Officials tout 20 years of progress in cleanup of Roxana Marsh
By Michelle L. Quinn Post-Tribune correspondent June 11, 2012 12:50PM
Jack Brunner, left, of Tetra Tech hands a plant to East Chicago Lighthouse Academy fourth grader Sandra Olavarria following a program at the Roxana Marsh in East Chicago Monday June 11, 2012. The Environmental Protection Agency hosted the event to highlight restoration of the marsh along the Grand Calumet River. Students from LIghthouse grew dozens of plants to be planted as part of the restoration. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 12, 2012 10:02AM
EAST CHICAGO — Some 20 years ago, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Senior Liaison Cam Davis took a paddle boat tour along the Grand Calumet, and what he saw reminded him of a napalm wasteland.
After 100 years of using the Grand Cal as a dumping ground, there were no dragonflies or mayflies, few fish and any birds found near it were covered in oil. Migratory birds would fly over the river — once a haven for them — and would actually think twice before going after anything contained in its waters.
The Roxana Marsh off Indianapolis Boulevard is still barren by nature’s standards, but it’s almost clean and certainly hospitable to the natural fauna that once teemed its shores. And Monday morning, the entities who worked to restore it celebrated the progress.
Representatives from the EPA, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the state of Indiana visited the marsh and talked about the $52 million project that rid the marsh of more than 575,000 cubic yards of toxic stew. The dredging cleaned up 2½ miles of the marsh.
And the group isn’t done by a long shot.
“This is a testament to the persistence of so many people, but our work here isn’t done,” Davis said.
Started in 1989 through a compact between the environmental agencies and nine companies responsible for the pollution — among them GATX, U.S. Steel, the former Ispat-Inland, Georgia-Pacific, DuPont Chemical, the former Amoco and LTV Steel through its bankruptcy — the federal government ended up providing 65 percent, or $33.8 million, into the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Legacy Act project, while the state used $18.2 million from its Natural Resources Damage Assessment Fund for the match.
Dan Sparks, of the USFW, and Carl Wodrich, of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, said the greatest thing about watching the projects come to fruition is seeing the wildlife come back as quickly as it does. They still see oiled birds more often than they’d like, but they also see lots of turtles hanging out and species hardly anyone gets to see.
“Last January, someone sent a picture of a Red Knot (bird), and that’s an extremely rare species anywhere,” Sparks said. “It’s pretty awesome to see them all coming back.”
U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, called the project a “wise expenditure of public monies” and said that for those young people who feel the government doesn’t do anything for them, the project serves as a wonderful example.