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Michigan makes commitment to sustainable maritime mobility

Today’s MI Environment story is courtesy of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer recently announced the Fresh Coast Maritime Challenge, a first-of-its-kind program in the United States that puts Michigan at the forefront of sustainable maritime transportation, including recreational boating activities, marina innovation, and commercial activities on the Great Lakes. The Challenge establishes a dedicated grant program that offers companies the opportunity to apply for assistance that will support the decarbonization and electrification of both marinas and watercraft across the state. Ultimately, the infrastructure created through the Fresh Coast Maritime Challenge will enable continued growth and innovation in Michigan’s mobility industry, deliver considerable economic benefits and create a blueprint that can be adapted to fit ports and harbors across North America.

AQUA superPower rapid charger at Elk Rapids Marina. Courtesy of Traverse Connect.
AQUA superPower rapid charger at Elk Rapids Marina. Courtesy of Traverse Connect.


“The Fresh Coast Maritime Challenge represents the intersection of mobility, outdoor recreation, and economic development and will create wide-reaching benefits across the entire state of Michigan,” said Gov. Whitmer. “This Challenge will serve to modernize one of the most prevalent methods of mobility in Michigan while supporting sustainable marinas and commercial watercraft and protecting the beauty of our Great Lakes for generations to come.”

As part of the Fresh Coast Maritime Challenge, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s (MEDC) Office of Future Mobility and Electrification (OFME) has partnered with Traverse Connect to identify grant recipients and facilitate the distribution of grant funds, which will provide support for resources that align with the overarching goals of the region. Additional partners for the initiative include the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE); the Office of Outdoor Recreation Industry, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

The Fresh Coast Maritime Challenge is designed to offer commercial enterprises of all sizes a sustainable, cost-effective and efficient means of transitioning watercraft from diesel to electric power. Its ongoing development will offer a growing network of shore-side charging facilities for clean-fueled marine vessels and electric passenger vehicles operating on the Great Lakes. Additionally, the presence of charging equipment at multiple sites will create natural testing environments for the electrification of vessels of all shapes and sizes. The initial phase of funding will focus on the northwest Michigan corridor, between Frankfort and Mackinac Island, a route known as “the boating capital of the Midwest” that offers a considerable concentration of accessibility to recreational boating – making the area ideal for the early adoption of new technologies.

“Our vision for the Grand Traverse region is to be the epicenter for the new electric boating industry – from hosting development and manufacturing of watercraft and charging stations to serving as the hub of a fully-functioning corridor for recreational and commercial boat traffic,” said Warren Call, president and CEO of Traverse Connect. “Electrification of the marine industry is at the heart of our growing Blue Economy, which will further diversify and grow our larger economic ecosystem”.

The electrification of some of Michigan’s waterways is already underway in northern Michigan, with the support of local, state, and federal partners. Key developments include the following:

This announcement builds on Governor Whitmer’s commitment to accelerate maritime mobility innovations, and her signing of multiple pieces of legislation designed to grow Michigan’s maritime industry. It represents commitments made by Michigan both in the MI Healthy Climate Plan, as well as the MI Future Mobility Plan, and will help Michigan achieve its goal to be carbon neutral by 2050.

The Challenge will expand on current activities, like the Lake Michigan EV Circuit, support new business growth and the development of further electric vessels, as well as other modes of transportation.

“Our Great Lakes are an integral part of Michigan’s mobility ecosystem, which is why it is critical that we continue to prioritize the development of sustainable, accessible mobility solutions past just our roads,” said Kathryn Snorrason, interim chief mobility officer for the State of Michigan. “We look forward to reviewing the proposals submitted for the Challenge and partnering with forward-thinking innovators to create a modern electrified coastline.”

Long term, the development and implementation of the Fresh Coast Maritime Challenge will also deepen the pipeline for career opportunities specific to maritime mobility. In Traverse City alone, both Michigan Technological University’s research hub and Northwest Michigan College’s Great Lakes Water Studies Institute are poised to position the region to advance the maritime mobility economy and freshwater innovation.