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EPA, MDEQ and UP Officials Celebrate Removal of Lake Superior Area of Concern from Binational List of Toxic Hotspots

Release Date: 11/13/2014
Contact Information: Peter Cassell, cassell.peter@epa.gov, (312) 886-6234, @EPAGreatLakes

ISHPEMING, MICHIGAN -- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 5 Administrator/Great Lakes National Program Manager Susan Hedman today joined Ishpeming Mayor Mike Tall, state officials and local residents at Deer Lake in Ishpeming, Michigan, to mark the removal of this toxic hotspot from a binational list of “Areas of Concern” targeted for cleanup in the 1987 U.S.-Canada Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.

After decades during which only one U.S. Area of Concern was delisted, federal agencies have accelerated cleanup actions during the past five years by using Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding. Deer Lake is one of three Areas of Concern that have been delisted since the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative was launched in 2010. The United States and Canada designated 43 Areas of Concern under the 1987 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, in an effort to target sites contaminated primarily by industrial activity that occurred before modern environmental laws were enacted.

The Deer Lake Area of Concern on the southern shore of Lake Superior was contaminated by mercury that leached into water flowing through an abandoned iron mine and by other sources of pollution. High levels of mercury contamination in fish and reproductive problems in bald eagles were documented in the Area of Concern. EPA Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grants ($8 million) were used to complete the final work required for delisting: projects that diverted water from the underground mine to the surface and to restore a trout steam known as Partridge Creek.

“The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative accelerated cleanup work needed to protect Lake Superior and to delist the Deer Lake Area of Concern,” Hedman said. “Our work in the Deer Lake Area of Concern has reduced threats to public health and will enhance recreational opportunities and the UP economy.”

“The Partridge Creek Project stands out as an excellent example of the terrific results that may be achieved when business, citizens, and government work together to accomplish important environmental goals,” said Mayor Tall. “The local community and the global community are the beneficiaries of this great project. The City of Ishpeming is grateful to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the EPA, DEQ, and the many individuals who all labored for many years to remove the beneficial use impairments at Deer Lake.”

“As a lifelong resident of Northern Michigan, I am so pleased to see Deer Lake removed as an Area of Concern,” said U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek. “I grew up here, and I want our Great Lakes and waters to stay clean for our children and grandchildren. That’s why I’ve been a big supporter of the GLRI, which really made today’s event possible. I look forward to continuing to work to remove other areas in Northern Michigan off the list as well.”

“The restoration of Deer Lake is not only a good news story for all the communities involved, but also a testament to what can be accomplished through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative,” said U.S. Senator Carl Levin. “I am proud of our progress so far and look forward to the restoration of other contaminated areas in the Great Lakes.”

“Today’s celebration marks a major achievement that reflects the decades of hard work by the Deer Lake Public Advisory Council, City of Ishpeming, and local stakeholders, and the importance of federal funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative,” said U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow. “Deer Lake is one of the first areas in Michigan to get a clean bill of health thanks to this federal partnership, which invests in the health of our Great Lakes and waterways. Today’s event shows once again the urgent need to invest in partnerships that clean up, restore, and protect our Great Lakes for generations to come.”

“This announcement is the capstone on years of work to clean up our Great Lakes shorelines,” said Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Director Dan Wyant. “We appreciate the support from federal partners through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to make this happen, and we appreciate the continued support and hard work of local groups to restore Michigan’s natural resources in our Areas of Concern. We look forward to more good news from this program in the years ahead.”

“This is a phenomenal achievement for Deer Lake, the Ishpeming Area, and especially, Lake Superior,” said Diane Feller, Chair of the Deer Lake Public Advisory Council. “If someone told me thirty years ago that fish from Deer Lake would be safe to eat in my lifetime, I wouldn’t have believed it. PAC Members, Cliffs, State Agencies and EPA have all been instrumental in getting this result. Thanks to the EPA for spearheading the final push to delisting.”

Last summer, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality formally asked EPA to start the process to delist the Deer Lake Area of Concern. EPA reviewed environmental monitoring data submitted with MDEQ’s request and determined that this Area of Concern was eligible to be delisted. Notice of intent to delist the Area of Concern was provided to the government of Canada, tribal nations, the International Joint Commission and the general public. MDEQ will continue to monitor ecological conditions in the delisted Deer Lake Area of Concern, with support from EPA.

In 2013, the Presque Isle Bay Area of Concern (Lake Erie, Pennsylvania) was delisted, the first since GLRI was launched in 2010 and only the second U.S. Area of Concern delisted since the 1987 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. This fall, the White Lake Area of Concern (on Lake Michigan, in Muskegon County, Michigan) Areas of Concern was also delisted. Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding has been used to complete all necessary remediation and restoration actions at three additional Areas of Concern: Waukegan Harbor (Lake Michigan, Illinois), Sheboygan Harbor (Lake Michigan, Wisconsin), and Ashtabula River (Lake Erie, Ohio). Environmental monitoring is ongoing at those Areas of Concern to assess their eligibility for delisting. Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding is also being used to accelerate cleanup work in all remaining Areas of Concern on the U.S. side of the border.

For more information (including high-resolution photos) on the Deer Lake Area of Concern:
http://www2.epa.gov/deer-lake-aoc.

For more information on the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative: www.glri.us.