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Owner Mike McNally (left), project superintendent Sam Bonanni and son Mike McNally Jr. concluded the 2011 landscaping season with a challenging project for the City of Trenton, doing underwater and shoreline planting at Ellias Cove (below).

By Joe Hoshaw Jr.

During his more than a quarter century in the landscaping business, Mike McNally has never been known as someone who shies away from new challenges.

And last season he and his team at McNally’s Landscaping took on a big one after getting the nod from the city of Trenton to be the contractor on the latest phase of shoreline restoration efforts at Ellias Cove.

Once known as the heavily  contaminated “Black Lagoon” area just south of the old McLouth Steel Plant, the area has gotten new life and a new name as Ellias Cove after a federally funded $9 million clean-up effort initiated about a decade ago.  The cleanup removed hundreds of cubic yards of contaminated sediments in an effort to restore the area to its pre-industrial-era condition.

Last year’s restoration work along the shoreline was a continuation of that earlier project, and was funded by a $30,000 grant.

It involved planting a variety of new vegetation both along the shoreline and in the water.

“It was, by far, in all the years I’ve been in this industry,  not only the most interesting but also the most difficult project that we’ve done,” said McNally, who founded the business in the 1980s due to his love of the outdoors and curiosity about nature and what makes things grow.

The Ellias Cove job was McNally’s first project that involved aquatic planting, but the nature of the work was only one element of the job’s complexity. The project also involved close oversight by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and involvement from the city’s Engineering Department and a consulting firm.

McNally credited former Assistant City Engineer Kelly Fedele with playing a key role in helping to move the project forward over the course of about a month late last summer.

Sam Bonanni, McNally’s longtime project superintendent, supervised the project.

“Planting aquatics is really no different from other plantings,” he said. But there are different ways to prepare the various tubers and plugs — plus there was the added element of working in 5 to 6 feet of water to plant the aquatics. The underwater plantings also had to be staked in place.

And in order to be compliant with DEQ requirements, the work crew was unable to move or alter anything along the shoreline, which resulted in a lot of careful and tedious maneuvering in order to work around various obstacles.

Bonanni said about 300 to 400 plantings were done in the water and another 200 or so on shore. There were two primary varieties of aquatics: “submerged” and “emergent.” The submerged plantings were duckweeds that grow entirely underwater and the emergent plants were arrowheads and various lilies that grow to the surface.

The onshore planting comprised a combination of potentillas and service berries.

“One of the reasons the job was so interesting is because these are hard-to-find plants,” said Bonanni, noting that only two suppliers in the area carried them.

The main purpose of the plantings it to help with erosion control along the shoreline, but it also is expected to provide an improved habitat for fish and wildlife.

McNally is the son of the late John F. McNally, a longtime Trenton dentist who operated a practice in Trenton’s downtown area and who was involved in various community efforts.

Even though he followed a different career path, Mike McNally has followed in his father’s footsteps from the community involved standpoint, volunteering his time and his company’s service to help a variety of organizations and causes throughout the years.

Although he now lives in Brownstown Township, not far from his business’s headquarters, McNally still maintains strong ties to the community where he grew up and attended elementary school at St. Timothy.

The company has done several types of projects for Trenton Public Schools and assisted Trenton Rotary and the City of Trenton with tree plantings and other community improvement efforts. He also has been a supporter of the Trenton Hockey Association, the Friends of the Friendless, along with other groups.

“We support a lot of things in Trenton,” he said.

One other recent project included donating services to enhance the landscaping of a courtyard at Trenton Village Theatre, which is operated by the Downriver Youth Performing Arts Center. Although it was just a small project, McNally described it as a unique and rewarding.

McNally’s Landscaping provides lawn maintenance, landscaping and design services to a clientele that ranges from small residential customers to large commercial businesses. One of the company’s biggest customers is the Brownstown Business Center, a sprawling industrial park along I-75 near Sibley Road.

“We fine-mow close to 150 acres a week during the season,” said McNally, who said about 60 percent of his current business is maintenance services while the remainder is landscaping — both design and installation.

During the summer the company employs from 15-20 people.

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