The Sheboygan River and Harbor site includes the lower 14 miles of the river from the Sheboygan Falls Dam downstream to, and including, the inner harbor. Located in East Central Wisconsin, the Sheboygan River flows generally eastward through the City of Sheboygan Falls, Village of Kohler, and City of Sheboygan into Lake Michigan. For decades, industrial facilities on the Sheboygan River released hazardous substances into the environment, contaminating both the Sheboygan River and the associated floodplain. The lower 14 miles of the Sheboygan River were designated a Superfund site by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1986. In addition, this same portion of the Sheboygan River was designated a Great Lakes Area of Concern (AOC) by the International Joint Commission (IJC) in 1987.
What Were the Impacts?
Primary contaminants of concern include polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and other substances such as heavy metals that were released from the potentially responsible parties. Natural resources (e.g., surface water, sediments, invertebrates, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals) that utilize these habitats have been exposed to and adversely affected by the released hazardous substances. Over the last three decades, the EPA, in accordance with Superfund, has overseen removal and isolation of contaminated sediments in the Sheboygan River and Harbor. For example, in 2010, a variety of partners including the EPA Great Lakes National Program Office, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR), Sheboygan County, the City of Sheboygan and responsible parties collaborated on a Legacy Act project to remove contaminants that were not addressed by the Superfund program. Funds from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) were used to conduct this Superfund betterment effort. In addition, Federal, state and municipal agencies collaborated on habitat restoration efforts within the AOC boundaries. These remedial actions, while beneficial, do not themselves compensate the public for past, present, and future contaminant-related injuries to natural resources such as the current “do not eat” fish consumption advisory.
What’s Happening Now?
The Trustees for the Sheboygan River Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration (NRDAR) -- the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) – have reached an agreement to settle natural resource damage claims with parties potentially responsible for the hazardous substances in the Sheboygan River, including Tecumseh Products Company, Thomas Industries, and Wisconsin Public Service Corporation (WPSC). Under this settlement, these parties will pay $4.35 M for the Sheboygan NRDAR, which includes the preservation the Willow Creek Preserve (140 acres) and Amsterdam Dunes property (184 acres). The remaining cash portion of the settlement ($3.1 M) will be used to support restoration, preservation, recreational fishing enhancements, and past Trustee costs relevant to natural resource injuries. This settlement is described in three Consent Decrees, which have been approved by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin.
Consistent with the United States Department of the Interior NRDAR regulations and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Trustees evaluated a suite of alternatives for conducting the type and scale of restoration sufficient to compensate the public for natural resource injuries and service losses. This restoration would be implemented with the funds from the settlement. A draft RP/EA was available for review and comment for a period of 30 days. The Trustees addressed public comments and responded to those comments as part of the final RP/EA for the project types and two specific preservation projects proposed for the Sheboygan River NRDA restoration. A final RP/EA was released in March of 2018 and restoration can begin at this site.
In May of 2020, the Trustees approved and released a final supplement to their March 2018 Restoration Plan; the approved supplement will fund five additional restoration projects for a total of approximately $801,000.