Cleaning up contaminated rivers, lakes and harbors facilitates the revitalization of waterfront economies on the Great Lakes. Aimed at industries, municipalities, states and non-governmental organizations, “A Seat at the Table: Great Lakes Legacy Act” is a new video that explains what it means to be a cost-share partner with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Great Lakes Legacy Act (GLLA). The video uses interviews with partners to describe the benefits and challenges of cost-share partnering, the cost-sharing mechanism, examples of in-kind services and the flexibility of partnerships.
The GLLA is a component of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative that addresses sediment remediation and habitat restoration in Great Lakes Areas of Concern. Contaminated sediment—caused by toxic chemicals, heavy metals, oil and other pollutants—can be a serious problem for communities struggling to revitalize their waterfronts and boost their economies.
Since 2002, the EPA has partnered with 57 entities under the GLLA to study, design and execute sediment cleanups across the Great Lakes basin. Over 4 million cubic yards of sediment have been remediated, removing threats to public health, creating vibrant environments for fish and wildlife, and giving coastal communities usable waterfronts.
The program is based on cost-sharing, which means that cleanup projects that result in economic revitalization, increased property values and an improved quality of life cannot take place unless partners contribute money or in-kind services. Through the GLLA, the EPA will cover up to 65 percent of the cleanup cost, and nonfederal entities can team up to volunteer matching funds. Once partners have been established, the GLLA program is able to help communities by completing cleanup projects.
“Legacy Act projects don’t take place unless a volunteer comes to the table and contributes cash or in-kind services,” said Caitie Nigrelli, an environmental social scientist for Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant and a liaison to the EPA Great Lakes National Program Office. “We have a lot of contaminated sediment sites left in the Great Lakes, creating blight and preventing local economies from realizing their potential. Voluntary, collaborative partnerships are the solution to the problem.”
Current and past partners include industry organizations (Honeywell, Ford, U.S. Steel), states (Indiana, Minnesota), municipalities (City of Toledo, Ashtabula City Port Authority) and non-governmental organizations (Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper).
Want to see what successful partnerships can accomplish? Follow Caitie Nigrelli (@Gr8LakesLady) on Twitter as she shares 22 sediment site success stories, including before and after photos, contamination causes, partnerships and cleanup details. She’ll share one story, highlighting one location, each day for 22 days. Follow and join the conversation using #22SedimentStories.
“A Seat at the Table: Great Lakes Legacy Act” was funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and produced by Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant and University of Illinois 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.
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.
It was a chilly May 12th, cloudy and windy as well. But 29 sixth graders from West Side Middle School in East Chicago, Indiana came to nearby Roxana Marsh to experience what the outdoors has to offer, learn new things, help with the cleanup and restoration of the natural area, and enjoy the afternoon. Roxana Marsh is part of the larger Grand Calumet River Area of Concern, which has been undergoing dredging through the Great Lakes Legacy Act over the past six years. The marsh section of the project was completed three years ago with the removal of 600,000 cubic yards of sediment. This accomplishment was celebrated with a press event attended by government officials and local school children. Those middle schoolers left their legacy in perennial plants that are now thriving along the marsh. This year’s class is the third group of gardeners in what may well become an annual tradition.
In addition to planting natives, the students learned the basics of birding, explored the small community of life in sediment, and manned trash bags for garbage detail. There were water beetles, egrets, killdeer, toads, dragonfly nymphs, and more to experience.
Throughout their afternoon tour, the 6th graders were guided by experts from Audubon Chicago Region, U.S. EPA, The Nature Conservancy, Shirley Heinz Land Trust, Indiana’s departments of Natural Resources and Environmental Management, Northwest Indiana Regional Planning Commission, Dunes Learning Center, and Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant.
The first surprise for the students was just how close the natural area is to their school and their world. “They had no idea that this was here or about the dredging and restoration, said teacher Linda Padilla. “They were sure we would be going someplace farther away.”
Last June, she took part in a one-day workshop at Purdue University Calumet, which introduced the Helping Hands curriculum to 25 local educators. Helping Hands activities are ideally suited to schools in Areas of Concern that are going through the cleanup process—they provide opportunities to directly engage students in the larger project. The workshop also included a visit to several sites on the Grand Cal to see the dredging work in progress as well to walk around a finished site—Roxana Marsh.
Caitie McCoy, IISG environmental social scientist, has been helping keep residents informed during the dredging. She saw the Grand Cal project as an opportunity to connect students with their environment. “The cleanup and restoration of the Grand Calumet River is brightening the northwest Indiana landscape,” she explained. “This work transforms space into places that students can visit, perform stewardship work, and develop pride in their local environment. Environmental educators teach students that nature is in their backyard, but for these students, high quality nature is in their backyard, right here in East Chicago, Indiana.”
