A clean river runs through it

by Abby Lynn Harvey of The Review staff

After years of dredging and habitat restoration projects, the Sheboygan River clean up has drawn to a close. - Review photo by Abby Lynn Harvey After years of dredging and habitat restoration projects, the Sheboygan River clean up has drawn to a close. - Review photo by Abby Lynn Harvey SHEBOYGAN- Twenty-eight years and more than $80 million after gaining designation as an area of concern, the Sheboygan River has entered the final phase of being delisted.

All work at the site has been deemed complete and, pending desirable test results, the area will be the third Great Lakes area of concern in the U.S. to be delisted. A total of 43 areas of concern exist in the U.S. and Canada, 26 of which are on the U.S. side and five of which are shared by both nations.

Members of the community and local government who were integral to the restoration efforts attended a celebration of the completion of the work on June 14 at the United States Coast Guard Station in Sheboygan.

In attendance was EPA Regional Administrator Susan Hedman, a Wisconsin native appointed by President Barak Obama in 2010.

“I came here last summer to kick off the last round of dredging needed to clean up sediment in the Sheboygan River Area of Concern and I promised that I would return when all of the dredging and all of the habitat restoration work was done and I’m pleased to be here today to be able to say we are done.” Hedman said while applause rippled through the crowd.

Decades of polluted discharge into the river resulted in poor water quality and various habitat problems that have plagued the area for some time, making the river, and the lake, a spot of contention for locals.

“There’s been a lot of public insight into this being the black hole of the community. They’ve said they wouldn’t go fishing, they wouldn’t go swimming there because they’re afraid their feet would glow. We’re hoping that through our involvement with the U.S. EPA and all of our partners that we can start changing that perception.” said Chad Pelishek, city of Sheboygan director of planning and development,

In the past year, nearly 400,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment has been removed from the river between Kiwanis Park and its entrance into the lake. During this time, habitat renewal projects to restore the shoreline of the river were also conducted at Kiwanis Park, Wildwood Island and near the intersection of Taylor Drive and Indiana Avenue.

Various government agencies have provided funding for the initiative, which totals more than $80 million.

Most of the funding for this project was provided by the EPA which provided several million dollars in Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funds for projects in the Sheboygan River. Funds were also provided by responsible parties under the EPA Superfund program, as well as several other state and federal agencies.

“Please thank your member of Congress, from both sides of the aisle, for their support of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative,” Hedman said, expressing that this was not a partisan effort.

The state, city of Sheboygan and Sheboygan County contributed another $5 million to the projects.

Hedman went on to thank members of the local government for their dedication to completing all tasks needed to delist the Sheboygan River.

The cleaner river will decrease heath risks for people and wildlife and increase opportunities for recreation and economic growth in the area Hedman said.

“The cleaner, deeper Sheboygan River will stimulate new waterfront development and improve water quality so that these waters will be fishable and swimmable,” she stated.

Work will continue throughout the Great Lakes and its tributaries to achieve the same results that have been seen in Sheboygan.

While the river has not been officially delisted at this point, the completion of the cleanup efforts marks a turning point in the process.

“Now that the clean up is complete maintenance work is already underway and monitoring has started to confirm that work has produced the predicted environmental results,” Hedman said. “That monitoring is the final step in the process to to delist the Sheboygan River Area of Concern.”

City of Sheboygan Mayor Michael Vantersteen commented on the increased opportunities available to the city due to the work on the river and stated that he looked forward to future development in the area.

Collaboration between governmental agencies was mentioned by several speakers, including Sheboygan County Board Chairman Roger TeStorte, Wisconsin Public Service representative Brian Bartoszek and Stacy Hron of the Wis- consin DNR.

Going forward, Hedman stated, it will be important to continue monitoring the river and enforcing Clean Water Act regulations to ensure that the Sheboygan River remains a source of pride for the Sheboygan area.

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