Lakes, Grand Cal get boost
Northwest Indiana Times
The Grand Calumet River's future became a little cleaner
Congress recently approved a plan to fund remediation
at the most polluted spots in the Great Lakes and their
tributaries. The Great Lakes Legacy Act -- passed by the
U.S. House and Senate and now awaiting presidential approval
-- authorizes more than $250 million over five years
to clean up toxic hot spots known as Areas of Concern.
The act will dole out $50 million per
year to clean contaminated sediments and another $4
million annually for public education and research.
Although there is no determination of when and how much
federal funding would go to the Grand Calumet, it has
been labeled an Area of Concern and is considered by the
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to be one of the
nation's most polluted waterways.
Years of industrial discharges from steel, automobile
and other manufacturers have taken a heavy toll on the
Great Lakes watershed. Contaminants cannot be quickly
flushed out because such a small amount of water flows
out of the lakes.
And industrial polluters tended to locate not on the lakeshore
itself, but in the harbors and mouths, like the Grand
Calumet River and its Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal.
The river, which begins in Gary, flows through East Chicago
and Hammond and drains into Lake Michigan through the
Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal.
"The word legacy has a double meaning here," said Lee
Botts, a nationally renowned clean water expert. "We need
to leave a clean Great Lakes as a legacy for the future.
And these contaminants are our legacy from the past.
"That kind of (industrial dumping) was the old way of
doing things. Now there is a focus on doing things right
in the first place," she said. "There is no easy solution
here. But cleaning these sediments is one of those things
that just needs to be done."
The Grand Calumet's pollutants include PCBs, heavy metals,
oil and grease. Both the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
and U.S. Steel Gary Works have plans under way to dredge
contaminated parts of the waterway and canal, but miles
of the river are not included.
"Instead of the Grand Calumet being such a negative presence
in the region, there's a strong possibility here that
it could become a positive aspect," Botts said. "Cleaning
those sediments would help the region get away from the
legacy of having this kind of pollution, it would help
us to erase the industrial damage and the damage to our
Funding for the Legacy Act has been authorized, but has
yet to be approved in next year's federal budget. Eleven
of 13 appropriations bills have not been passed, and there
is no certainty that Congress will include money for the
Legacy Act, say state officials and local environmentalists.
"This really is a big step. And no, it doesn't mean the
money for the projects is in the bank, but it does mean
that there is now a bank account," said Cameron Davis,
executive director of the Chicago-based Lake Michigan
Federation, one of the primary lobbyists for the bill.
And not only is this considered a critical bill, there
is strong bipartisan support for full appropriation, Davis
Should Congress allocate funding for the Legacy Act, Indiana
still might not be able to afford cleanup, said Adriane
Blaesing, director of the Indiana Department of Environmental
Management's northwest regional office in Gary. Any project
that receives Legacy Act financing needs to have a 35
percent non-federal dollar match.
"With the way the state budget is right now, that's a
huge hurdle," she said.
And one that must be cleared, Davis said.
"There are 10 Areas of Concern in Lake Michigan. Not a
single one has been cleaned up and one of the reasons
has been a lack of funding. The Legacy Act would help
jump-start the process," Davis said.
Staff at his federation have spent more than two years
meeting with industrial and environmental groups to draft
"We pulled together the guiding principles for what we
believed the Great Lakes Legacy Act should accomplish,"
Davis said. "Those principles are what put us in a room
together with the Sierra Club and the Council of Great
The Michigan-based council, a nonprofit organization that
represents industries with investments in the Great Lakes,
is not a typical partner of environmental groups.
"But this was an interesting piece of legislation," said
President and Chief Executive Officer George Kuper. "The
groups came to some level of consensus and that process
turned us into supporters of the legislation."
He said that instead of focusing on what specific companies
were to blame for the pollution, the act works simply
to get the waters clean.
"There's not an automatic 'let's go out and dredge the
stuff up' response in the act. It calls for a rational
look at the problem and risk assessment," he said.
"It gets the ball rolling without necessarily finding
the culprit first."