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Lower Menominee River clean-up a success, but there's still work to do

Menekaunee Harbor in Marinette Wisconsin before ecological restoration workThe Lower Menominee River remediation project has been officially delisted as an Area of Concern under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, however there is work still to be done.

The area in Michigan's western Upper Peninsula was designated as a focus for long-term clean-up in 1987 by the United States and Canada – along with 13 other contaminated sites around Michigan. It's only the third Michigan site to be taken off the list. Delisting means the legacy environmental problems identified in a 1990 remedial action plan meet today's established criteria today. What it doesn't mean is that the Lower Menominee River has been returned to its pristine historic condition. Local efforts and monitoring will build on the success of previous long-term initiatives.

Remediation and restoration efforts will still take place in the Lower Menominee River through a collaboration of local, state and federal oversight. Some of those efforts include continued monitoring of natural system recovery, maintenance of invasive species, facilitating fish passage, testing for fish viability, continued engagement with local partners, educational outreach, dam maintenance and collection of shoreline paint wastes.

In the past, the river's sediment was fouled by arsenic and other related legacy contaminants, including paint sludge, coal tar, heavy metals, petroleum and PCBs, from industry near the river.

The long-term change from a highly contaminated three-mile section of river into one that has grown as a sportfishing destination with successfully reproducing fish and wildlife populations is a result of 35 years of work and commitments by stakeholders. Some of the accomplishments include improvements to wastewater treatment systems and sewer management by the cities of Menominee and Marinette, four contaminated sediment remediation projects and four habitat restoration and enhancement projects.

Public involvement is a key component of the AOC program. The Menominee River AOC's Citizens Advisory Committee and the Technical Advisory Committee worked with the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to identify issues, develop targets and goals and offer local technical assistance.

After almost 30 years of work focused on the AOC, the Citizens Advisory Committee looks to transition into a watershed organization, whose most important function will be to serve as a unifying voice and a steward for the Lower Menominee River.

The final delisting report was filed in July 2020, followed by approvals from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. State Department, and support from the Government of Canada.

The two other delisted Michigan AOCs are Deer Lake, near Ishpeming in the Upper Peninsula, and White Lake, in Muskegon County. Both were delisted in 2014. EGLE's Areas of Concern webpage offers in-depth information about each of the 14 sites.

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