EPA talks about Fox River dredging project

Kathie Marchlewski, Midland Daily News 06/23/2005

When the State of Wisconsin and Environmental Protection Agency wished for clean water, edible fish and overall ecological improvement in the Fox River and Green Bay, it turned to companies responsible for PCB contamination and came up with a 20-year, $400 million plan to dredge.

The project is under way, and its leader, native Midlander James Hahnenberg, came to Delta College Wednesday along with other EPA officials to tell Saginaw Valley residents about dredging -- an activity that could be considered as the state and Dow Chemical Co. decide how dioxin contamination should be handled. About 60 people, including some from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, attended the presentation organized by Bay City-based Lone Tree Council, the second in a speaker series on dioxin in the Saginaw Bay watershed.

Putting the plan to dredge the Fox in motion took a lot of work, Hahnenberg acknowledged. Dredging is not a popular activity; communities don't like the disruption, responsible parties don't like the bill and finding a place for disposal can be difficult.
"A lot of people had concerns about what this might look like in terms of noise, odor, trucks, etc.," Hahnenberg said. "A big part of it is good coordination and communication with all parts of the community. We showed dredging does work, and that we could work with these different groups and get things done."

Though some critics are concerned about dredges redistributing contamination, that's unlikely when its done right, Hahnenberg said. Unlike mechanical dredges used for navigational projects that stir up sediment and leave contamination behind, the hydraulic dredge used in the Fox is like a vacuum cleaner: "It chews it, breaks it up and suctions it up." Of five Superfund projects, the average loss of contaminants is 0.1 percent. The average concentration reduction is 94 percent.

Instead of using the large presses typically used to squeeze water from sediment, the companies paying for the remediation in the Fox came up with a different plan.

The dredged sediment is pumped into "geo textile tubes," which sit at a 10-acre processing site. The tubes, 200 feet long, 30 feet wide and stacked three and four high, are made of a plastic, woven material that allows water to drain out, be collected and treated, then pumped clean back into the river. The contaminated dirt is trucked to a landfill about 20 miles away.

While cleanup can be costly for the responsible party, the money doesn't disappear, it's reinvested in communities, Hahnenberg said -- projects take workers.

In Massachusetts, Superfund projects created 935 short-term jobs, 6,800 permanent jobs and income of an additional $240 million. Communities enjoyed tax bases broadened by $6.6 million in property value increases.

In Waukegan Harbor, also in Wisconsin, contamination cleanup meant an average property value increase of $53,000.

Projects similar to the one in the Fox are under way in the Kalamazoo River, Hudson River and in Housatonic in Massachusetts. "I can't say this is the right answer for the Tittabawassee, but these things are worthy of consideration," Hahnenberg said.

Because the Tittabawassee is not as deep as the Fox, a hydraulic dredge might not work. An alternative might be a dry dredge, during which sections of river are isolated, water pumped away and backhoes used to dig sediment.

"We are not at this point proposing a specific remediation technique," said Al Taylor, MDEQ geologist.

©Midland Daily News 2005

 


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