The 2.6-mile section of the river, located near the Port of Monroe, Michigan’s only port on Lake Erie, was contaminated with PCBs and lead from nearby manufacturing. Multiple cleanups starting in 1997 have removed a total of 135,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment.
The River Raisin was once home to American lotus beds and sturgeon populations. Pollution drove these species away, but the cleanup will restore the river and provide a healthy habitat for native fish, birds, and plants.
Dredging was then followed by a process known as capping that involves the installation of sand, clay, and stones over any residual contaminated sediment to create a barrier with the rest of the waterbody. This strategy is commonly used in combination with dredging.
“Contractors worked 24 hours a day, seven days a week over the last month or so to get the remedial cap installed,” Ben Wegleitner, IISG sediment remediation outreach specialist. “They wanted to get the top layer of armor stone in place before the next large freighter came into port.”
Wegleitner narrated the video above.
In the coming weeks, the equipment and the sediment processing area will go through a complete decontamination procedure before being removed from the site.
The area will continue to go through extensive monitoring before it’s officially delisted from the Areas of Concern list through a process that can take years.
“This site has been through a lot in the last 30 years,” Wegleitner said. “Without a doubt, this is a major milestone.”
Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant is a part of University of Illinois Extension and Purdue Extension.
Lincoln Park and I are both coming to the end of an exciting chapter this fall. As my internship with
IISG comes to a close, Phase 2 sediment remediation work in in Lincoln Park in Milwaukee is also finishing up.
Four years and more than 170,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment later, Lincoln Park is looking to reap the benefits of the newly cleaned Milwaukee River. As contractors work to remove equipment, sediment samples are being taken to ensure no contamination has been missed.
To commemorate this truly historic milestone, IISG environmental social scientist Caitie Nigrelli and I traveled to Milwaukee to spend some time on the river and celebrate the success with our clean-up partners. Hospitable as usual, Friends of Lincoln Park members took us around the city allowing us to catch a glimpse of the possibilities that environmental reinvestment holds for community revitalization.
Within the park, we took advantage of the warm fall weather for a canoe trip through the remediated portion of the river. As we paddled, perennial grasses and beaver-cut branches secluded us from Lincoln Park’s urban setting. We were not the only ones out experiencing the newly restored park; kill-deer, great blue herons, and other wildlife were also enjoying a clean habitat.
Although remediation work is complete, there is still much to be done within the park. Much like sediment remediation, successful ecosystem restoration is a long process. Started in 2012, the 11-acre Phase 1 restoration work is finally showing the fruits of its labor.
Many bees could be seen buzzing around native asters (see photo) and goldenrod on the shoreline at the west end of the park. Like Phase 1, restoration work in the East Oxbow of the river will bring a diversity of native plant species, stabilize the shoreline, and provide habitat for fish and wildlife.
After watching the sun set over the river, Caitie and I completed our day at the Friends of Lincoln Park restoration celebration. Over cake and ice cream, representatives from the Milwaukee County Parks and CH2M, an environmental consulting company, presented information on the remediation and restoration progress.
The neighborhood unity fostered through this river cleanup is impressive. As a new chapter begins for the river, park, and neighbors alike, seeds of passion and park investment are spreading, akin to the native seeds of restoration to come.
Over 200 bags of trash, some shopping carts, mattresses, and a port-o-let were removed from Milwaukee’s Lincoln Park earlier this month during an annual river cleanup led by Milwaukee Riverkeeper. The event drew nearly 3,500 residents and local officials to rivers across the city. Almost 100 of these volunteers were members of the Friends of Lincoln Park. Formed last October, this cleanup was the group’s first outreach project, with many more slated for 2015.
Members of the Lincoln Park community first came together in response to ongoing efforts to rid the Milwaukee River bottom of legacy contaminants like PCBs and PAHs. Phase two of the Great Lakes Legacy Act project was underway, and with the river making up such a large portion of the park, the community was taking notice. With support from focus groups conducted by Caitie McCoy and UW-Extension’s Gail Epping Overholt, residents were inspired to create a way to voice their thoughts and concerns on the direction of the park.
