The City of Ishpeming celebrated the culmination of what amounted to an $8 million project, today. It’s a hefty price tag, but as ABC 10’s Rick Tarsitano explains, it will allow Deer Lake to stay mercury free for generations to come.
Ishpeming has seen it’s fair share of construction as of late. But, today marked the end of a restoration effort, three years in the making.
“I just want to congratulate the City of Ishpeming for getting this job done. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency provided $8 million in Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding, but the City of Ishpeming is what made it happen,” noted Susan Hedman, Region 5 Administrator for the EPA. “It’s a huge accomplishment to get all of this done in short order, and to make Deer Lake likely the first Area of Concern to be cleaned up on Lake Superior.”
In 1987, the United States and Canada designated 43 sites on the Great Lakes where the most toxic contamination could be found. Deer Lake and it’s tributary, Partridge Creek, made that list.
“Those sites, for many years, went unremediated,” Hedman added.
“Partridge Creek was the first creek I ever caught Brook Trout out of, when I was just a little boy,” remembered Mike Tall, Mayor of Ishpeming. “If there’s one Brook Trout left in there, I can probably still go down and fish one out between those two rocks.”
“Fishing in Deer Lake will be, once again, available to people, and Partridge Creek is being restored to it’s original stream bed and will be a terrific trout stream for people who live in and visit the U.P.,” said Hedman, who is also the Great Lakes National Program Manager.
In addition to rerouting the creek, they’ll also be planting tree splits where they cut local trees in half, plant their roots, and have them grow so that they’ll eventually hang over head down the creek all the way to Deer Lake. The goal to complete the project is slated for November 15th, better known as the start to Deer Season.
While ending the contamination cycle brought in the funding for the move, the roots of the stream’s reconfiguration stretch back to the early 1970’s when Partridge Creek was diverted through the downtown area and the now closed New York City Mine Pit, causing portions of Third Street to collapse unexpectedly.
“Before they did this Partridge Creek project, the water would go partially through the trenches of the creek and the cement work and go around it. Then, it would wash out the road and sooner or later, in the Spring or mid-Summer, the road fell in,” Tall remarked.
Structural integrity aside, it was a dangerous venture; going through the mine pit where mercury and metals could infiltrate the water supply. So much so, that in 1984 the Marquette County Circuit Court decreed that it needed to be rerouted outside of the mine with a project deadline of 2015.
“On Saturday, the people working on this project flipped the switch and stopped mercury from flowing through the mine underneath Michigan into Deer Lake. Once we confirm that that mercury flow has stopped and we check the levels of mercury contamination in fish, we will be able to recommend this site for delisting,” Hedman concluded.
The mercury levels in fish in Deer Lake have already started to decline. The EPA hopes to recommend delisting sometime before summer rolls around.