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

NOAA-GLC Regional Habitat Restoration Partnership

About St. Marys River Habitat Restoration

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. In 2013, GLC received Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding through its Regional Partnership with NOAA to lead the construction of a multi span bridge to replace a deteriorating causeway crossing the river. 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’s Center for Freshwater Research and Education, provided information on pre and post construction monitoring of aquatic species.

Little Rapids Causeway Before and Completed Multi-span Bridge After
More about St. Marys River Restoration

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 will help advance the removal of the St. Marys river from the U.S. list of AOCs.

Benefits of Restoration

Environmental Benefits

  • Re-established historic rapids and healthy water flow to approximately 70 acres of aquatic habitat.
  • Increased habitat for trout, salmon, walleye, lake herring, lake sturgeon, whitefish, aquatic invertebrates and forage fish.

Community Benefits

  • Replaced deteriorating causeway with a 619 feet multi-span bridge.
  • Improved road safety and provided protected pedestrian access for fishing, bird watching, and walking.
  • Completed the final step required on the U.S. side of the St. Marys River to remove the fish and wildlife related Beneficial Use Impairments and eventually delist the St. Marys River as an Area of Concern.

Economic Benefits

  • Improved habitat for species important to sport fishing tourism.
Documents and Fact Sheets

The following fact sheets and documents provide additional information about the St. Marys River project and specific elements of the project.

Fact Sheet
St. Marys BUI Background
Final As Built Plans
Project Road Sign
St. Marys River Habitat Restoration Database

News Coverage


Approximately $9.4 million was provided to this project by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency through a Regional Partnership between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Great Lakes Commission (GLC). In 2013, GLC was awarded approximately $30 million through this Partnership to work with partners to implement habitat restoration in Areas of Concern across the Great Lakes Basin.

For More Information

Jill Estrada
Coastal Conservation and Habitat Restoration
Senior Program Specialist, Great Lakes Commission
734‐396‐6059 • [email protected]

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