The result was the Lincoln Park Friends Group, who, in association with Milwaukee County Parks, the Park People, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and Wisconsin Sea Grant, is now working to revitalize Lincoln Park in a way that brings together the surrounding community.
“Most members have grown up enjoying the parks,” said David Thomas, secretary for the Friends of Lincoln Park. “We all think of the parks as a valuable community resource.”
The group hopes to instill a similar sense of stewardship in other community members. Along with plans to clear out areas overgrown with invasive plants, some members have expressed an interest in creating youth groups to provide opportunities to learn how to fish or canoe and to get to know the park’s natural surroundings in general.
“There’s a ton of work to do, but we want to build organically,” Thomas added. “We want to build it slowly, and we want it to be strong and sustainable.”
For anyone familiar with the Grand Calumet River, the changes over the last few years are impossible to miss. The historically industrialized river, long ago abandoned by both people and wildlife, is now home to birds, fish, and other aquatic life in many areas. The revitalization is due to a series of remediation and restoration projects that will remove more than 2 million cubic yards—roughly 130,000 dump trucks—of contaminated sediment and add native plants to banks and marshes by 2015.
The east branch of the river is one of these revitalized areas, and it is there that representatives from government agencies and non-profit organizations, including IISG’s Caitie McCoy, met earlier this month for a tour of the remediation projects.
The tour, coordinated by Save the Dunes, was aimed at highlighting the work and thanking representatives from the offices of U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, and U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., for their support in the efforts and encouraging support for future funding.
“They’ve been our champions to maintain (Great Lakes Restoration Initiative) funding for the last four or five years,” Nicole Barker, executive director of Save the Dunes, said. “We are indebted to them.”
The group visited some of the river’s biggest success stories, including Roxana Marsh, which has been free of high levels of PCBs and heavy metals for over two years. They also heard from officials about local changes that are helping to secure the long-term health of the river. In Hammond, IN, for example, raw sewage that was previously discharged into the newly-remediated river is now being redirected to the city’s wastewater treatment plant.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the tour came during the stop at Seidner Marsh. Remediation for this part of the river wrapped up earlier this year and attention has been turned to dredging wetlands and rebuilding habitats. The group was able to see these efforts first-hand as workers delivered barge after barge of fresh sand to be spread along the riverbed.
“It is important that these restoration projects do more than just remove contaminated sediment,” said Caitie. “We also want to help jumpstart wildlife populations, and that includes the invertebrates and microorganisms that live at the bottom of the river. The clean sand gives them a home, a place to burrow in.”
Cleanup and restoration on the Grand Calumet will continue for many years—six of the nine project areas are still in progress. But residents and visitors can expect to see a clean river bottom with a thriving plant community as early as 2024.
Exciting changes are coming to Wisconsin’s Lincoln Park, part of the Milwaukee River Area of Concern. Phase two of Great Lakes Legacy Act efforts to remove historical contaminants from the river bottom is set to begin next month. And park neighbors and stakeholders from across Milwaukee County are already well on their way to launching a Friends of Lincoln Park group that will help foster greater community stewardship.
More than 20 neighbors came together for the first time earlier this month to get to know each other, discuss potential group goals, and brainstorm ways to achieve them. They were joined by numerous local and regional organizations interested in protecting Lincoln Park, including University of Wisconsin Extension, Milwaukee County Parks, the Park People, and the Illinois-Indiana and Wisconsin Sea Grant programs.
Nothing is official yet, but the meeting ended with two main goals on everyone’s mind: fostering a sense of community with the park at the center and protecting the local environment.
“For a long time, the park was very community centered, but it has become more of an outsider attraction in the last few decades,” said Caitie McCoy, IISG’s social scientists and co-host of the meeting. “The group had great ideas for re-energizing community interest with events that bring locals out to enjoy all the resources the park has to offer.”
The idea for a Friends group took shape during focus groups conducted this spring by Caitie and UW-Extension’s Gail Epping-Overholt. They spoke with a variety of people living or working near Lincoln Park to better understand community perceptions of the park and ongoing sediment remediation efforts. When the results of the needs assessment were in, it was clear that residents were interested in forming the Friends of Lincoln Park.
