Fox River cleanup is talk of the
town, but what about restoration?
Community projects often forgotten in midst of Fox River
By Monique Balas
Green Bay News-Chronicle
With the public eye focused on a newly released $400 million
cleanup plan, the distinction between the cleanup of the
Fox River and smaller-scale restoration efforts might
seem as murky as the river's PCB-contaminated sediment.
Gov. Jim Doyle's July 28 announcement of the Record of
Decision, a blueprint of the cleanup efforts, is separate
from plans to address the area's ecological damage. Compensation
from the paper companies that polluted the river even
flow into different funds.
"Remediation is the cleanup of the PCBs; restoration
is restoring the resources that have been injured by the
PCBs," explained Colette Charbonneau, restoration
coordinator for the regional U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
"The more cleanup you get, the less restoration that's
needed. It's kind of all intertwined."
Slowly but surely, efforts to help increase the fish
population in the river and bay, protect wetlands from
development and restore public recreation areas are moving
Charbonneau is one of five voting members of the Fox
River/Green Bay Natural Resource Trustee Council, an intergovernmental
group that distributes money in the Natural Resources
Damage Assessment fund for projects it selects. The state
Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service, the Oneida and Menominee tribes and the state
of Michigan are represented on the council, which is in
its first year.
Money paid by the companies comes out of the Natural
Resources Damage Assessment, or NRDA. The federal Superfund
law requires compensation to the public for damaged resources.
"There are two responsibilities under Superfund
law," said Greg Hill, chief of the DNR's water quality
modeling section. "The NRDA is to identify the injuries
to the resources caused by, in this case, the PCBs, and
to compensate the environment and the public for those
injuries while the PCBs have been there. And that is done
by restoring or replacing or acquiring resources or properties
that will compensate for those injuries."
The amount determined for restoration is negotiated based
on the amount of damage done.
"It's not necessarily a 50-50 split (between cleanup
and restoration)," Hill said.
When the Trustee Council met June 3, it approved 17 project
proposals funded through an interim agreement between
former Appleton Papers and NCR mills. The companies have
provided about $9 million for the projects. The compensation
is part of a $40 million down payment over four years
to be divided among cleanup and restoration.
The paper companies' total amount of ecological damage
compensation to the public has been estimated at up to
Some of the money is set aside for certain areas, such
as land acquisition, watershed restoration and recreational
projects, but individual projects are selected on a case-by-case
A settlement with Georgia-Pacific is awaiting approval
by a judge, and more settlements will come as paper companies
negotiate their compensation.
The council is looking into 54 new project proposals,
according to Tom Nelson, a member of the Restoration Technical
Representative Team. The projects could be selected when
more negotiations are finalized.
What projects are funded?
For the Oneida Tribe, the term restoration means more
than the prospect of eating PCB-free fish from a new lake.
It means the restoration of their old ways of life, some
of which have been abandoned since the onset of fish-consumption
The design of Lake Withing, a 40-acre, $100,000 project,
was one of the 17 projects approved by the trustee council
"We want to give back to the community something
they've lost because of PCBs in the Duck Creek Fishery,"
Nelson said. "We're creating this lake to give tribes
fish that won't be contaminated with PCBs."
The tribe - and Native Americans across the country -
have suffered health problems as they are forced away
from their traditional diet, Nelson said. But, Nelson
said, "probably the biggest thing the tribe has lost
is cultural loss from not having that fishery."
"The annual fish runs were great family gatherings,
clan gatherings; there were ceremonies surrounding this,
catching fish, starting the fish season," he said.
"And all these things have been lost because they
don't have the fishery to use."
Nelson, who is helping to coordinate the project, said
public input will play a major role in determining the
lake's location on the reservation. A design is expected
to be ready in three years, and the lake would require
about two years of construction.
Then "it's going to probably take from five to 10
years for this lake to come into balance with the surrounding
environment," Nelson said.
