Caitie Nigrelli, an environmental social scientist working for IISG and the U.S. EPA, has been featured in a Christian Science Monitor article about her involvement in the cleanup of the Grand Calumet River in Northwest Indiana.
The reason behind the article? “Industry and environmental interests are often opposed. But in Indiana, a river cleanup requiring both sides to negotiate with each other offers an example for conservation partnerships everywhere.”
Students from nearby schools are on their way to developing a “sense of place” for the Grand Calumet River after spending several hours at the Seidner Dune and Swale Nature Preserve engaged in learning and stewardship. The site in northwest Indiana is a recently restored natural area along the river and boasts of lupines, bald eagles, great egrets, crayfish and more.
Video by Abigail Bobrow, IISG communication specialist
Sense of place is a social science concept that captures whether a person identifies with or feels an attachment to or dependence on a location, and it is predictive of future environmental stewardship at that site. Caitie Nigrelli, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant environmental social scientist, evaluated the students and found an increase in their sense of place for the natural area after their field trip.
On May 18, the Grand Calumet Stewardship Day, an annual event for the past five years, brought out students from Eggers Middle School and Bishop Noll High School, both in Hammond, Indiana, and 21st Century Charter School in Gary. The students visited four stations where scientists and experts guided them through bird watching, learning fish species, identifying macroinvertebrates, and planting oak trees.
“This is my first time actually walking around, looking at stuff,” said ninth-grade student Demondrick Velez from the 21st Century Charter School. “Is this my first time here? No, I’ve been here, but just not deep into it like this.”
At one point, the Grand Calumet River was considered the most polluted river in the nation. In recent years, with funding from the Great Lakes Legacy Act and local partners, the river is being cleaned up and restored. Altogether, two million cubic yards of sediment have been removed or capped. The work on the East Branch of the river, which is where Seidner Dune and Swale is located, is finished, with 1.1 million cubic yards of sediment remediated and 58 acres of marsh habitat restored.
Even during the river’s worst days, there were pockets of natural wonder.
“The Grand Calumet River is historically known as biologically diverse and it has very unique ecosystem associated with it. The globally rare dune and swale complex, which is next to the river, is globally rare. There is only about 17,000 acres left on the entire planet of this kind of habitat,” said Susan MiHalo, conservation coordinator at The Nature Conservancy, and organizer for this year’s event.
“I love that they’re bringing back the native plants and the native animals and they’re trying to get rid of the pollution. When I get older, even now if I can, I’m going to try to help so I can make it better too,” said Jamarion Evans, an Eggers Middle School student.
“We look forward to coordinating with the teachers to plan additional field trips that can further establish the students’ sense of place for the river,” said Nigrelli.
In addition to Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant and The Nature Conservancy, the stewardship day was hosted by the Shirley Heinze-Land Trust, Dunes Learning Center, City of Gary, Indiana Department of Environmental Management, Indiana Department of Natural Resources,
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Audubon Chicago Region, Wildlife Habitat Council, and Urban Waters.
Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant is a part of University of Illinois Extension and Purdue University Extension.
Milwaukee residents who have spent most of their lives near the sprawling Lincoln Park have stories to tell about how degraded the park had become. The Milwaukee River was hidden behind buckthorn and other brush and the fish that lived in the tainted water were too contaminated to eat.
Last week they shared some of these memories as part of a joyous celebration that the park and river have been cleaned up. State Representative Mandela Barnes described the park now as “good for people’s health.” At this event, a ceremonial ribbon was cut and the park was officially reborn.
Lincoln Park is in the Milwaukee Estuary Area of Concern, designated by the International Joint Commission. Contamination in the park came from historic industrial and municipal discharges among other sources.
Over a four year period, 171,000 cubic yards of sediment laced with an alphabet soup of contaminants—PCBs, PAHs, and NAPLs—were removed from targeted zones in the river and 12.5 acres of shoreline were restored. Commenting the time and work that went into this remediation and restoration, Cameron Davis, EPA senior advisor to the administrator, described the project partners as more persistent than the contaminants themselves.
Throughout the process, Caitie Nigrelli, IISG environmental social scientist was on the ground, keeping the community informed, but also facilitating residents to take some ownership of the park. Nigrelli helped a volunteer organization get started—Friends of Lincoln Park—and joined in the group’s one year anniversary last fall.
Anne Stadler Vaillancourt, a leader of the Friends group, spoke at last week’s event and a number of members were there to set up, take down, and enjoy the festivities. The organization is enjoying success and is ready to grow in membership. They recently held a volunteer cleanup day at the park and more than 100 people showed up. They have two upcoming Weed Out events to remove invasive species on May 14 and May 28.
Stadler Vaillancourt expressed to the morning’s participants that the Friends of Lincoln Park are committed to take care of the park for the long term.
Also in attendance were: Kevin Haley, landscape architect and John Dargle, Jr., director, both of Milwaukee County Parks; State Sen. Lena Taylor; State Rep. David Brown; Theo Lipscomb, chairman of Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors; and Ed Eberle, assistant deputy secretary of Wisconsin DNR.