The results will also play a key role in shaping public outreach and project messaging as dredging kicks off again this fall for phase two of the remediation. More than 120,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment have already been removed from the Lincoln Park segments of the Milwaukee River, and this next round of dredging is expected to remove another 35,000 cubic yards. Together with cleanup efforts in nearby Blatz Pavilion lagoon, the two Lincoln Park projects are expected to reduce the amount toxic PCBs flowing into the Milwaukee River system by 70 percent, a drop that will go a long way towards delisting the AOC.
To learn more about recommendations to come out of the needs assessment, download the full report from our products page. And if you live in the area and are interested in joining the Friends of Lincoln Park, come out to the next meeting on October 9. Contact Caitie McCoy at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Special thanks to IISG interns Erika Lower and Mark Krupa for their help analyzing and the results of the needs assessment and to Jane Harrison at Wisconsin Sea Grant for taking notes during the focus groups and helping to coordinate the Friends meetings. ***Photo courtesy of University of Wisconsin-Extension.
The future is looking bright for the Grand Calumet River. Completed and ongoing restoration projects along the heavily industrialized river have already removed or capped more than 2 million pounds of sediment ridden with toxins like PCBs and heavy metals. And late last year, the EPA took the first step towards cleaning up the final sections of river yet to be addressed.
It will be a long road to restoration, but this step means those who live and work nearby can expect to see a clean river bottom with a vibrant plant community as early as 2024.
“This means a lot to the community,” said Caitie McCoy, IISG’s environmental social scientist. “I was recently at a meeting with community members in northwest Indiana who have been fighting for this river for over 50 years where the EPA announced their plans. Their reaction was almost a mixture of joy and disbelief. When you devote your whole life to something, making baby steps of progress along the way, it must be surreal to finally reach that moment. It is an honor to be a part of it.”
For now, efforts are focused on determining the feasibility of cleaning up four river segments: one in Gary, IN and three more in East Chicago, IN, where there is also funding to design a tailored cleanup plan.
Remediation projects are big undertakings. One common strategy, for example, requires contaminated sediment to be dredged, pumped to shore, dried, and trucked off to fill sites certified to handle this kind of waste. At the same time, the water pulled out during dredging has to be treated before it can be returned to the river.
To ensure the success of any new projects in these areas, the EPA is teaming up with the East Chicago Water Management District, the Gary Sanitary District and other local partners to take a closer look at restoration needs. In Gary, planning will likely be completed sometime this year, but it will be another year still before the group announces plans for the stretch flowing through East Chicago. Before any actual cleanup work can begin, though, additional funding and partners will be needed for both projects.
The next few years will also prove significant for two other sections of river. Cleanup efforts at the river’s westernmost end in Hammond, IN are expected to kick off this year. And work on a larger segment of the river just a few miles to the east is expected to wrap up in 2015. There, construction crews have already removed much of the contaminated sediment along the river bed and are now turning their sights to nearby wetlands. Project partners have also begun removing invasive plants along this stretch to make room for native species that will be planted in 2015.
Efforts to restore the Grand Calumet River are part of the Great Lakes Legacy Act, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
*Photo 1 courtesy of Lloyd DeGrane *Photo 2 courtesy of U.S. EPA
Dredging and restoration work on another section of the Grand Calumet river is set to begin this spring, removing more than one million cubic yards of contaminated sediment from the river bottom and rebuilding local wetlands.
Caitie McCoy, IISG’s environmental social scientist, provides some more information about the upcoming work:
“Work will start April 22 on a project that will dredge (remove) or cap (isolate from the ecosystem) 1.2 million cubic yards of river bottom sediment contaminated with PAHs, oil & grease, PCBs, and heavy metals like cadmium and copper. Volume-wise, this would fill about 300 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Along with restoration of more than 50 acres of wetland habitat, this work will take place for approximately three years from Kennedy Ave to Cline Ave…
This work is funded by US Environmental Protection Agency, Indiana Department of Environment, and Indiana Department of Natural Resources, in partnership with US Fish and Wildlife Service, The Nature Conservancy, Shirley-Heinze Land Trust, Save the Dunes, municipalities, and other local and federal partners. The US Army Corps has also begun dredging in the Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal, and is on track to dredge 300,000 cubic yards through August this year.”