it works.

In his introduction of the speaker, Bob Heath talked about Edith’s approach to environmental

Edith Chase


  1. Get the facts straight
  2. Seek science-based solutions of environmental issues
  3. Look beyond local issues
  4. Do something to make it better.

I think Edith would applaud the Office of Coastal Management’s direction and actions.

For information about other projects and resources from the Office of Coastal
Management, click here. coastal.ohiodnr.gov/

–Lorraine McCarty (with editorial review by Bob Heath)

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