Residents of Sheboygan, Wisconsin are seeing their namesake river, and the opportunities it holds for the community, in a whole new light thanks to a suite of cleanup projects completed in 2012 and 2013. For decades, high concentrations of PCBs and other industrial pollutants lining the riverbed had kept river-goers and businesses at arm’s length. But with the contaminated sediment removed and habitat restoration well underway, the public is embracing the river with full force.
“After nearly three decades of being a black eye of the community, we are thrilled that the Sheboygan River and harbor is being restored to reduce health risks to people, fish, and wildlife, and will greatly enhance opportunities for economic development,” said Adam Payne, Sheboygan County Administrator at a 2012 press event celebrating the project.
Perhaps the biggest boost so far has been to recreation. Dredging the equivalent of 15,000 dump trucks of contaminated sediment left boaters and anglers with a deeper river that is easier to access and navigate. With the contamination gone, the community has also started to see the Sheboygan River as a safe place to spend an afternoon. Just a few months after the project ended, residents reported seeing more and bigger boats navigating in and out of the river’s harbor, and they expect to see even more fishing and boating in the coming years.
“Anytime you have a healthy river going through a community, you have a better quality of life,” said one resident to IISG’s Caitie McCoy and Emily Anderson as part of a series of interviews about how community perceptions of the river had changed.
The deeper, cleaner river has also attracted local businesses. Everything from coffee shops to digital communications companies have opened along the river, and more businesses are expected to follow. It is too early to say just how much the cleanup project will impact things like property values, tourism, and redevelopment, but it is already clear that riverfront development is on the rise thanks to changes to the river and its newly restored status within the community.
“When it comes right down to it, those who would invest in the river and want to develop this property, they are really after the water access,” said another resident.
There is good news for local wildlife too. With the dredging work completed, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and other project partners have begun work to restore native habitats. Recently planted native plants have caught the attention of a variety of species, including cranes and blue birds. With this work done, the Sheboygan River will officially be taken off the list of most polluted places in the Great Lakes.
The Sheboygan River, which was dubbed an “Area of Concern” in the 1980s for its high levels of environmental pollution and degradation, has just completed the final stages of a dredging project to clean and restore the river.
Approximately 300,000 cubic yards of sediment (equivalent to 15,000 dump trucks full) contaminated with PCBs and PAHs were removed from the river between August 2012 and early January 2013. As a result, river-goers will enjoy a deeper river with better navigation and access, and a cleaner habitat for fish and wildlife to thrive.
IISG’s Caitie McCoy worked with a local team throughout 2012 to provide information to stakeholders and the public on the project. She completed a study in March (PDF) with University of Illinois student Ada Morgan to learn how to communicate the sediment remediation project and its benefits to the public. The study helped the team tailor outreach products and messaging for everyone who uses and visits the river.
Work on the Sheboygan river will continue through 2013 to improve fish and wildlife habitats, both nearshore and underwater. “The dredging and habitat work are the last remaining actions necessary to take Sheboygan off a list of most polluted places in the Great Lakes,” wrote Caitie. “This has been an enormous team effort by the U.S. EPA and their partners, and we can’t thank the community enough for their support during the cleanup.”
IISG’s Caitie McCoy has been heavily involved in the Sheboygan River AOC project, helping to provide information to the community and to all of the agencies and individuals involved in the project.
The cleanup and remediation of the area is well underway, and a new publication answers the most common and important questions that community members have had about the project.
Available now for download, the pamphlet “A Cleaner, Deeper River Coming Soon!” addresses questions ranging from specific areas that will be dredged, disposal of the polluted materials that are removed, and positive impacts for wildlife and the community once the project is complete.
You can learn more about the work in Sheboygan on the project website.
Communication is a crucial part of any project, and especially one as significant as cleaning up an ecosystem that has been deemed an Area of Concern. One of those AOCs is the Sheboygan River, and Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant Environmental Social Scientist Caitie McCoy has been very involved in the remediation project, working with and reaching out to the communities that live near and rely on the river in a variety of ways.
To better understand community views and concerns about the river and the river cleanups going on this summer, several interviews were conducted with local stakeholders. The findings and resulting recommendations are presented in a qualitative study put together by Caitie and Ada Morgan, entitled “A Scoping Exercise to Understand Community Perceptions of Contaminated Sediment Remediation in the Sheboygan River Area of Concern.” You can download and read the entire study here.