Major River Raisin projects to start

Dams will be altered, poisoned sediment exhumed, and island and marsh areas restored as part of more than $23 million in grant-funded projects planned for the River Raisin this year.

When the work is completed by the end of this year, at least six river dams from near Winchester St. in Monroe to Ida-Maybee Rd. in Raisinville Township will be altered to increase fish passage and recreational uses, toxins in the riverbed near the Port of Monroe will be removed, the banks of Sterling Island will be improved, and canals and marshes in Sterling State Park will be restored.

It ultimately is expected to enhance recreational opportunities in the area and eliminate environmental hazards that have been around for more than a generation.

State agencies are conducting final reviews of the dam project, which will be done in two phases using federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grants.

In a project estimated to cost $1.3 million, cuts will be made through the dams near the rail trestle at Winchester St. and at the dam near the city’s water treatment plant. “Those two need to be addressed first to get the fish coming up,” said Daniel Stefanski, head of the city’s Commission on Environment and Water Quality.

Although there once was talk of removing all dams completely and putting in arched rows of rocks to create passageways and little rapids, the current project involves removing only the dams near the S. Macomb St. bridge and the Martin Luther King Jr. pedestrian bridge, while cutting notches into each of the other dams that will allow fish to travel upstream from Lake Erie and canoeists and kayakers to travel downstream easier.

At the dams being removed, some rocks and rubble will be left behind to provide pools, ponds and eddys to provide a natural look.

Some of the dams simply cannot be removed because sewage and other utility lines are encased within them.

The second phase of the project, expected to cost $1.5 million, will involve modification of the dam near River Park Plaza east of S. Roessler St. and at the Waterloo dam near Veterans Park. It also is hoped to provide passage at the dam west of Ida-Maybee Rd.

“The goal is to get it open all the way to Dundee,” explained Barry LaRoy, a member of the city committee.

Meanwhile, bank improvements will be conducted at Sterling Island near Hellenberg Park across the river from the River Raisin Battlefield National Park. The goal is to preserve the island, control erosion and sediment and improve fish habitat, Mr. LaRoy said. A $500,000 Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grant will pay for it and the project is expected to be complete by September.

The biggest project is a $17.3 million effort to remove all the contaminated sediment from the River Raisin near the Port of Monroe. Dredging is expected to start July 9. “Three months later, we hope to be done dredging the river,” said Scott Cieniawski, project manager for the Environmental Protection Agency. About $11.2 million is coming from the federal Great Lakes Legacy Act and $6.1 million from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

About 109,000 cubic yards of sediment will be removed using hydraulic and mechanical dredging. Much of it is tainted with polychlorinated biphenyls, a toxin once widely used as a fire retardant and believed to have found its way into the river from industries that once operated in the area.

The most concentrated poisons will be trucked to a Wayne County landfill. Less hazardous materials will be pumped through a 2-mile underwater pipe stretching from the river and up the coast, about 1,000 feet offshore of the Sterling State Park beach to a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers disposal facility at the state park.

In order to use the Corps’ facility, an equal amount of material has to be removed to maintain capacity for Corps dredged material. The plan is to dig the old dredged material out of the disposal facility and truck it out of the park via N. Dixie Hwy. to E. Elm Ave. and east to the former Monroe Ford plant property, where it will be stored for future uses. The material has been tested and determined to be inert, officials said.

But the trucking operation will involve 40 to 50 trucks a day leaving the park and going to the old Ford plant, or about four per hour over a 12-hour period beginning at 7 a.m. and ending at 6 p.m. Excavation is expected to start Monday and might last into January.

When the project is over, it might lead to removing the river at Monroe as a federal Area of Concern (AOC), a pollution site that has major environmental impacts. “There will be monitoring for a number of years to make sure we got it all,” Mr. Stefanski said.

The River Raisin AOC had nine environmental impacts. One, involving aesthetics, already has been eliminated and the planned dredging project could remove at least three more, including restrictions on eating fish or wildlife from the area, wildlife deformities and restrictions on future dredging.

Another $2.8 million in Great Lakes Restoration Initiative money will involve marsh and prairie restoration work at Sterling State Park, including reducing the depth of a 20-foot deep canal system to improve fish habitat.