Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Massive Harbor, River Cleanup Moving Forward

Project expected to cost over $100 million, take six years to complete.

By - Jan 8th, 2021 03:10 pm
Milwaukee's harbor. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Milwaukee’s harbor. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

After over a century of dumping, Milwaukee’s waterways were federally designated an “area of concern” in 1987. Now the city and its partners hope to spend the next six years completing cleanup work to get off the federal list.

The effort, which will cost over $100 million, was first announced in January 2020, and the city is now formalizing its financial commitment to the first phase of sediment removal.

“These are projects that are generally legacy projects,” said Redevelopment Authority of the City of Milwaukee assistant executive director Dave Misky to members of the Public Works Committee on Wednesday. “These were created when the city was built by foundries, tanneries, breweries and metal shops along the waterways. But we also have some responsible parties that still exist like We Energies.”

The city is providing $400,000 through in-kind projects. It will conduct sewer assessments and cleanouts near the Grand Trunk site, assess dock walls and document near-water utility infrastructure. “All those initiatives at the city level are all accounted for, they’re all paid for in essence and it’s really a small factor in the $10 million the non-federal sponsors are bringing to the table,” he said.

The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District will contribute $6.2 million via its work on sewer cleanouts, We Energies will provide $3.13 million via in-kind design work and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources will add $525,000 in cash. The Environmental Protection Agency will cover 65% of the estimated costs for the phase, establishing a base cost of $29.3 million, after identifying the Milwaukee Estuary Area of Concern as one of 10 priority areas for remediation.

“The ultimate goal is to deal with the sediment issues around the area of concern,” said Misky. Substantial dredging will take place. But where that dredged sediment goes is subject to the most complicated part of the project. The $29.3 million cost does not include that facility.

MMSD is pursuing the construction of a 42-acre facility in the outer harbor near the south end of the Hoan Bridge, just north of a similar facility built to store waste from earlier efforts. That project, could cost up to $90 million, according to a DNR report. A mix of federal and local funds are being pursued to pay for the facility, known as the dredged material management facility (DMMF). The DMMF, with a capacity of 1.9 million cubic feet, could also be used for the storage of material from other routine dredging efforts.

We Energies is leading the design of the facility. The City of Milwaukee will ultimately take ownership of it.

“This really has been a true partnership from community organizations, city departments, the county, the state and the federal government to get us to this point,” said port director Adam Tindall-Schlicht. “A truly once in a lifetime opportunity to address historic contamination.”

The Milwaukee Estuary Area of Concern encompasses the Inner Harbor and Milwaukee, Menomonee and Kinnickinnic rivers from approximately E. North Ave. on the north, W. Cleveland Ave. on the south, Lake Michigan on the east and N. 35th St. on the west. An expanded area of concern includes the Milwaukee River to Cedarburg, the Little Menomonee River almost to the Mequon border, and the Kinnickinnic River to Greenfield.

The cleanup will remove metals, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and other pollutants. The cleanup is expected to increase marine life as well as encourage more recreational activity.

Misky said the partners are advancing a “pretty aggressive” six-year timeline to demonstrate their commitment and secure federal EPA funding.

The project builds on, and is connected to, a number of other restoration projects including the city’s restoration of the Grand Trunk site and We Energies remediation of the Solvay Coke site (now Komatsu Mining).

The council committee unanimously endorsed the 102-page agreement. It will go before the full council on January 19th.

The Milwaukee Estuary Area of Concern is one of five such designated areas in Wisconsin. There are 43 designated Areas of Concern in the Great Lakes, including 17 in Canada and seven shared by the US and Canada.

DMMF site map. Image from DNR report.

DMMF site map. Image from DNR report.

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Related Legislation: File 201150

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