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Done deal: Fox River cleanup is finished

The Brillion News

When the Knights of Columbus held their brat fry at the St. Vincent de Paul Store parking lot last week, the Knights knew they weren't going to make as much money as in "the good old days" when hundreds of trucks went through Hilbert every day, taking contaminated Fox River sediments to the big landfill in the Town of Chilton.

The trucks have stopped making their trips from Green Bay and to landfill - going through Greenleaf, Forest Junction and Hilbert - because the cleanup of the Fox River is complete.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler kicked off his visit to Wisconsin announcing the forthcoming delisting of the Lower Menominee River Area of Concern (AOC), meeting with agricultural partners improving the quality of the Great Lakes, and touring Brownfields redevelopment progress in downtown Green Bay.

He also announced the completion of the dredging and sediment capping project. PCB concentrations in the waters of the Fox River have been reduced by 90 percent.

The size of the 11-year long project is stunning.

More than 5.9 million cubic yards of sediment were dredged, with more than 3.3 million tons of sediments hauled to the Chilton landfill.

That is 142,000 semi truckloads.

<< Wheeler (left) visits with local officials at Marinette Marine (EPA photo)

In prior years, brat frys in Hilbert sold a lot of brats and burgers to the truckers making their hauls to the landfill from the sediment processing plant in Green Bay. Nowe that the cleanup project is done, the truck have gone home.

The other focus of Wheeler's trip here was the Menominee River in Marinette.

“Restoring the health of the Great Lakes has been an important focus of the Trump Administration,” Wheeler said. “Our announcement today to delist the Lower Menominee River from the agency’s ‘Area of Concern’ (AOC) list is the latest example of how communities around the country – and in Wisconsin – are taking charge of their future and cleaning up industrial pollution that has hurt their communities’ economic and environmental well-being.”

While on the Lower Menominee River, Administrator Wheeler and Regional Administrator Thiede toured the Menominee Dam and fish elevator for sturgeon in Menominee, Mich., and the WPSC Superfund site to view habitat restoration work for the heron rookery. Afterward, Administrator Wheeler and Regional Administrator Thiede delivered remarks at the Menekaunee Harbor alongside Marinette Mayor Steve Genisot and the co-chair of the Lower Menominee Citizens Advisory Committee.

All management actions have been completed and the six Beneficial Use Impairments on the river have been removed allowing for the historic delisting of the AOC. This will be the first AOC delisting in Wisconsin and only the fifth delisting of the 31 U.S. AOCs.

Delisting will be formally announced in September in partnership with Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) and Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes & Energy (EGLE). The transformation of this AOC is a significant success story in the overall restoration and protection of the Great Lakes.

“The Great Lakes are the lifeblood of the First District. I appreciate Administrator Wheeler’s continued devotion to preserving our water and protecting our Great Lakes. This is a great example of the importance of GLRI funding, and is yet another reason I have fought to expand this funding in Congress,” said U.S. Congressman Jack Bergman of Michigan. 

Sediment and habitat restoration projects in the AOC have used $28 million in Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) funding and leveraged an additional $15 million for projects such as the construction of fish passages for sturgeon around the Park Mill and Menominee Dams and removing invasive species to improve rookery habitat in the Lower Menominee Islands.

The change from a highly contaminated river to one that is a sportfishing destination with successfully reproducing fish and wildfire populations is a result of long-term and substantial commitments from a host of partners over decades.

There are and will be ongoing efforts to advance the Lower Menominee River, though restoration activities can now focus on an enhanced future state without the limitations of an AOC label.

Administrator Wheeler also visited the Fincantieri Marinette Marine in Marinette, located along with Menominee River. EPA Region 5 served in a coordinating role dating back to 2018 to navigate the variety of jurisdictions including the Bureau of Land Management, WDNR, EGLE, and Army Corps of Engineers during the development of this project, which led to the historic $5 billion contract. EPA’s Great Lakes Program coordinated with Marinette Marine to ensure the AOC delisting of the Lower Menominee River while the defense contract moved forward.

Wheeler also visited the Deer Run Dairy in Kewaunee with U.S. Congressman Glenn Grothman, R-Wisconsin Sixth, which is part of a demonstration farm network funded by GLRI, with the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation (WFBF) and Wisconsin Future Farmers of America (FFA) students where he saw cutting edge conservation practices that improve Great Lakes water quality by reducing phosphorus from entering Green Bay and Lake Michigan.

"The health and well-being of the Great Lakes is of paramount importance to Wisconsin’s Sixth District, which covers about 90 miles of shoreline along Lake Michigan. It is encouraging to see state-of-the-art agricultural practices put into place through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and see tangible results in the Great Lakes and their tributaries ... They are demonstrating how our local farmers can work together with regulators to ensure the health and well-being of our waters by reducing runoff and other pollutants.” Grothman said.

These demonstration farms implement a variety of conservation practices that demonstrate effectiveness in reducing soil erosion and nutrient runoff. They focus on increasing organic matter and improving soil health. It is a partnership is a collaboration between USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, and University of Wisconsin Madison Extension. The day concluded touring the Schreiber Foods/CityDeck Brownfields sites in Green Bay. The former Washington Commons Mall was redeveloped into the international headquarters for Schreiber Foods. This site was assessed using $148,805 in EPA funds and leveraged additional public and private funds to open the $85 million, 260,000-square foot headquarters that’s now home to over 600 employees.


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