The Grand Calumet River in northwest Indiana, abused from centuries of industrial contamination, celebrated a triumphant milestone in October.
Volunteers, environmental organizers, and local, state, and federal politicians gathered to admire the incredible transformation of a river that was once drained of its ecological significance.
IISG Environmental Social Scientist Caitie Nigrelli who led an outreach team to raise awareness about this enormous undertaking soaked it all in.
Caitie Nigrelli, left, and Diana Mally, an environmental
engineer with the U.S. EPA, walk by the river.
“I’m enjoying the beautiful river,” Nigrelli said. “It‘s amazing because just a few years ago I was standing in the same spot, and it was contaminated. Now I look out and it is clean and beautiful.”
Nigrelli serves as a liaison between the U.S. Environment Protection Agency (EPA) and community stakeholders to promote awareness of the Grand Cal remediation through public meetings, tours, and events with school children.
The Grand Calumet was at rock bottom when the International Joint Commission designated it as an Area of Concern in 1987. Since then $159 million in combined state and U.S. EPA funds through the Great Lakes Legacy Act have thus far provided the means to clean it up.
Because of the extent of the work, the Grand Cal’s 13-mile system was divided into eight separate projects, with more milestones to come. This most recent event marked the completion of a 2-mile section from Kennedy Avenue to Cline Avenue at a cost of $82 million. The money went toward remediating 1.1 million cubic yards of contaminated sediment, restoring 58 acres of marsh habitat, and installing more than 170,000 plants.
This effort not only remediated sediment, but also removed invasive species like Phragmites that had overrun dune and swale habitat, crowding out native plants.
The federal funding, while generous, comes with a significant stipulation: Local partners must match at least 35 percent of the cost of remediation. The Indiana Departments of Natural Resources and Environmental Management footed the bill with money from a Natural Resource Damage Assessment involving eight industries.
Kris Krouse, Shirley Heinze Land Trust executive director, said, “From our perspective as an organization, it is probably one of the most spectacular and monumental achievements when it comes to land conservation.”
Octogenarian Lee Botts, a prominent Great Lakes environmental activist since the 1960s, is making a film about the changes the south end of Lake Michigan is experiencing. She remembers questioning that any kind of restoration was ever going to happen.
“Amazing progress is being made by partnerships among all kinds of interests—some of whom in the past were enemies and opposed the conservation,” Botts said. “Now it’s a shared goal of all these interests. We’re making progress.”
Remediation on the next section starts next week—going west, it includes the city of Hammond and will go up to the Illinois border.
The first step in useful communication is to listen to your audience. By addressing the perceptions and needs of a community, information can really have impact. With this mission in mind, IISG Environmental Social Scientist Caitie Nigrelli and her intern Carly Norris went to the Zephyr site in Muskegon County in Michigan.
The name, short for the former Zephyr Oil Refinery, refers to property on the Muskegon River that was polluted and contaminated from decades of oil spills beginning at the turn of the twentieth century.
But before permits are pulled and backhoes are delivered, Nigrelli and Norris, as environmental scientists, talk to the people who are being affected — to find out what their concerns are, what they’d like to see happen.
So they interviewed community stakeholders about how they feel about an area that was at one time ranked by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality the fourth most hazardous in Muskegon County.
Regardless of its dirty and neglected past, many in the community are interested in seeing its eventual remediation and recovery, Nigrelli and Norris found.
“I was really pleased with the diversity of the people we talked with. It really helped me understand the interests and concerns of the stakeholders,” Nigrelli said. “Something that kept coming up was the importance of clear, consistent communication with the property owners adjacent to the site. Now we know where to focus our efforts.”
Norris added, “Incorporating community members in the cleanup process helps create an outcome more tailored to local views and ideas.”
Their contribution is one of several steps that traditionally take place before remediation under the Great Lakes Legacy Act occurs.
The cleanup could get started as early as 2016. For more information and to follow the status of the project, visit www.greatlakesmud.org.
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.
A closer look at web tools and sites that boost research and empower Great Lakes communities to secure a healthy environment and economy.
Residents living near sediment remediation projects can now stay up-to-date on cleanup goals and milestones with GreatLakesMud.org. Developed by IISG, this comprehensive site provides information on waterways selected for cleanup and restoration through the Great Lakes Legacy Act.
At the heart of Great Lakes Mud are site-specific pages that identify contaminants of concern and outline plans for cleanup and habitat restoration. Here, visitors will find the latest on dredging schedules, truck routes, opportunities for community involvement, and more.
The website also provides insight into how Legacy Act projects are chosen and designed and explains how cleanup strategies like dredging and capping are able to remove the dangers of contaminated sediment while improving aquatic habitats.
Illustrative photos and videos bring these processes to life and help viewers understand how project components that often span several years fit together.
The Great Lakes Legacy Act was passed in 2002 to accelerate sediment cleanup in Areas of Concern, waterways blighted by decades of industrial discharges and poor municipal sewage practices. Since then, the program has cleaned up nearly 3 million cubic yards of contaminated sediment and restored acres of habitat.
For additional information or to request that your waterbody be added to the website, contact Caitie McCoy.
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 email@example.com 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.