Photo Friday: Wall that once split contaminated river removed

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Construction crews remove the sheet pile wall. Photo courtesy of Jane Keon

Construction crews remove the metal sheet pile wall in the Pine River.
Photo courtesy of the city of St. Louis

St. LOUIS, Mich. – Environmental agencies are removing a sheet pile wall in a mid-Michigan river that has separated it from a federal superfund site for about 15 years.

Cleanup crews put the 1,400 foot wall in the center of the Pine River in 1999 to remove contaminated sediment on its bottom, said Dan Rockafellow, Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality’s project manager for the site of the former Velsicol Chemical Co.

State and federal environmental agencies used the wall to separate the river into two parts. That let them divert water from one half of the river so they could remove contaminated sediments.

They then diverted it onto the cleaned area so that they could drain and clean the other half. The process took seven years and cost over $100 million.

Rockafellow said the agencies left the wall in place because they thought it might be useful when they remove the contamination from the main plant site, which is about 50 miles north of Lansing.

The agencies determined the wall would not be beneficial to contamination removal at the main plant site, so they are removing it.

Crews are removing between 40 and 50 feet of the wall a day, Rockafellow said. The wall should be totally removed by the middle of December.

The removal is a cleanup milestone.

“Everybody is glad that it’s finally being taken out,” said Jane Keon, secretary of the Pine River Citizen Task Force. “It’s just ugly.”

The agencies hope to finish removing soil contaminated with DDT that was once produced by the plant from residential yards surrounding the Velsicol site by the end of construction season 2015, Rockafellow said. They replaced the soil and laid sod in about 50 yards this past season.

He said remediation on the actual Velsicol plant site is scheduled to start in 2016, although design and funding are still needed.

“It’s exciting to see work implemented up there to benefit the citizens of St. Louis,” he said.

The plant was closed in 1982 after federal authorities declared it a Superfund site, a designation that helps such sites qualify for cleanup funds. The plant site and nearby river were contaminated with the chemicals PBB, DDT and HBB.

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