The Oneidas are developing a wetlands project to help
restore the Duck Creek Watershed.
The project, budgeted for another $100,000, is funded
by the Appleton Papers-NCR interim agreement.
"As the waters clean up, we need to improve the
flow, which would improve the fishery in Duck Creek,"
Nelson said. "One leads to another." Many restoration
projects are partnerships between organizations and the
Projects require a certain amount of public input before
they are implemented, and Nelson said one of the council's
goals is to improve that process.
Eradicating invasive loosestrife is a $100,000 joint
project between Fish and Wildlife Service and the UW-Extension,
"It takes over the wetlands and chokes out native
plants," she said. "It's not used by fish or
wildlife as a food source or to hide in. It just chokes
Restoring the Cat Island Chain in the bay of Green Bay
is a joint, $300,000 project between Fish and Wildlife,
the city of Green Bay, the DNR and the University of Wisconsin-Sea
The DNR and Fish and Wildlife are working on numerous
fisheries projects in the river and bay to examine the
population and possibly restore the population of Great
Lakes spotted musky, yellow perch and lake sturgeon.
"We're trying to look at the habitat and see if
it's there, and if it's not, what it will take to build
the habitat," Charbonneau said.
A decreased yellow perch population has puzzled local
scientists, fishermen and conservationists, Hill said.
"It's such a valued resource both ecologically and
for human use. No one in the Great Lakes has been able
to identify what the population declines are (caused by),"
he said. "It's probably a combination of zebra mussels
(and) white perch."
The application process
Any person or organization can propose an idea to the
trustees. A proposal will be considered as long as it
meets necessary criteria.
Projects that would restore, rehabilitate or help in
the recovery of an injured resource would be considered
by the council for funding.
"We see if the project is a priority, draft a proposal
and bring it to the technical team, which reviews and
ranks proposals, and they figure out which ones are highest
priority and give those to the Trustee Council to decide
whether to implement or not," Charbonneau said. "Right
now, it's taking a long time (to select projects). It's
a brand-new process.
"We have a criteria that projects will be ranked
higher if it comes out of a planning document that's already
gone through public review," she said, "because
then we'd know the public's seen it, they've commented
The Northeast Wisconsin Land Trust is one group anxiously
awaiting council approval for its proposal. The nonprofit,
Appleton-based organization proposed an approximately
$170,000 project to acquire land that is home to endangered
The area is in the town of Scott and the town of Green
Bay, and is loosely referred to as Red Banks.
Some of the plants have been there for thousands of years,
said Leslie Taylor, program director with NEW Land Trust.
"It's a really special area ecologically,"
Thriving in the area is an ecosystem of rare plants,
including the dwarf lake iris, a unique deep blue or purple
wildflower that grows only near the shores of the northern
Great Lakes. Another rare species of plant, known as alvar,
lives there, too.
"We've known about (the plants) for a while, but
we haven't seen how we could protect those," Taylor
said. "(The NRDA partnership) seems to be an opportunity
for us to help protect those species of plant communities
that were identified a number of years ago as being special.
"For us, preserving that land is part of the bigger
area to restore the ecosystem that was damaged by PCBs,"
Taylor worries that the area, most of which centers on
the watershed of Gilson Creek in the town of Green Bay,
will eventually be purchased and developed.
"There's so much residential development in that
area of the county that there's nothing to stop anybody
from turning that into housing lots.
(People) might not realize what a special area that is,"
Taylor said her proposal was submitted just before the
June 3 meeting, so she figures it has not been reviewed
by the council.
She is hoping for the best, though.
"There's a lot of neat stuff in the wetlands,"
Taylor said. "The habitats are really at risk."
Referring to some criticism the council has faced in
addressing public input and organizational efforts, Nelson
said the council is working things out as it goes along.
"We're in the beginning stages and it's kind of
moving slower than the public would like," he said.
