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Lower Menominee River delisted as "area of concern" after 30 years of restoration

Grace Connatser
Wisconsin State Farmer
After three decades, the Lower Menomonie River is no longer an area of concern.  The river was one of the 43 most polluted areas on the Great Lakes, earning itself international designation for the water pollution caused by industrial toxic hot spots. The Menominee River flows into the Green Bay in Lake Michigan.

The Lower Menominee River in northeastern Wisconsin is no longer an "area of concern" after groups have cleaned up the area from pollution for three decades, the Department of Natural Resources announced.

The river was one of the 43 most polluted areas on the Great Lakes, earning itself international designation for the water pollution caused by industrial toxic hot spots. The Menominee River flows into the Green Bay in Lake Michigan.

Coal tar, paint sludge and arsenic plagued the river for years until industrial regulations came into play and contaminated river sediment was removed and cleaned. One of the major cleanup areas was the Lloyd Flanders paint sludge site, where 30 million pounds of contaminated sediment and hazardous waste was removed from the river between 1993 and 1998.

At the Ansul/Tyco site, 302,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment were removed. Cleanup efforts between 2012 and 2015 also removed 15,000 cubic yards of coal tar waste from the Wisconsin Public Service Corporation site and 59,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment from Menekaunee Harbor.

"This is a significant step in the work that the DNR does to ensure that Wisconsin provides clean, safe water to its communities," said DNR Secretary Preston Cole. "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."

The cleanup also meant habitat restoration projects could be completed. Twenty-one miles of lake sturgeon habitat was restored over the Menominee and Park Mill dams in 2016 and 133 acres of shoreland were restored for local fish, birds and other wildlife in the Menekaunee Harbor and South Channel.

Funding for the Lower Menominee River cleanup was provided by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which identifies areas within the coastal wetlands of the lakes that need to be restored due to water pollution. Wisconsin and Michigan state governments worked alongside the Environmental Protection Agency and the Canadian government to delist the river.

"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 once again something the community can safely enjoy," said Liesl Clark, director of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy. 

There are four more areas to be delisted in Wisconsin: the St. Louis River, Sheboygan River and Harbor and Milwaukee Estuary. Restoration efforts for the fourth area, the Lower Green Bay and Fox River, were recently completed after 16 years of cleanup.