By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
One of Milwaukee’s greatest features is its shoreline. However, while things on the surface look fine, there’s a different story happening underneath.
The Department of City Development for the City of Milwaukee held a presentation regarding the contaminated sediment in the Milwaukee Estuary on Tuesday, May 18. The Milwaukee Estuary is considered an area of concern and the Department of City Development and many others are hoping to remove it from the list.
“The overarching goal of this evening is to remove the Milwaukee Estuary from the area of concern,” David Misky said. “Make no mistake, we have a once in a generation opportunity to clean up our waterways.”
Misky is the assistant executive director of the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Milwaukee. For the past several years, groups such as his, have been working to remove harmful sediment from Milwaukee’s waterways.
Recently, these groups have partnered together to form the Waterway Restoration Partnership. Partners include the City of Milwaukee, the Urban Ecology Center, We Energies, Port Milwaukee, Menomonee Valley Partners and many more.
The group’s current objective is clean up the Milwaukee Estuary and make it a place for people and wildlife to enjoy.
Rebecca Fedak is a Lake Michigan basin supervisor at the Office of Great Waters, an office within the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Fedak is part of the team responsible for overseeing the area of concern program.
“An area of concern is an area on the Great Lakes that has a history of significant environmental degradation from human activity that’s preventing people and wildlife from fully using or enjoying those local waterways,” she explained.
The Great Lakes has 31 highly degraded shorelines that have been marked as areas of concern. There are five in Milwaukee including the Milwaukee Estuary, which is made up the three major rivers (Milwaukee, Menomonee and Kinnickinnic) and Lake Michigan.
Last year, the Menomonee River was removed for the areas of concern list and now, the plan is to remove the Milwaukee Estuary too. Fedak explained that there are three main objectives within this goal: to clean up the waterways, restore the quality and wildlife habitats and improve outdoor recreation activities.
“So together as a community, we have a historic opportunity to restore our waterways and achieve the goals you see listed here,” Fedak said.
The cleanup plan includes sediment removal and the Dredged Material Management Facility project (DMMF).
The federal government has the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Action Plan, which prioritize funding for areas of concern, Misky explained. The Milwaukee Estuary is in competition with nine other areas of concern to receive funding from this plan. If it receives priority funding, the Milwaukee Estuary could submit its intention to be delisted by 2024.
The cleanup entail remediating about one to two million cubic yards of contaminated sediment, Misky said. This area includes 11 river miles and three watersheds.
Scott Inman is a contaminated sediment engineer for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. He noted that the plan for remediation is extensive and ambitious.
There is a significant amount of contaminated sediment, Inman said, and only a short time to clean it up. The group considered taking the traditional project-by-project approach, he said, but determined it would take too long and be too expensive.
“We started thinking of solutions and the primary solution is partnerships,” Inman said. “This problem is too large to be tackled by any one entity alone.”
Partnerships allow for cost sharing and to approach the project as a whole rather than in segments. The federal government under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agencies and Great Lakes National Program Office would cover 65% of the cost. The remaining 35% would be covered by the state, the City of Milwaukee, industry partners and several others.
The plan is to use hydraulic dredging to remove the sediment. The end of the system agitates the sediment, so it floats and is easier to remove. Confined Disposal Facilities hold the contaminated sediment.
“In summary, our hydraulic dredging and dredged material management facility approach allows us to do more of what we would really like such as a faster production rate and less of what we wouldn’t such as time and cost,” Inman said.
The DMMF and hydraulic dredging approach allow for less of the following: equipment on the water, noise, odors, greenhouse gas emissions, dredge residuals, time and cost and more. This approach will also allow for more production, water treatment processes and faster material transport.
Adam Tindall-Schlicht, the director of Port Milwaukee, and Bridget Henk, a senior project manager for the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, discussed the DMMF project.
A DMMF is a nearshore structure that safely contains the contaminated material for a long-term period, Henk explained. The bottom of the structure is the lakebed, but cellular cofferdam makes up the sides. The Milwaukee DMMF has about 51 cofferdams.
A DMMF is more cost effective, Henk said. The proposed facility itself will be able to hold up to about 13 football fields of material and is 50-feet deep. There are environmental, economic, quality of life and usable land benefits, she said.
Many leaders including Mayor Tom Barrett have talked about Milwaukee being a water-centric city, Tindall-Schlicht said. The cleanup is core to that philosophy, he said.
“Creating a city of Milwaukee and a region of Southeastern Wisconsin where people can live, work and play on the water,” he said. “Really creating the harmonization between that commercial utilization of the water with recreational use of the waterway.”
To view the presentation in full, go to the Milwaukee City Development Facebook page.