Great Lakes Initiative Cleanup Helps Restore Grand Calumet River

The recent completion of a $52 million project to rid Roxana Marsh of contaminated sediment will speed the recovery of Indiana’s Grand Calumet River, marking a step forward for one of the Great Lakes’ most complex Area of Concern cleanups. Representatives from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the State of Indiana were joined by Congressman Pete Visclosky to discuss the project's impact at an event today in East Chicago, Indiana.

More than 575,000 cubic yards of sediment contaminated with PCBs and PAHs (polychlorinated biphenyls and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), heavy metals and pesticides were removed or isolated from the marsh and the river.  Fish consumption advisories, loss of habitat and other environmental problems in the Grand Calumet have largely been caused by contaminated sediment.    

"The work by federal, 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.  “The work we’re talking about today will help give the Grand Cal a fighting chance to be grand again. But we can’t stop here. We’re looking for new partners to match funds to accelerate cleanups in other Areas of Concern around the Great Lakes."

The federal government contributed 65 percent or $33.8 million to this GLRI Legacy Act project.  Indiana used $18.2 million from its Natural Resources Damage Assessment Fund for the required 35 percent match.  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 Fish and Wildlife Service is dedicated to restoring fish, wildlife and habitat in places where contaminants have impacted those resources,” said Charlie Wooley, Deputy Regional Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service-Midwest Region.  “Here, the contaminants are gone and Roxana Marsh is alive again, making it a haven not only for birds, fish and plants, but for the people of this community."

The Grand Calumet River originates in the east end of Gary, Indiana, and flows through the heavily industrialized cities of Gary, East Chicago and Hammond. The majority of the river's flow drains into Lake Michigan via the Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal, sending about one billion gallons of water into the lake per day. The Area of Concern begins 15 miles south of downtown Chicago and includes the east branch of the river, a small segment of the west branch and the Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal.

“I am pleased by the progress that has been made to address the environmental degradation associated with the Grand Calumet River,” said Congressman Pete Visclosky. “Investments made in restoration projects along the river, such as the work completed at Roxana Marsh in East Chicago and in the City of Hammond, are investments in the health and safety of our local communities and a commitment to the betterment of Northwest Indiana.” 
The Great Lakes provide more than 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 GLRI Action Plan, which covers FY 2010 through 2014, was developed by a task force of 16 federal 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.
•    Raising public awareness, tracking progress and working with partners.

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