MANISTIQUE – Various officials were on hand Tuesday to discuss the Manistique River and its listing as an Area of Concern. The officials, from the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Environmental Quality, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the U.S. Geological Survey held the open house and public meeting to address the agencies’ plan to delist the river.
According to Stephanie Swart from the DEQ, the river was designated as an AOC in the 1980s, following tests that showed contamination from wastewater treatment issues, as well as the presence of PCBs (Polychlorinated Biphenyl).
The PCBs were the result of a past process performed by Manistique Papers, Inc, which used solvents to ‘de-ink’ paper. These solvents leeched PCBs into a lagoon on their property, and, eventually, into the river, explained Swart. While the mill has since walled and filled in the lagoon, preventing any further leeching into the river, PCBs remain in the sediment of the river – hence the continued AOC designation.
The goal of all the agencies present, Swart said, is to compile a list of actions to take in order to delist the river. These actions could involve removing remaining PCBs in the river, as well as possibly capping parts of the river, she added.
“We’re moving forward, and we’re moving forward quickly,” she said. “We would really like to delist the Manistique River as an Area of Concern by 2015.”
Swart explained the work being done is the result of and funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, and would likely help enhance the river and local economy.
“We know that putting all this money into the local community benefits it,” she said.
However, Swart noted that the actually process of delisting is new to everyone on board.
“Not many AOCs have been delisted. At this point, only one, and so nobody really has any idea how long this process is going to take,” she said. “The idea is that we remove the stigma that Manistique River is in the Area of Concern, because sometimes people hear that and they think that it’s not safe to fish and it’s not safe to swim and it’s not safe to be in the river and that’s not true.”
According to Amy Mucha, environmental scientist with the EPA, the Manistique River is a “gray area” for the agency, which has been actively testing.
“(We are) all aimed at making Manistique a cleaner, safer, more enjoyable place,” she said. “We’re focused on getting the river to a place that it can be fully enjoyed, fully restored and fully revitalized.”
A representative from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Pam Moore, explained that the agency had dredged the federal navigation channel of the AOC. She noted that there had been PCBs discovered, and that the agency would be returning this year for additional sampling.
Julie Sims, NOAA Great Lakes regional coordinator, said the agency is busy building a “Conceptual Site Model”, which will use existing and new data to track the PCBs in the river.
“It helps us understand where the PCBs are, how they’re moving in the system, and how they’re accumulating,” she said.
After they complete the model, Sims said NOAA would then study it and determine the options to address the issue.
During a question/answer session with the audience, one member asked what the budget was for delisting the Manistique River as an AOC.
“We do have an estimate – it’s not a great estimate,” said Mucha. “I’m going to say it’s going to be more than $5 million and is going to be less than $15 million. That is a real big guess.”
According to Mucha, the range is based on the uncertainty of how far the agencies will have to dredge, and whether or not they will have to do a combination of dredging and capping to fix the issues.
“We really want to tailor the remediation to exactly what this area needs and not do a cookie-cutter approach,” she said. “It’s a unique site; it’s got some unique issues and constraints.”
Swart added that the agencies would have a better estimate once they complete a feasibility study in the area.
In another question, an audience member asked about the levels of PCBs the agencies encountered while testing. Mucha answered that while her agency tested in 2010, and results varied. One to two parts per million is a typical PCB level, she added.
“We found some surface hits out in the harbor in the 20s and that’s not unusual,” she said. “Near Manistique Papers, but down deeper – about two or three feet down – we found a hit of 490. So that concerned us, and that’s why we’re doing additional work now to make sure we understand what’s going on there.”
Mucha explained, at this point, it is unclear as to whether something left behind is causing the higher PCB levels, or if there is something still going on.
“That’s why we really have to make sure we understand that before we jump in and do remediation,” she added. “There’s still some pretty good hits, and that’s why we’re here. It’s not as much as it was before, obviously, but there’s still some pretty good hits.”
Another resident explained that when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredged the river last year, they took out over 100,000 yards and placed it across from his house. He said that while they claimed to test it and that it was deemed safe to dump there, he was doubtful that all of it was actually tested, due to the amount brought in. Since it is located across from his home, the resident explained that he was concerned that any dredged material that wasn’t tested, and was contaminated, could be leeching into his well.
“If you can’t eat the fish swimming out here, or you shouldn’t eat too much of it, this is directly into my well,” he said. “I just heard somebody say it’s hit and miss (with testing). Well, how many misses did go out in the trucks?”
The resident went on to say that he was concerned about the health of his family if any PCBs were to be leeching into the groundwater.
“Obviously, you are all sitting here because there is an area of concern of pollution and contamination,” he said. “I’m worried about my family … all of this contamination that we’re talking about is now across the street from my house.”
Swart assured the resident that she would provide him with the information of the agency that tested the soil to provide him data, and also suggested he approach the county health department to test the well.
The final question of the meeting addressed the wood separating one slip from another in the river, and whether that should also be removed as part of the delisting project.
“There is a difference good woody material in system and bad woody material in the system, and those slips … actually provide a diversity of habitat that was beneficial to the Manistique River,” explained Sims. “So, that’s good wood.”
Questions about Manistique River’s AOC status and delisting efforts, contact Stephanie Swart at email@example.com or (517) 335-6721.
For more information about the AOC, visit epa.gov/greatlakes/aoc/ manistique/index.html