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Lower Menominee River removed from Great Lakes Areas of Concern clean-up list

After a successful, 35-year collaborative restoration effort, the Lower Menominee River has been removed from the list of Great Lakes Areas of Concern, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) announced today.

The change from a highly contaminated three-mile section of river into one that is a sportfishing destination with successfully reproducing fish and wildlife populations is a result of long-term and substantial commitments from many partners over more than three decades. The river’s sediment was contaminated with arsenic and other related legacy contaminants include paint sludge, coal tar, heavy metal, petroleum and PCBs.

“This delisting proves the value of partnerships not only among government agencies but also with the community, which helped to guide us along the way in deciding important next steps in the clean-up of the Lower Menominee River area,” said Liesl Clark, director of EGLE. “Through persistent efforts at the state and federal levels and continuous input from those who live and recreate on the Lower Menominee River, the partners were able to develop an effective plan for remediation and long-term monitoring so that this valuable asset is now, once again, something the community can safely enjoy.”

The EPA supported the request by EGLE and the WDNR to have the site removed after the agencies submitted the Final Delisting Report in July. The delisting is the culmination of extensive work by EGLE, WDNR, EPA and other federal agencies, and local citizens who served on the Citizens Advisory Committee and the Technical Advisory Committee.

“Having visited the Menominee river earlier this summer, there is no doubt Wisconsin and Michigan have improved the environmental health of their waterways,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said. “I am proud of Region 5 and its state partners and look forward to more de-listings. Great job.”

Added WDNR Secretary Preston D. Cole: “This is a significant step in the work that the DNR does to ensure that Wisconsin provides clean, safe water to its communities. We will continue to work with regional and community partners to ensure that Wisconsinites have access to clean water and that businesses can thrive in areas not endangered by toxic pollution. Cleaning up these toxic hot spots are a priority across our state for both our public health and economic future.”

After the Lower Menominee River was designated as an AOC in 1985, six beneficial use impairments were identified: beach closings (restrictions on recreational contact), restrictions on dredging activities, degradation of benthos, restrictions on fish and wildlife consumption, loss of fish and wildlife habitat and degradation of fish and wildlife populations.

Some of the actions that partners have undertaken over the years include upgrades to wastewater treatment systems by the cities of Menominee and Marinette, four contaminated sediment remediation projects and four habitat restoration and enhancement projects.

Delisting does not mean the area has returned to a pristine historic condition. It means the legacy problems identified in the 1990 remedial action plan today meet established criteria. There will be ongoing remediation and restoration efforts on the Lower Menominee River.

Areas of Concern are bodies of water on an international list of sites that require clean up due to pollution from legacy contamination and development. When the program was created by the United States and Canada in 1987, there were 14 Areas of Concern in Michigan and 43 around the Great Lakes. The Lower Menominee River is the third Michigan site to be delisted. Deer Lake in Marquette County and White Lake in Muskegon County were delisted in 2014.

EGLE’s Areas of Concern webpage has program information and links to pages about each AOC.

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