Northern States Power Co. has agreed to clean up the Ashland/ Northern States Power Lakefront Superfund Site in Northern Wisconsin under a settlement with the Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency.
The 40-acre site is located on the shore of Chequamegon Bay in Lake Superior. While the site has been used at various times throughout its history by industries, including sawmills, railroads, and a city wastewater treatment plant, most of its pollution has come from Northern States Power.
To clarify, the largest source of the pollution at the site came from the manufactured gas plant operated by Northern States’ predecessor company between 1885 and 1947. The site contains volatile organic compounds such as benzene, and semi-volatile organic compounds such as naphthalene.
The pollution from the manufactured gas plant contaminated both the land portion of the site and sediment in the bay.
Under the agreement filed with the Western District Court of Wisconsin in Madison, Northern States will design, construct, and implement the cleanup for the land portion of the site.
The land cleanup will include the removal of contaminants and impacted soil in Kreher Park and the adjacent bluff area, Recovery wells will also be designed to remove pollution from the Copper Falls aquifer. The land cleanup is expected to cost about $40 million.
Susan Hedman, EPA Region 5 regional administrator, commented on the court agreement, saying that, “Removing the most highly contaminated soil from the site and controlling the flow of contaminated groundwater will prevent polluted water from entering the bay and harming fisheries,” adding her belief that, “Chequamegon Bay and Lake Superior will be better protected as a result of the agreement.”
Ignacia Moreno, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s environment and natural resources division, also expressed the belief that, “The agreement will result in the preservation of land in the Chequamegon Bay watershed, including tribal lands, natural resources, and aquatic habitats that have been harmed by more than a century of pollution at the site.”
Despite all the talk about cleaning up the bay, it’s also important to know that nothing about cleaning up the bay has been formalized.
The settlement agreement filed with the court doesn’t actually specify the requirement of cleaning up the bay, though the Justice Department made clear that, “The United States will also require additional cleanup of sediment in Chequamegon Bay, and expects that Northern States Power and any other responsible parties will perform the rest of the cleanup.”
The currently agreed upon cleanup work is expected to take about two to three years to complete. The EPA says that it will oversee the work to make sure that Northern States “follows the cleanup plan and complies with the agreement.” The Wisconsin state government added that it would support the EPA in overseeing the work.
What is also part of the agreement filed with the court is that Northern States will be required to transfer about 990 acres of land along the Iron River to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and about 400 acres within the reservation of the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa Indians to the Bad River tribe.
The Justice Department says the land parcels are worth a combined $1.9 million and will be preserved by the state and the Bad River tribe to “enhance the natural resources in the area” such as fisheries in Chequamegon Bay and its rivers that have been harmed by pollution from the site.
In addition, the state of Wisconsin says it will transfer 114 acres of land to the Red Cliff Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa Indians. That land will also be managed to preserve natural resources.
Also, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – which joined the settlement on behalf of the U.S. federal government – will serve among the trustees for natural resources in the area.
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