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Great Lakes Article:

River dredging under way
Meggen Lindsay
Northwest Indiana Times

GARY -- U.S. Steel Corp. began cleaning part of the Grand Calumet River this week, launching the nation's largest dredging project to date and one that will cost the company $41 million.

After more than 12 years of planning, on Wednesday a hydraulic dredge began pumping out the first of 750,000 square yards of contaminated sediments to be removed from the river.

Decades of unchecked industrial and municipal waste have ravaged the Grand Calumet, which flows into Illinois from Gary. U.S. Steel's efforts are part of a larger effort by the government, businesses and environmental groups to clean the polluted waterway.

"It's important to understand that this damage was done in the years before the Clean Water Act, when the actions were accepted," said U.S. Steel Environmental Control Manager Ken Mentzel, as he looked out on the green and brown swirls of flowing water.

"You can see why we are doing this."

The company, which is operating under a 1999 federal consent decree and a 1998 Resource Conservation and Recovery Act order, will dredge 5.1 miles of the Grand Calumet beginning at its Gary Works site over the next nine months.

U.S. Steel's consent decree, first initiated in 1990, and the RCRA order are court-ordered agreements between the company and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that outline how the waterway should be cleaned.

The contaminated sediments are pumped into a large pipe alongside the river that stretches to an on-site storage area called a Corrective Action Management Unit, or CAMU. The layers of lining at the containment site, which spans 38 acres, are enough to cover 150 football fields.

Sediments at the CAMU will be discharged under water, which acts as a seal until the site is filled and topped off with vegetation, said Rick Menozzi, project manager and director of environmental remediation at U.S. Steel.

"We have constant air monitoring at the site and will continue to monitor until the water is out and we are assured that the material has stabilized," he said.

Menozzi said U.S. Steel's methods are quite different than how the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to dredge the Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal in East Chicago in 2005. The Army Corps intends to scoop out the sediments using a clamshell-like machine, load them onto barges and bring them into an open-air confined disposal facility.

Some East Chicago residents are worried that contaminants in the sediment could become airborne during dredging and containment. They instead want the Army Corps to use hydraulic dredging like U.S. Steel's, which sucks up the sediment and pipes it underwater to the containment site.

"The sediments we dredge are never in the open air," Mentzel said.

Like the Army Corps, U.S. Steel also holds community meetings to inform the public. But unlike the corps project, most residents and local environmental groups -- such as the Grand Calumet Task Force and Save the Dunes Council -- are supportive of the company's project.

"We've always tried to share our progress with the people and listen to their concerns," Menozzi said. "We have made all of our actions open to the public."

Although Menozzi said U.S. Steel only needed to dredge half of what they are removing to meet federal requirements, he said the company wanted to do more.

Once the dredging is completed, U.S. Steel will also restore riverbank vegetation, improve fish habitat in the river and deed 32 acres of adjacent natural property to the National Park Service.

"This is a project that will clearly make a difference," Menozzi said. "We are working to restore this river back to what it was."

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