River clean-up conservation settlements reach $4 million

In 1986, the lower 14-mile section of the Sheboygan River was declared a hazardous waste site by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

After decades of discussion, fish and waterfowl consumption advisories, and inhibiting economic growth, the County convened a workgroup comprised of local, State and Federal agencies, public and private, to bring resources together and problem-solve.

Restoration efforts began in 2011. The river, once a black eye on the community, is now celebrated as a monumental achievement.

The Sheboygan River and harbor were dredged, with approximately 400,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment removed. This amount equates to approximately 20,000 truckloads of material, enough to fill Lambeau Field to the 45th row.

“Over $100 million was ultimately spent on the project, which is a tremendous example of why it is so important to protect our lakes, rivers, and drinking water,” said County Administrator Adam Payne.

There are new economic development projects now taking place and many more being planned that are adjacent to or very near this valuable resource.

One of the many steps in the EPA Superfund clean-up process is called a Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) settlement. This process is essentially a negotiation between the responsible polluting parties and the United States Fish & Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric

Administration, and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, with local stakeholder input, on what to pay for damages.

The primary goal of this process is to agree upon a fair settlement to the community for the lost recreational value over the time frame the resource was polluted. Once an agreement is crafted it then goes through a public comment period and ultimately, before payments can begin, a Federal judge has to approve the settlement.

This process can and, in this case, did take years. Fortunately, the primary responsible party in our community’s NRDA settlement, Tecumseh Products Company, was a willing partner and wanted to see the process through as quickly as possible.

As such, after a couple of years of negotiations, payments back to the community can now begin. The final settlement was approved by a Federal judge in April. Payne noted, “Throughout the entire Sheboygan River and harbor clean-up process, it seemed that for every step forward, we would take two steps back. But, all parties persevered, and, ultimately, after years of hard work and collaboration, we now have a cleaner river and harbor for all residents and visitors to enjoy.”

As part of the NRDA settlement process, a number of conservation projects were recommended by Sheboygan County and the City of Sheboygan.

Sheboygan County will receive nearly $1.3 million in reimbursement payments for its recent purchase of the 328-acre Amsterdam Dunes Wetland Mitigation Bank & Preservation Area, and up to $354,000 for further restoration efforts at the property.

County Board Chairman Tom Wegner was very pleased with the settlement. “With this reimbursement, and other grant funds that we have successfully acquired, the County has now recouped 90% of the original $4.2 million to acquire the Amsterdam Dunes property,” said Wegner. “We still have two lake lots that can potentially be sold, so we added a tremendous asset to Sheboygan County that everyone can enjoy and benefit from, without the need for any property tax levy dollars,” Wegner added.

The City of Sheboygan along with its partner, the Glacial Lakes Conservancy, are preparing for the perpetual protection of the 140-acre former Schuchardt farm just west of Taylor Drive with the funds they will receive.

All told, the settlement will provide nearly $4 million to be invested throughout Sheboygan County for conservation efforts that will make our community an even more attractive place to live, work, and play.

Roger Te Stroete, former County Board Chairman who strongly supported the purchase of the Amsterdam Dunes Preservation Area and establishing a Wetland Mitigation Bank said, “This was a major initiative. The County Board took a leap of faith and our County Administrator, and Planning and Conservation Director delivered.”

County Administrator Adam Payne expressed his appreciation to the Environmental Protection Agency, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, County Planning and Conservation Department, City of Sheboygan, and Tecumseh Products Company for working together and seeing it through.

“A lot of highly-dedicated people worked together and wanted to see something positive come out of something negative. I appreciate their leadership, support, and persistence,” Payne said.

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