Bridging the gap
MANISTIQUE – A multi-million dollar project to clean up contamination in the Manistique River could come to fruition in 2014. Several federal and state partners are currently working together in the area to test and eventually develop a remediation plan.
The Manistique River was designated as an Area of Concern by the Environmental Protection Agency 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, now FutureMark – Manistique, which used solvents to ‘de-ink’ paper. These solvents leeched PCBs into a lagoon on their property, and, eventually, into the river. 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 – continuing its AOC designation.
Last year, representatives from the EPA, Department of Environmental Quality, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Geologic Survey, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were in the area to host a town hall meeting and inform the public of the problem and their impending testing. Now, employees from the agency can be seen in various sections of the river, mostly north of the bridge on U.S. 2 near the paper mill.
According to Amy Mucha, environmental scientist with the EPA, the workers are conducting followup investigations on the work they started last year, as well as repeating some of the tests they previously completed to gather more information.
“Last year’s study was a little broader, kind of over the whole area,” she said. “We’re finding pockets of contamination and we want to understand them before we design a remediation. Before you do a clean up, you have to really make sure you understand the site.”
Mucha explained the groups will be using various methods and approaches to understand the site, not just sampling the mud – the most contaminated parts – but also sampling the water.
“We sample the water, not just to look for the pollution, but also because, the temperature, the conductivity – those kinds of things also tell us how the contamination is moving through the system,” she said. “It is a research-level study, it’s not just being used to understand the site and develop plans for remediation, it’s just a really highcaliber scientific study.”
Most of the work being done is focused on the area by FurtureMark. While there are no current contamination sources, Mucha said they are still going to check ground water to make sure nothing is seeping into it.
“We know that they’re (the paper mill) not releasing anything right now,” she said. “But … a lot of operations in the past, they can still have contamination in the soil.”
Mucha explained residents will be able to see pipes sticking out of the water near the test site – these are the wells used to sample groundwater. Boats around the area will be taking sediment samples and plant mussel traps. NOAA uses mussels to track the contamination, she added.
“This sampling will help us refine those plans and make sure we have the right remediation – that it will be the final clean up that this site will ever need,” she said. “We want to delist the Manistique Area of Concern. We want to make it revitalized, healthy – growing.”
Once this summer’s testing is done, Mucha said the groups will design a remediation plan, and hope to start remediating in fall of 2014. The project could run anywhere from $10-20 million, with funds coming from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. No matching funds are required from either the city or the county.
Mucha said the price for the remediation will be dependent on how contaminated the dredged material is. If it has more than 50 parts per million of PCBs, it must be disposed of in a special landfill – which can be expensive. While some pockets of contamination in the Manistique River have more than 100 parts per million, Mucha said the groups are uncertain of just how much it will cost to remove them until testing is complete.
An impending dredging project at the marina, as part of a Downtown Development Authority project, will not likely impact the groups’ testing, Mucha explained.
“We had done some sampling here before, so has the Army Corps of Engineers, and we’ve shared the data with the city and we’re comfortable with this going on here,” she said. “Sure it will resuspend some stuff, but that’s not where the pockets of contamination really are.”
She noted that the work being done in the marina, as well as the upcoming remediation, will likely be good for the city and county.
“We find that these clean ups that we do in other areas of the Great Lakes actually then wind up really being an economic boost,” she said. “It’s good for the town and it’s good for the community and it’s good for the area.”
A draft remediation plan will be presented to the community in the fall or winter of this year, Mucha said, with public input being sought at that time.