$12 Million Cleanup of Muskegon Lake Completed

A $12 million cleanup of contaminated mud from the bottom of Muskegon Lake is complete, making the lake safer and moving it a step closer to removal from an international list of polluted Great Lakes sites.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced completion of the year-old Division Street Outfall project, which removed 43,000 cubic yards of mercury- and petroleum-laced sediment from 46 acres of lake bottom in a bay off a storm drain near Hartshorn Marina. The project was done in cooperation with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the city and county of Muskegon.

The removed mud contained elevated levels of mercury and petroleum products called polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAH, dumped into storm sewers before 1980 by foundries and other industries. The Division Street drain is believed to discharge only storm water today.

The contamination was not dangerous to swimmers, but eating too much mercury-contaminated fish is harmful to humans. And the toxins posed a health risk to the lake's aquatic life.

The EPA paid 65 percent of the project, about $7.8 million, from a Great Lakes Legacy Act grant. The remaining $4.2 million was from a state source, the Clean Michigan Initiative bond fund.

The project involved heavy construction equipment dredging out the contaminated muck in big buckets and placing it in a drying bed, where white powder was added to solidify it. From there it was carried in sealed trucks to Ottawa County Farms Landfill in Coopersville.

Completion of the project is expected to help lead to removal of federal restrictions on consumption of fish from Muskegon Lake and its tributaries by late 2014. That would be a major step toward de-listing the lake as a Great Lakes Area of Concern, a U.S./Canadian list of toxic hot spots.

In 2005-2006, a similar $10 million cleanup of contaminated sediment was completed at nearby Ruddiman Creek next to Muskegon's McGraft Park.