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Great Lakes Article:

PCB deal reclaims habitat

Georgia-Pacific agreement will preserve 100s of acres along Green Bay shore

By Ed Culhane

GREEN BAY — Hundreds of acres of critical wildlife habitat will be saved from development under a multimillion-dollar agreement that settles damage claims against Georgia-Pacific for PCB pollution in the Fox River.

Additionally, millions of dollars will be spent restoring the Cat Island chain in Green Bay and the delta marsh it once shielded. The agreement also pays for the restoration of northern pike habitat along the west shore of Green Bay and the continuing reintroduction of Great Lakes strain of spotted muskie to the bay.

Although no precise dollar figure is available, the agreement is worth between $12 million and $15 million, state officials said. In addition to 1,000 acres of land, Georgia-Pacific, an international paper company, is providing about $8.5 million for the other projects.

Water-based recreation projects such as parks, barrier-free fishing docks, trails and boat launches will be funded in Green Bay, De Pere, Allouez, Ashwaubenon and the Brown County towns of Bellevue and Howard — downstream from the Georgia- Pacific and former Fort Howard mills.

Darrell Bazzell, secretary of the state Department of Natural Resources, said much of the wild land being purchased and deeded to the state, along the Peshtigo and Suamico riversheds, likely would have been lost to development in a few years.

“This is a unique and wonderful opportunity to protect these sensitive lands,” Bazzell said, “opportunities that may not be available in the future.”

The compact being announced today is a “global agreement” that settles all Natural Resource Damage Assessment claims against Georgia-Pacific. Other parties to the agreement are the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Menominee and Oneida tribes.

NRDA claims remain against the other six companies charged with discharging polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, into the Fox River, although Appleton Papers Inc. and the NCR Corp. will be given credit for roughly half of the $40 million those companies have made available to the DNR as part of an interim agreement.

PCBs, banned in 1976, are man-made chemicals that were discharged into the Fox River during the manufacture and recycling of carbonless paper.

The NRDA claims are designed to compensate the public for the lost use of natural resources and are not related to the impending cleanup of the Fox River.

The DNR and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plan to issue a final decision on the cleanup late this summer or in early autumn, Bazzell said. The cleanup could cost the companies $400 million or more, based on feasibility studies.

Bruce Baker, the DNR official overseeing the cleanup, said the NRDA settlement with Georgia Pacific breathes life into wildlife projects that have been a long time on the wish list, some for more than a decade.

“There is just no way with existing programs that we’d come anywhere close to providing the kinds of funds resulting from the NRDA process,” he said.

DNR officials conceded it was the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service that first pushed for a damage assessment against the companies.

Initially, the DNR and the USFWS disagreed on the methods used to calculate a damage assessment, and the DNR prepared its own NRDA with Georgia-Pacific, a $7 million agreement that was blasted by environmentalists as inadequate.

That agreement was withdrawn. Later, the DNR and the USFWS resolved their differences, combined their efforts and came up with a plan all the trustees could support.

“We took the time to work with the Fish & Wildlife Service and the tribes,” Bazzell said. “We have secured dollars in a way that we have not seen occur across the country with other NRDAs. The magnitude of this settlement is impressive.”

Bazzell was to appear today in Green Bay with Bill Hartwig, regional director of the Fish & Wildlife Service, Chairman Gerald Danforth of the Oneida tribe and officials from Green Bay area municipalities where projects are being funded.

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