"There's some organizational things we're trying
People are encouraged to step forward with new ideas.
"We have an open-door policy where anytime anyone
with a good idea can come in and say, for instance, 'I've
got some land here that used to be farmed, used to be
tilled, and I'm thinking that if I got a little bit of
money, I could restore this to an intermittent stream
where northern pike could live. What are the chances that
I could get some funds to do that?'" Hill said.
"The more projects we have, the better pool we have
to choose from," Nelson said.
For more information, visit http://midwest.fws.gov/nrda/index.html
What is the NRDA?
The Natural Resource Damage Assessment, required by federal
law, seeks to identify natural resources that have been
harmed by contamination and ways to compensate the public
for those damages.
Criteria for measuring damages:
1. Cost of restoring, rehabilitating, replacing or acquiring
the equivalent natural resource
2. Decreased value of resources pending recovery
3. Reasonable cost of assessing those damages
NRDA goals include:
- Improving aquatic habitat
- Acquiring wetlands
- Increasing fish population in the river and bay
- Enhancing recreational opportunities
Trustees involved include:
- Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
- Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin
- Michigan Attorney General
- U.S. Department of the Interior
- U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
N Bureau of Indian Affairs
- Department of Commerce
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
- Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin
- Michigan Department of Environmental Quality
How do they vote?
"Each government has one trustee so each has one
vote. Each decision is made by consensus. The one caveat:
Trustees are notified at least two weeks in advance, and
of the trustees that show up, there have to be at least
three present." - Tom Nelson, Oneida Tribe of Indians
What is the restoration area?
Projects addressed in the affected area include the 39-mile
Lower Fox River, the 119-mile-long bay of Green Bay and
the area stretching upward into the southwestern portion
of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. It ranges through six counties
in Michigan and 23 counties in Wisconsin.
What are the factors for project selection?
These factors are considered the initial screening criteria.
If a proposal passes, it will be evaluated further.
- Complies with applicable laws, policies and regulations
- Addresses injured natural resources in the Lower Fox
River/bay of Green Bay ecosystem
- Is technically feasible
What are PCBs?
Polychlorinated biphenyls - commonly known as PCBs - are
carcinogenic, man-made compounds released by seven paper
companies between 1954 and 1971. Most were released during
the manufacture of carbonless copy paper coated with a
They do not break down easily and have attached to sediment
in the Fox River. The compounds have been detected in
birds and in the fatty tissue of fish. They have been
linked to numerous health risks to humans and animals.
How many PCBs in the Fox River and bay?
The DNR estimates about 691,370 pounds of PCBs have been
released into the Lower Fox River and 160,000 pounds in
the bay; about 64,000 pounds remain present.
The agency estimates about 11 million cubic yards of
contaminated sediment are in the river and bay.
What are the paper companies involved?
- Georgia-Pacific (formerly Fort James/Fort Howard)
- P.H. Glatfelter (formerly Bergstrom Paper)
- Chesapeake Corp. (former owner of Wisconsin Tissue Mills
of Menasha but sold that to Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget;
the PCB liability calls itself WTM 1)
- Appleton (formerly Appleton Papers Inc.)
- NCR and Arjo Wiggins (Appleton's former owners)
- Sonoco (formerly U.S. Paper Mills Corp.)
- Riverside Paper Corp.
The proposed Georgia-Pacific settlement, if approved,
- The acquisition of a designated 30-acre parcel off a
park in the Village of Allouez
- Construction of a 1,000-foot-long scenic trail along
the west side of the East River (it would serve as the
Allouez portion of the East River Trail Development Project)
- Construction of a 1-mile-long scenic trail along the
west side of the Fox River, which will be known as the
Fox River Riverwalk
- Improvement of an existing trailhead facility at the
north end of the East River Parkway Trail in the town
- Acquisition of river frontage along the East River and
construction of a 12-foot-wide pedestrian/bike trail in
the town of Bellevue