Habitat Restoration in Great Lakes Areas of Concern: St. Marys River

NOAA-GLC AOC Habitat Restoration Partnership

The Great Lakes Commission (GLC) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are leading efforts to restore several critical Great Lakes Areas of Concern (AOCs) — the worst “toxic hotspots” in the region. In 1987, due to industrial and municipal discharges as well as combined sewer overflows, a portion of the St. Marys River was designated an Area of Concern. Since 2013, the GLC has received Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding through its partnership with NOAA to lead the construction of a bridge to replace a deteriorating causeway crossing the river. The project reconnected water flow and is expected to improve habitat for native fish populations, revitalize tourism and sport fishing opportunities, and provide better community access for fishing, bird watching, and recreation via a new pedestrian walkway. Planning for this project was initiated over two decades ago with input from local stakeholders continually guiding restoration efforts. The Chippewa County Road Commission managed the construction of the bridge which was completed ahead of schedule and under budget in November of 2016.  Ecological monitoring, conducted by Lake Superior State University, provided information on pre and post construction impacts on aquatic species and will continue into 2018.

This project re-established a portion of the historic rapids and healthy water flow to approximately 70 acres of aquatic habitat in the St. Marys River and improved spawning habitat for fish and aquatic invertebrates. This was accomplished by replacing a causeway that channeled water flow through two undersized and deteriorating culverts with a 619 foot bridge that allows free flow of water in the river.  The bridge also provides safe pedestrian access for fishing, bird watching, and walking. The project completed required restoration on the U.S. side of the St. Marys River, a crucial step toward its eventual removal from the list of Great Lakes Areas of Concern (AOCs) or “toxic hotspots.” The project also funded ecological monitoring through Lake Superior State University.

Project Narrative

The St. Marys River is a globally unique binational connecting channel between Lake Superior and Lake Huron, two of the largest freshwater systems in the world.  The region has a strong tourism‐based economy that is centered on sport fishing and other recreational activities. However, dredging, filling, diversion, and urban development along the river has led to significant pollution and habitat alteration, culminating in a portion being named a Great Lakes Area of Concern (AOC) in 1987.

The NOAA-GLC partnership re-established a portion of the historic rapids and healthy water flow to approximately 70 acres of aquatic habitat and improved spawning habitat for fish and other aquatic species.  Construction of a new bridge allowed free flow of the St. Marys River and will result in increased fish and wildlife habitat while improving local infrastructure and pedestrian access.  The Little Rapids were historically some of the most productive spawning grounds in the Great Lakes for sportfish and completion of this project improved the ecological, community and economic value of the St. Marys River.

The GLC partnered with NOAA, the Chippewa County Road Commission, the Lake Superior State University, Eastern Upper Peninsula Regional Development Commission, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the St. Marys River Binational Public Advisory Council, and the Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority to complete this work in 2017. This project is expected to be the last project necessary before formal removal of the St. Marys river from the U.S. list of AOCs.

Project Partners

     

Funding

Approximately $9.4 million in Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding has been provided for this project through through the NOAA-GLC Partnership.

For More Information

Heather Braun
Habitat Restoration and Coastal Conservation Program Manager
Great Lakes Commission,
734‐971‐9135
hbraun@glc.org

Rob Laitinen
Superintendent/Manager
Chippewa County Road Commission
906-635-5295
surveyor@sault.com

Jeff Hagan
Executive Director
EUP Regional Planning & Development Commission
906-635-1581, Toll Free: 855-885-3690
jshagan@eup-planning.org

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