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Cruise showcases work being done on Fox River

By Lee Reinsch

GREEN BAY – A leisurely afternoon river cruise down the Fox River aboard the River Tyme boat sounds nice.

A leisurely afternoon river cruise down the Fox River to see assorted EPA Superfund cleanup sites, dredging floats, and a PCB remediation facility sounds more important.

The Monday, Sept. 9, cruise was no Love Boat. But the Clean Bay Backers’ Sixth Annual Bringing Back the Bay Tour reflected the area’s love for the Fox River and the natural resources that surround it.

The tour gave about 80 city, business and nonprofit leaders as well as those interested in clean water, air and the environment a chance to see some of the toxic-chemical cleanup sites they’ve long heard about.

While half the group cruised the river seeing the sites from the water, the other half of the group boarded a bus to the local PCB processing facility for a tour, after which the two groups switched.

Speakers included representatives from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Clean Wisconsin, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, UW Sea Grant, the City of Green Bay, NEW Water and state and local government.

The boat group saw the now-retired Pulliam Power Plant, which used sub-bituminous coal to generate electricity for more than 90 years.

They also saw the Wisconsin Public Service Commission’s Manufactured Gas Plant (MGP), which operated from 1871 to 1947 and contaminated the river with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (known as PAHs).

Dredging of the Fox River for sediment containing polychlorinated biphenyls, known as PCBs, is slated to be finished in November.

But cleanup efforts for the mighty Fox still have a long way to go.

PCBs from power plants may be dredged, but every day, ordinary things like fertilizer, cow manure, road chemicals and other forms of runoff continue to make their way into the water.

One substance receiving attention lately is coal tar sealants, which contain PAHs.

Coal tar sealants are used to give blacktopped driveways and parking lots an aesthetic and protective boost.

“It’s toxic to humans, wildlife and aquatic species,” said Paul Mathewson, staff scientist at Clean Wisconsin.

It’s also ubiquitous, and its particles travel on shoes, bicycle tires, pet feet and through the air.

“The surface gets abraded and it gets blown into homes as dust,” Mathewson said.

A child who grows up living close to a blacktopped parking lot has a 25 percent greater chance of developing cancer than one who does not, Mathewson said.

While pointing out the many former industrial and utility sites that left thousands of pounds of toxins such as PCBs in the water, tour guides also highlighted some of the success stories.

“Since 2002, $43 million (in settlement funds from lawsuits related to contamination by industry) has been awarded to communities and invested into land preservation projects, boat launches, fisheries projects and habitat restoration that benefit fish, wildlife and migratory birds,” said Betsy Galbraith of the Natural Resource Damage Assessment program of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Coastal Program.

The $43 million in Fox River NRDA settlement funds were provided by paper companies and other entities that released PCBs into the Fox River.

The money is used for projects throughout Northeast Wisconsin including on the Fox River and the Bay of Green Bay.

“Partners that implement projects have also provided an additional $45 million in matching funds from a variety of other grant sources,” Galbraith said. “Partners include government agencies, non-profit groups, tribes, universities, hunting and fishing groups and others.”

Some of the more high profile projects that received funding from the NRDA round the area include the development of Leicht Memorial Park, the CityDeck, Hagemeister Park, Porlier Pier, upgrades to Fox Point and Bomier Street boat launches in De Pere, and many others.

Members of the Clean Bay Backers come from public, private and non-profit sectors.

Some of the groups represented include the Bay-Lake Regional Planning Commission, Brown County Land and Water Conservation Department, Ducks Unlimited, Fox-Wolf Watershed Alliance, NEW Water (the Green Bay Metropolitan Sewerage District), and the Wisconsin Marine Association.

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