Cleanup Brings Milwaukee Area Closer to Restoration

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and Milwaukee County recently announced completion of contaminated sediment removal in Lincoln Creek and the Milwaukee River Channel.  This project brings the Milwaukee Estuary closer to being removed from a binational list of Areas of Concern in the Great Lakes. 

"The work by state, county, city and other partners over the years has helped deliver real results under the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative," said Cameron Davis, senior advisor to the EPA administrator.  “Thousands of cubic yards of harmful contaminated sediment were removed to help boost human, ecological and local economic health. But we can’t stop here. We’re looking for new partners to match funds to accelerate cleanups in other Areas of Concern in Wisconsin and around the Great Lakes."

The $24.6 million project under the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative’s Legacy Act removed about 140,000 cubic yards of sediment contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PCBs and PAHs.  The contamination led to limits on eating fish caught in the river, as well as loss of habitat and other environmental problems.

“The Great Lakes are the largest source of fresh water in the world.  Keeping them clean for the future is a priority,” said WDNR Secretary Cathy Stepp. “We are making major strides cleaning up the Milwaukee River Estuary. I am pleased that we were able to fund most of the non-federal cost share for this project from state bonding, and delighted at the level of public support this project has received.  With our partners we will continue to work to bring the Milwaukee River back to provide recreational and economic benefits for the Milwaukee area."

GLRI Legacy Act funds covered about $16 million.  WDNR contributed roughly $8.6 million. The result was the cleanup of the largest known deposit of PCB-contaminated sediment in this Area of Concern.

“This joint effort demonstrates the tangible benefits that can come from cooperation between all levels of federal, state and local government. By working together we are removing the impairments to our waterways that resulted from our long industrial history,” said Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele.  “This significant portion of the Milwaukee River and its natural resources are now cleaner, safer and more sustainable. We embrace the triumphant return of this park land to the greater use and enjoyment of our citizens.”

The Milwaukee River section of the Area of Concern extends from Cedar Creek downstream through the Outer Harbor. It includes Cedar Creek, Lincoln Creek and portions of the Menomonee, Little Menomonee and Kinnickinnic rivers.  In the 1980s, the U.S. and Canada identified 43 highly degraded shoreline areas along the Great Lakes.  Today there are 30 AOCs wholly in the U.S. or shared with Canada.

The Great Lakes provide 30 million Americans with drinking water and underpin a multi-billion dollar economy.  In February 2009, President Obama proposed the GLRI, the largest investment in the Great Lakes in two decades. 

The Action Plan, which covers FY 2010 through 2014, was developed by a task force of 16 federal departments and agencies to implement the president’s historic initiative.  It calls for aggressive efforts to address five urgent priority focus areas:

•Cleaning up toxics and toxic hot spot areas of concern.
•Combating invasive species.
•Promoting near-shore health by protecting watersheds from polluted runoff.
•Restoring wetlands and other habitats.
•Tracking progress, education and working with strategic partners.

The plan also ensures accountability by establishing measures of progress and benchmarks for success.