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Trustees seek restoration project ideas for the Kalamazoo River

From the EGLE Media Office

A group of state and federal Natural Resource Trustees are soliciting restoration project ideas in the Kalamazoo River watershed that could be funded through a proposed $25 million agreement with NCR Corporation to partially settle natural resource damage claims stemming from past discharges of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) into the river.

Filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, the consent decree would fund environmental restoration work related to the Allied Paper Inc./Portage Creek/Kalamazoo River Superfund Site. The site includes soil and sediments contaminated by PCBs in 80 miles of the Kalamazoo River from Morrow Dam to Lake Michigan along with paper mill properties, riverbanks and floodplains, and a three-mile stretch of Portage Creek.

In addition to partial settlement of natural resource damages with the Kalamazoo River Natural Resource Trustees, the proposed consent decree requires NCR to conduct cleanup actions, pay an additional amount for future cleanup actions, and reimburse state and federal agencies for response and damage assessment costs.

The Natural Resource Trustees for the site are the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Michigan Department of Attorney General, the U.S. Department of the Interior represented by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and the U.S. Department of Commerce represented by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

“The proposed settlement will allow for the selection of projects that will benefit injured natural resources and help compensate the public for lost recreational opportunities along the Kalamazoo River,” said Liesl Clark, director of EGLE. “The Trustees are interested to hear from the public on what they see as restoration priorities for the watershed.”

Under the proposed settlement, the Kalamazoo River Natural Resource Trustee Council will use the $25 million to plan and complete several environmental restoration projects. These projects will be selected with public input and based on the restoration criteria described in the Final Restoration Plan and Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for Restoration Resulting from the Kalamazoo River Natural Resource Damage Assessment, available on the Kalamazoo River web page. The public is encouraged to submit habitat and recreational restoration project ideas through the restoration portal.

“Funding from this settlement will help us build on improvements to Portage Creek and the Kalamazoo River as they are cleaned up and we restore river and floodplain habitats to benefit fish, wildlife and the people who use these resources," said Charlie Wooley, Great Lakes regional director for the USFWS. “We look forward to continued collaboration with our partners and local communities on these efforts.”

The Consent Decree is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final approval by the court. A copy of the Consent Decree and a Federal Register Notice with instructions on how to submit public comments will be available on the Department of Justice website. It may take several days for the Federal Register Notice to be published and the public comment period will begin once it is published.

Paper mills conducting carbonless copy paper recycling released PCBs into the soils, sediments, floodplains and surface water in the Kalamazoo River and Portage Creek from the late 1950s through early 1970s. This resulted in injuries to natural resources including fish, mammals and birds. In 1990, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency named the area a Superfund Site by adding it to the National Priorities List. The state of Michigan continues to issue fish consumption advisories, recommending people do not eat or at least limit the amount of fish they eat from the portions of the site impacted by PCBs. The most current advisories are available in the Southwest Michigan Eat Safe Fish Guide.

"We are proud to join this agreement with industry and our co-trustees to help restore this Great Lakes Superfund site,” said Nicole LeBouef, acting assistant administrator for NOAA's National Ocean Service. “With public input, we look forward to restoring clean habitats and robust fisheries that will benefit wildlife, local communities and economies.”


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