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National facility focusing on freshwater oil spills to be headquartered in Michigan

Posted at 12:26 PM, Oct 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-20 12:26:39-04

SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. — Researchers and first responders know how to handle an oil spill in the ocean, but it’s trickier when it comes to freshwater lakes.

That’s hopefully about to change thanks to a new center being built right here in Michigan.

“I was very concerned from the outset of the potential damage that could occur from the Great Lakes from a spill of oil,” said Senator Gary Peters. “Whether that be from a pipeline that exists in the Great Lakes, or tankers or any other freshwater source – if you see a railroad tanker or other pipeline spill inland.”

It’s all part of an effort spearheaded by Senator Peters and signed into law by President Trump.

The Great Lakes Coast Guard National Center of Expertise (NCOE) will be housed at Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie.

The $4.5 million initiative will study the impacts of oil spills in freshwater.

Those involved in the project will test response technology, detection systems, and train first responders how to protect the largest freshwater system in the world.

“Certainly, we know in Michigan first-hand how catastrophic an oil spill can be,” said Peters. “We saw it in the Kalamazoo River which has been the most expensive oil pipeline break in the history of our country. It took years to clean up and was a very complex undertaking.”

“We are at the nexus of three Great Lakes right here in Sault Ste. Marie,” said Dr. Rodney Hanley, President of Lake Superior State University. “I think we’re the only university that can make that claim in the world and here we are. When you think about the level of trade that moves through the Great Lakes, it’s critical that we keep our Great Lakes pristine and clean.”

While the university will be the hub, there will be another NCOE site at NOAA’s Research Lab in Ann Arbor.

There’s funding to support eight positions with the hope to have the center up and running by next summer.