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EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD: Grand Calumet River getting grand cleanup

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In the mid-1990s I was working for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. Staff members there informed me they envisioned a long-term project to assess the environmental conditions of the Grand Calumet River from the state line to the Marquette Park lagoons and to restore the Grand Calumet River to an ecologically healthy waterway.

The agencies involved in this endeavor include the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, IDEM, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. At the time I wished them well and offered that they were embarking on a project I could not envision being completed before I retired. How wrong I was, and I am so happy to admit to that fact!

The U.S. EPA Great Lakes National Program Office has begun to schedule presentations at future public meetings to detail the progress on this project. I won’t steal the impact of the before and after portions of their presentation. But I can share some of the basic facts in case you are unable to attend the meetings. They are pretty impressive!

For this work, the Grand Calumet River was divided into multiple sections referred to as “reaches." Each reach is numbered and has a “this road to that road” description in its title so those of us who are familiar with the area can know just where the work being reported was done.

Reaches 3, 4 and 5 stretch from Columbia Avenue to Hohman Avenue. From 2009 to 2011, the Grand Calumet River restoration team excavated 55,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment and sequestered an additional 94,000 cubic yards, or the equivalent of 2 million pounds.

Reaches 1 and 2 are bookended by Columbia Avenue and Indianapolis Boulevard. Probably the most visible portion to the general public as they drive over the river in East Chicago, more than 5 million pounds of contaminated sediment was remediated and lots of invasive plants were removed and replaced with native species from July 2011 to April 2012.

Going forward, Reaches 6 and 7 – Hohman Avenue to the Indiana/Illinois state line, are scheduled to begin late this year with an estimated 82,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment to be removed.

The Kennedy Avenue to Cline Avenue reaches are anticipated to begin this spring. In addition to the anticipated remediation of 1.2 million cubic yards of contaminated sediment, the work in this area is also estimated to remediate and restore more than 77 acres of a marsh dune and swale complex.

I’ve provided a lot of numbers, in ranges hard for the general public to picture. That’s why you should try to go when you see future public meeting announcements concerning this project.

Go see the presentation. The pictures are worth much more than thousands of words!

And to the team that has gotten this done, again I say to you, “Well done!” I have never been happier to be wrong!

Kay Nelson is director of environmental affairs at the Northwest Indiana Forum. The opinions are the writer's.

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