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Ottawa River Cleanup Started After Months of Delay

TOLEDO, Ohio, December 28, 2009 (ENS) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Ottawa River Group and the state of Ohio began construction on phase one of a $49 million cleanup of the Ottawa River and Sibley Creek in Toledo on December 19. The work was supposed to begin this past summer, but was held up by delays in government bidding procedures.

Under the federal Great Lakes Legacy Act, the project partners will remove 260,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment from the river and creek. The goal of the project is to reduce impacts to human health and the environment on the Ottawa River, the state’s most polluted river.

“The start of this cleanup brings us closer to the day when the public can safely eat all fish from the Great Lakes and their tributaries,” said Bharat Mathur, EPA acting regional administrator.

The stream cleansing is the most comprehensive in northwest Ohio and one of the largest of its kind in Great Lakes history.

Mud in the river and creek is contaminated with a mixture of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs; polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons called PAHs; and heavy metals The sediment contamination in the Ottawa River is a key contributor to current fish advisories and limits the amount of fish that can be safely eaten.

Combined sewer overflow contaminates the Ottawa River during wet weather (Photo by Peter Klaver)

During phase one of the project, 15,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment will be removed from Sibley Creek, processed on-site to remove excess water and transported to the city of Toledo’s Hoffman Road Landfill for disposal.

Sibley Creek is a 1.1-mile long tributary to the Ottawa River that enters the river about four miles upstream of the river mouth. The Sibley Creek work is expected to be completed by the end of January.

In April 2010, dredging of the main channel of the Ottawa River will begin. Some 245,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment will be removed. Dredging activities in the Ottawa River are expected to be completed by late 2010, the EPA says.

The dredging is expected to displace pollutants embedded in the mud and temporarily degrade water quality in the river. But U.S. EPA officials believe the water quality will improve as particles settle and uncontaminated dirt fills in the low spots where tainted sediment has been removed.

EPA is providing $24.5 million for the project through the Great Lakes Legacy Act, a federal program targeted at cleaning up contaminated sediment in Great Lakes Areas of Concern.

The Ottawa River Group will provide the remaining $24.5 million. The Ottawa River Group is a partnership of the city of Toledo and businesses along the river, including E.I. duPont, Honeywell, Chrysler, Allied Waste North America, Illinois Toolworks, United Technologies and GenCorp.

Those companies are among 13 firms that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took legal action against in 2004 to address long-standing pollution in the river sediment. The city and those seven companies have agreed to pick up half the costs, to prevent litigation that could cost them more.

As its cost share, the city is providing space at the landfill to bury about 95 percent of the silt dredged from the Ottawa River and from Sibley Creek. About five percent of the sediment is thought to be too contaminated to place in the city landfill, and it will be sent to specialized licensed landfills.

“The City of Toledo is proud to be a member of the Ottawa River Group, and we are committed to cleaning up the unfortunate remnants of our manufacturing and industrial past,” said Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, who is looking forward to the jobs the cleanup project will create.

Ohio EPA Director Chris Korleski said, “This is a significant commitment of resources that will go a long way toward restoring the Ottawa River. I commend U.S. EPA and the Ottawa River Group for moving this much needed cleanup forward.”

This is the eighth cleanup of a contaminated site under the Great Lakes Legacy Act.

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