Water in the Eye of the Beholder: A Mixed-Methods Perceptions Analysis of Areas of Concern in the Great Lakes Region
Machuca, Nicole Lauren
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In 1985, the International Joint Commission identified 43 locales with contaminated sediments around the Great Lakes as Areas of Concern (AOC). Within the United States, state governments consequently work with federal agencies, local governments, private entities and local groups to implement Remedial Action Plans (RAPs) to remove contaminated sediments from inner water bodies and tributaries. The purpose of this study was to determine residents’ perceptions of AOCs and indicators of these perceptions. A mixed-methods approach was adopted utilizing a predominately qualitative analysis and secondary quantitative analyses to understand perceptions of local AOCs, forthcoming remediation projects and project outreach. The qualitative methodology incorporated a thematic analysis of 40 resident interviews collected across four AOC sites. The analysis was triangulated using descriptive analyses of survey data collected at one of the four sites. Eight themes summating shared perceptions across sites were found in this study. The prevalent themes were that: 1) AOCs are dynamic systems comprised of valued facets; 2) AOCs are vulnerable to past, present and future threats; 3) outsiders’ perspectives were important to residents; 4) residents diametrically valued and feared economic activities; 5) residents desired to be engaged in AOC activities and require a holistic outreach approach; 6) residents were emotional about imminent remediation activities; 7) AOC histories formed residents’ negative and apprehensive attitudes about AOC remediation projects; and 8) government actions engendered residents’ distrust of remediation projects and government agencies. This study supports that AOCs exist as socio-ecological systems, comprised of complex communities in need of sediment remediation projects that incorporate human dimensions considerations and participatory methodologies.