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Lower Menominee River to be taken off most-polluted list

Menominee River in Marinette, August 11, 2020 (WLUK/Eric Peterson)
Menominee River in Marinette, August 11, 2020 (WLUK/Eric Peterson)
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MARINETTE (WLUK) -- After decades of cleanup and millions and millions of dollars spent, the Lower Menominee River is no longer one of the most polluted spots on the Great Lakes.

In a ceremony Tuesday morning, it was announced the waterway would be taken off the list next month.

A ribbon of blue flows south and east as the Menominee River heads toward Lake Michigan. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler made the trip to Marinette to see it himself.

"It's a recognition of the cleanup that's occurred here, and the money that's been put into cleaning up the river. Well over $100 million. pushing close to $150-200 million have been spent to clean up the river over the last 30 years," said Andrew Wheeler, EPA Administrator.

The EPA listed part of the Menominee River as an area of concern back in 1987. Since then, improvements to municipal wastewater treatment plants, dredging contaminated sediment and conservation projects gave this part of the river a new look. Marinette Mayor Steve Genisot says The Menekaunee Harbor is a shining example.

"We had somewhat of a shallow harbor. We dredged it. Of course all that arsenic-laden material was removed. We put in a kayak launch. Put in boating launches, boating docks, as well as a lot of the work that went around it, with native vegetation, plantings, turtle habitat," said Mayor Steve Genisot, Marinette.

But some say more work needs to be done. Contaminants known as PFAS have been found in the waterway. Doug Oitzinger and the group S.O. H2O are calling for federal regulations.

"We hope to get their attention that they understand there's something coming down the pike here that is just as bad, if not worse than the arsenic contamination. It's called a forever chemical, which means it's a forever problem," said Doug Oitzinger, S.O. H2O Member.

Andrew Wheeler says the EPA's PFAS Action Plan is in place.

"We are looking at PFAS wherever we find it. I know there's a local problem here, and we're working with the state DNR," he said.

"We're going to have to continue to work with the community, and the DNR, and EPA. And that issue will not go away soon, but we'll continue to keep working towards it," said Genisot.

There are now 42 areas of concern around the Great Lakes.

The Lower Menominee River is the first of five sites in Wisconsin to be delisted.

The other active areas are the Fox River and Green Bay, Sheboygan River, Milwaukee estuary, and the St. Louis River.


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Clarification: This story has been clarified to note that the official removal of the river from the list of most polluted spots is set to take place next month.

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