Groups want funds for local river
Foundation sets July 28 seminar to address issue
By Ed Culhane
Two companies charged with PCB contamination in the Fox
River have provided more than $30 million for watershed
restoration projects, but so far none are in the Fox Cities.
To date, 17 restoration projects have been approved by
state, federal and tribal trustees overseeing funds obtained
through a federal Natural Resources Damage Assessment,
designed to compensate the public for the lost use or
enjoyment of the polluted waterway.
All but two are in the bay of Green Bay or Door County.
Another 54 projects are under review. None of those are
in the Fox Cities either, although $20 million to fund
them came from Appleton Papers, which has since changed
its name to Appleton, and its former owner, NCR.
The Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region is
now stepping forward to help local municipalities and
conservation groups address the imbalance by proposing
area projects for NRDA funding.
A seminar has been scheduled for 2 p.m. July 28 at Heckrodt
Wetland Reserve in Menasha where foundation officials
will put experts on the NRDA process in the same room
with municipal planners, environmentalists and the leaders
of area hunting and fishing groups.
"We know there are environmental and municipal groups
that have wonderful visions of what can happen with the
Fox Cities portion of the river," Curt Detjen, foundation
president and chief executive officer, said Thursday.
"Some of these projects may now have an opportunity
to be funded."
Detjen said the foundation is acting as a facilitator
and does not have its own agenda for NRDA funds. "The
foundation has a unique ability to convene groups around
issues of concern to the community," Detjen said.
"The Fox River is important to all of us in this
region. There may be some collaborations among businesses
and conservation groups that could result from this seminar."
The 17 approved projects will use $9 million of the Appleton
Papers money. The remaining $11 million is still available.
Georgia-Pacific Corp., with two plants in Green Bay,
also has reached an NRDA agreement with the state Department
of Natural Resources.
That project, which awaits federal court approval, involves
large-scale land purchases along the west side of Green
Bay and is valued at more than $10 million.
The seven companies charged with contaminating the river
are being required under federal law to negotiate NRDA
settlements with the trustees, a cost the companies will
bear in addition to the estimated $300 million to $400
million they will be required to spend to remove tons
of PCBs from the 39-mile stretch of the Fox River. PCBs
pose a threat to human health and to wildlife.
The cleanup is being managed by the DNR and the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency.
NRDA funds are managed by a council of resource trustees
representing the DNR, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service,
the Oneida and Menominee tribes, and the state of Michigan.
Michigan is represented because PCBs from the Fox River
have migrated north to contaminate Upper Peninsula coastal
The trustees issued a restoration plan in 2002 that envisioned
habitat and fishery projects within a watershed that includes
the headwaters of tributaries to the Fox and the bay,
a broad geographic area that stretches from Columbia County
in central Wisconsin to Michiganís Upper Peninsula. It
identifies the lower Fox River - the stretch from Neenah
and Menasha through Appleton to Green Bay - as a priority,
Bruce Baker, a DNR administrator who sits on the trustee
council, said Friday that most of the 17 projects already
approved, such as the restoration of the eroded Cat Island
chain that once protected the spawning marshes along the
southwest shore of Green Bay, have been on the drawing
board for more than a decade.
The majority of NRDA funds are to be used to re-establish
or preserve wetlands, restore habitat for various fish
species, improve water quality or improve fish reproduction.
About 10 percent of the funds can be used to develop or
improve outdoor recreation facilities on the river or
Other projects range from a study of depleted perch populations
in the bay and the possible restoration of wild rice beds
on the Menominee reservation to the establishment of sturgeon
habitat in Lake Michigan and the reintroduction of the
Great Lakes spotted muskie to Green Bay.
"Certainly, early on, when you talk about critical
habitat, you are not talking about urban areas,"
Baker said trustees are negotiating NRDA settlements
with other companies, such as P.H. Glatfelter in Neenah.
Those settlements could involve projects performed by
the companies or cash the trustees can distribute, he
While there are certainly habitat and water quality projects
that could help restore the Fox Cities portion of the
river, especially in Little Lake Butte des Morts, there
are also strong local concerns about access to the river,
whose banks in the Fox Cities are mostly in private ownership.
John Shillinglaw of the Town of Menasha, a fisherman
and member of several area conservation groups, said the
town has easements to the river, running between private
properties, that are unmarked and unused. Years ago, he
said, the town even sold one of its easements so a private
homeowner could expand his property.
"Ideally, some of that money should be used to provide
public access to the river," Shillinglaw said Saturday.
It wouldnít be too difficult to develop simple docks
where children could fish and adults could take in the
view, he said.
"Iím talking about just being able to walk down
to your river and take a look at it," he said.