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After decades of cleanup efforts, EPA delists the Lower Menominee River as 'area of concern'

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Laura Schulte
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
August 11, 2020

MARINETTE - The river that spawns a large portion of sturgeon for Lake Michigan was taken off a list of polluted areas in need of remediation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday. 

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced in Marinette that the lower Menominee River was deemed clean enough to be removed from the list after a remediation process that began in the late 1980s. 

During those years, millions of dollars were spent by local governments from both Wisconsin and Michigan, as well as the federal government and private entities, Wheeler said. That money was used to not only dredge the lower portion of the river to remove contaminated sediment but also to study the level of contaminants in fish populations, restore natural habitats and remove invasive species. 

The Menominee River is the first area of concern to be delisted in Wisconsin, and only the fifth nationwide, Wheeler said. Still on the list of sites being cleaned up are St. Louis River, the Milwaukee Estuary, the lower Green Bay and Fox River and the Sheboygan River.

The remediation completion was based on guidelines set in 1990 as part of the Great Lakes Remedial Action Plan. 

"I know the Great Lakes are special and the work we do to protect them and the rivers that flow into them will always be important to me," Wheeler told the crowd. 

The project included removing 300,000 cubic yards of sediment from the bottom of the river, Wheeler said, and building a fish elevator to help sturgeon reach breeding waters farther up the river. The project cost $178 million, he said, between federal, state and local governments, as well as private companies and entities. 

The river is a popular spot for recreation, including boating and kayaking, as well as fishing. The river is host to several fishing tournaments throughout the year, drawing tourists to northwest Wisconsin. 

Marinette Mayor Steve Genisot praised the project during Tuesday's news conference, saying that the river is a highlight for the city. 

"When it comes to kayaking, fishing, boating ... this is what the public sees," Genisot said. "This is a beautiful harbor to showcase for many of our events, like the Cabela's Masters Walleye Circuit tournament we just had this weekend." 


The plan to restore the lower Menominee River, which feeds directly into the bay of Green Bay, consisted of five goals, according to EPA documents

  • Put long-term protections in place for natural areas and wetlands within the Area of Concern, including Seagull Bar and riverine islands. 
  • Nesting populations of a diverse array of wetland-dependent and riparian-associated birds are consistently present within the Area of Concern. 
  • Sturgeon population is enhanced. 
  • Diverse and functional native fish and mussel assemblages are present in the Area of Concern that sustain natural recruitment. 
  • A healthy and diverse native vegetation community is restored.


Wheeler said that though the area has been delisted, monitoring will continue and reviews will be conducted every five years. 

"The biggest measure will be the health and vitality of the Great Lakes," he said. 

Wheeler will be making several other stops in Wisconsin this week, including a stop in Waukesha on Wednesday to announce a $137 million grant to help the city draw water from Lake Michigan to increase the quality of drinking water for citizens, as well as a stop at the Fox River to announce the final dredging project. 

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