Fox River Dredging Sets Stage for Brighter Future
The ongoing cleanup of the lower Fox River – the largest removal of contaminated sediments ever attempted anywhere – is a momentous project, but it is also part of a larger story, environmental officials said.
Major efforts are underway to restore near-shore fisheries and wildlife habitat in the lower bay of Green Bay; innovative approaches are being implemented to manage phosphorous and improve water clarity; and in a fantastic example of “beneficial re-use,” clean sand separated from Fox River dredged sediments is being used on land to rebuild U.S. 41.
Out in the bay, clean sediments from navigational dredging are being used to rebuild the Cat Chain of islands, an important ecological feature lost to high water and storms in the 1970s.
“We’ve accomplished great things, and that is worth celebrating today. As we push ahead, let’s keep in mind that restoring our natural resources sets the stage for economic redevelopment and future prosperity,” said Beth Olson, water leader for the state Department of Natural Resources in northeast Wisconsin.
Olson – joined by other environmental officials, municipal leaders, university experts, elected officials and volunteers with the Clean Bay Backers – took part Tuesday in a cruise boat tour of the lower Fox and the lower bay of Green Bay designed to increase awareness of the gigantic restoration effort and to highlight the growing connection between the people of the Fox Valley and this beautiful, historic, powerful river.
During the past two decades, more than 3.5 million cubic yards of sediment have been removed from the river bed in the 40-mile stretch between Lake Winnebago and Green Bay. In three years, dredging will be completed. The lower Fox has already become a world class fishery, rich with trophy walleye, muskie, bass, northern pike and catfish.
Recognizing the Great Lakes environmental and economic importance not just to local residents, but to the entire country, Congress invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the Great Lakes as part of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Some of this money has been invested locally, restoring key coastal wetlands important habitat for northern pike and other species and providing funds to help reduce water pollution, and fight invasive species.
This is money well spent. According to a study by the Brookings Institution, every $1 investment in Great Lakes restoration creates $2 of economic benefit through increased tourism, improved fishing and rising home values.
“This is one of those commitments that will define us as stewards of these critically important resources,” said Julia Noordyk of the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute and member of the Clean Bay Backers. “The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is proof that people understand and support the need for restoring and protecting our greatest asset in the region – the Great Lakes.”
For one exciting example of this work, Green Bay area residents need look no farther than the lower west shore of the bay where the Cat Island Chain of islands is being reborn. The original island chain was washed away in the late 1970s by high water and storms. With new rock break walls in place, creating a “spine” for the new chain, island building can begin in earnest. This chain of islands will protect nearshore habitat from storms and wave action.
The project – backed by a partnership of federal, state and local agencies – creates a win-win situation in which dredging, necessary for commercial navigation in the river, produces clean sediment for island building and habitat restoration.