Seeking Kalamazoo River restoration ideas for proposed $25 million settlement

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Dec.11, 2019

Contact: EGLE Media Office, 517-284-9278

Trustees seek Kalamazoo River restoration ideas as part of proposed $25 million agreement with NCR Corporation

a sandhill crane stands in shallow water of the Kalamazoo River

A group of state and federal natural resource trustees is soliciting Kalamazoo River watershed restoration project ideas that could be funded through a proposed $25 million agreement with NCR Corporation to partially settle natural resource damage claims stemming from past discharges of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) into the river in southwest Michigan. 

Filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, the consent decree would fund environmental restoration work related to the Allied Paper Inc./Portage Creek/Kalamazoo River Superfund Site. That court in 2018 entered a judgment that NCR Corporation, based in Atlanta, Georgia, is a potentially responsible party to PCB contamination in the Kalamazoo River, resulting from carbonless copy paper recycling. The site includes soil and sediments contaminated by PCBs in 80 miles of the Kalamazoo River, from Morrow Dam to Lake Michigan, along with paper mill properties, riverbanks and floodplains, and a 3-mile stretch of Portage Creek. 

The Kalamazoo River Natural Resource Trustee Council for this site (the “Kalamazoo River Trustees”) includes:

  • The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE).
  • The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
  • The Michigan Department of Attorney General.
  • The U.S. Department of the Interior, represented by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).
  • The U.S. Department of Commerce, represented by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Settlement details

a view of Portage Creek after dam removal

In addition to partial settlement of natural resource damages with the Kalamazoo River Trustees, the proposed consent decree requires NCR to conduct cleanup actions, pay an additional amount for future cleanup actions and reimburse state and federal agencies for response and damage assessment costs.

“The proposed settlement will allow for the selection of projects that will benefit injured natural resources and help compensate the public for lost recreational opportunities along the Kalamazoo River,” said Liesl Clark, director of EGLE. “The trustees are interested to hear from the public on what they see as restoration priorities for the watershed.”

Restoration projects, public input

Under the proposed settlement, the Kalamazoo River Natural Resource Trustee Council will use the $25 million to plan and complete several environmental restoration projects. These projects will be selected with public input and based on the restoration criteria described in the Final Restoration Plan and Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for Restoration Resulting from the Kalamazoo River Natural Resource Damage Assessment, available on the Kalamazoo River webpage. The public is encouraged to submit habitat and recreational restoration project ideas through the restoration portal.

kayaking the Kalamazoo River

“Funding from this settlement will help us build on improvements to Portage Creek and the Kalamazoo River as they are cleaned up and we restore river and floodplain habitats to benefit fish, wildlife and the people who use these resources," said Charlie Wooley, Great Lakes regional director for the USFWS. “We look forward to continued collaboration with our partners and local communities on these efforts.”

The consent decree is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final approval by the court. A copy of the consent decree and a Federal Register Notice with instructions on how to submit public comments will be available on the Department of Justice website. It may take several days for the Federal Register Notice to be published and the public comment period will begin once it is published.

Kalamazoo River site history

Throughout the late 1950s and into the early 1970s, paper mills conducting carbonless copy paper recycling released PCBs into the soils, sediments, floodplains and surface water in the Kalamazoo River and Portage Creek. This resulted in injuries to natural resources including fish, mammals and birds. In 1990, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency named the area a Superfund Site by adding it to the National Priorities List. The state of Michigan continues to issue fish consumption advisories, recommending people do not eat or at least limit the amount of fish they eat from areas of the site affected by PCBs. The most current advisories are available in the Southwest Michigan Eat Safe Fish Guide.

"We are proud to join this agreement with industry and our co-trustees to help restore this Great Lakes Superfund site,” said Nicole LeBouef, acting assistant administrator for NOAA's National Ocean Service. “With public input, we look forward to restoring clean habitats and robust fisheries that will benefit wildlife and local communities and economies.”

/Note to editors: Accompanying photos are available below for download. Caption and credit information follow./

  • Sandhill crane on the Kalamazoo River: Sandhill cranes are just one of many species that makes a home along the Kalamazoo River. Photo courtesy Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
  • Alcott Dam before restoration: Alcott Dam, in Kalamazoo, as viewed from the Alcott Street bridge, looking upstream on Portage Creek, before the restoration project. Photo courtesy Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy.
  • Portage Creek after restoration: Portion of a restored section of Portage Creek, looking upstream from the Alcott Street bridge (the same location the previous photo was taken) after the restoration project. Photo courtesy Lisa Williams, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
  • Kayaking the Kalamazoo River: Many people enjoy a variety of recreation activities, including paddle sports, along the Kalamazoo River. Photo courtesy Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

The natural resource trustees for this Kalamazoo River site include the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy; the Michigan Department of Natural Resources; the Michigan Department of Attorney General; the U.S. Department of the Interior, represented by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; and the U.S. Department of Commerce, represented by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Learn more about this site's natural resource damage assessment here.