At one point, the Grand Cal was referred to as the most polluted river in the country. Through the remediation process, more than 2,000,000 cubic yards of sediment have been removed from this waterway, which runs through a highly-populated region. If funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative continues and non-federal cost share partners are secured, the river work could finish as early as 2019.
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.
We talk a lot about the environmental benefits of sediment remediation. These are hard to miss—a trip to the river or harbor is often all it takes to confirm that the aquatic habitat is on the mend. The role of cleanup projects on local economies can be harder to pin down, but the impacts are just as striking. Brandon Steppan, IISG’s new communications intern, has the story.
I’ve lived in the city all my life. With the exception of a few parks and forest preserves, I never really saw environmental health as being all that connected to the welfare of my community. The only rivers that ever made the news were the Chicago River on St. Patrick’s Day and the Des Plaines River whenever it flooded—especially if that meant Gene and Jude’s, an iconic hot dog stand in River Grove and arguably the best place to get a Chicago-style hot dog, would have to shut down for repairs.
What I’ve learned about other Great Lakes communities in the short time I’ve been with IISG has already made me reevaluate just how valuable a healthy river can be—not just in terms of environmental integrity, but in dollars and cents. Results of economic studies of Great Lakes Areas of Concern (AOCs) have listed the values of what a clean waterbody would be for those communities, with numbers ranging from $6 million for one small neighborhood to $19 billion for all 31 original AOCs in the U.S. To get these numbers, economists and social scientists looked at money brought in from tourism, real estate values, and residents’ willingness to pay for a cleaner waterway.
One of the more remarkable returns came from a 2004 examination of the Waukegan Harbor AOC in Illinois. An analysis of housing data and resident perceptions determined that proximity to the PCB-ridden harbor substantially drove down property values. When surveyed, Waukegan homeowners revealed they would be willing to pay more for their property if it meant full cleanup of the harbor—a collective value of $436 million, much more than the projected cost for remediation.
My initial reaction to these reports was a mixture of confusion and surprise. But as I took into account the number of people in each area and how they rely on their local rivers not just for livelihood but for quality of life, the numbers no longer seemed all that surprising. The hazards of a toxic river bed aren’t always obvious, and unfortunately, neither are the benefits of remediation. Having these numbers available helps create a conversation where those benefits are no longer vaguely environmental, but economically tangible. ***Photo from the Waukegan Port District.
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.
A group of urban planning graduate students from University of Illinois have just returned from Milwaukee—but this wasn’t your typical weekend excursion. They spent their time interviewing government employees, business owners, members of the community, and others affected by clean-up efforts on the Milwaukee Estuary, where industrial toxins threaten water quality and aquatic wildlife. And the information they collected will go a long way to ensuring that future restoration and remediation projects across the region leave nearby communities stronger than they were before.
It is all a part of an IISG-funded project investigating the relationship between sediment removal projects and a community’s vulnerability to environmental hazards like natural disasters, pollution, and changing weather patterns. Social vulnerability depends on a lot of factors—average income, education levels, public engagement, and more. Using the Milwaukee Estuary and Grand Calumet Areas of Concern as models, U of I researchers Bethany Cutts and Andrew Greenlee are investigating how these factors change—for better or worse—when a community becomes involved in sediment removal projects.
This project stands apart from much of the research on community vulnerability. It is localized, focused on vulnerability over time, and supplements census data with qualitative information on community attitudes and perceptions of remediation. Because of these differences, its results will be a significant boost to the tool government agencies currently use to determine and reduce social vulnerability, the Social Vulnerability Index. Cutts and Greenlee are calling their tool the Social Vulnerability Index Plus (SoVI+).
When it is done, SoVI+ will help groups involved in remediation, including IISG, better prepare communities for the aspects of cleanup that may increase vulnerability—like restricted road access and heavy truck traffic. EPA could also use the new tool to prioritize sediment remediation in areas where it will be most beneficial.
Work is just beginning, but the project promises a lot of data collection and analysis over the next few years. That is where the students come in. They are all part of the Workshop in Urban Environmental Equity, an inter-departmental course focused on identifying historical demographic changes in the researched regions, as well as developing and piloting interview strategies that Cutts and Greenlee will continue to use well after the course is complete. Beyond being a big step forward for the research project, the workshop provides a unique opportunity for students to be a part of the design and implementation of a multidisciplinary, mixed-method research project—what one student called “the holy grail” of research. Situated at the intersection of social and economic shifts, environmental restoration, planning, and policy, the course and the research can have tremendous benefits for ongoing and future remediation projects and the coastal communities.
Photo A: Natalie Prochaska, Juliana Wilhoit, Andrew Greenlee, Annie Contractor, Vinisha Doshi, Nancy Smebak, and Rachel Wilson take a break from their work in Milwaukee. (Not pictured: urban planning graduate student and workshop member Carolina Chantrille.)
Photo B: U of I students take part in a “Ski the AOC” event to learn more about ongoing remediation efforts and the community.
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