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Fast Five with the Office of the Great Lakes' Emily Finnell

Emily Finnell of the Office of the Great Lakes (r) with EGLE Director Liesl Clark

Emily Finnell has worked in a variety of roles at EGLE. Last year, she was named to lead EGLE’s Office of the Great Lakes. Here, she joins us for a Fast Five edition of MI Environment.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I’ve been with the department over 20 years, starting out as a student assistant while at Michigan State University. Last year, I was named senior advisor and strategist at the Office of the Great Lakes.

What have you seen in that time?

I’ve seen a lot of new opportunities where we can make a difference. For example:

  • The Michigan Great Lakes Protection Fund started with one emphasis; today, we are doing more strategic investments.
  • Community engagement and capacity building.
  • Education and outreach to foster Great Lakes stewardship.
  • We’re thinking more about community values – economic, social, and cultural, as well as environmental.

How are you involved in community engagement?

I’ve visited communities all over the state to see how water is important to them and to help them develop shared vision to sustainably integrate water resources into their communities and implement strategies to realize their vision. That work has been very rewarding and transformative. For example, we’re working with other state agency partners to help five communities prepare to become Great Lakes cruising ports. For example:

  • In Traverse City, they are working with Viking Cruises on expedition experiences for passengers. Viking expects to have eight stops in Traverse City in 2022. People around the world are interested in the Great Lakes. They want to learn more about them. Through Viking expedition cruises, passengers will be able to visit shipwrecks and participate in citizen science through water sampling as they cruise from port to port. In the process, cruise ships demonstrate environmental stewardship.
  • In Benton Harbor/St. Joseph, we’ve been facilitating a process to help the communities come together to develop their shared future vision for revitalizing the harbor and harbor governance.

What are some emerging Great Lakes issues?

We just announced the From Students to Stewards initiative that will integrate Great Lakes literacy into school curricula and school or district improvement plans using a place-based approach.

Water levels have a renewed focus with record setting Great Lakes water levels. We are taking a long-term view of the effect of high water in the Great Lakes and high groundwater and its implications. How do we help communities become more resilient? And what does high water mean for our communities in terms of stormwater management and other critical infrastructure?

We’ve also been more involved in sharing knowledge with international delegations. We’ve met with a Japanese delegation recently about large freshwater lake issues. And soon, we’ll be meeting with Dutch and Finnish delegations.

We continue to work to improve our relationship with Michigan tribes. We work closely with them on the Great Lakes Compact in particular. We are actively asking them to tell us what they want to see in terms of engagement and then build an engagement strategy that addresses their needs.

What are your goals for 2020?

We want to continue to communicate and work collaboratively with local, state, and regional partners on important Great Lakes issues, highlight the successes stories, and actively build upon these relationships to address the tough and increasingly complex issues we’re dealing with.

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