Biden-Harris Administration Announces Largest Ever Clean-up under EPA’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to Address Milwaukee Area of Concern

WASHINGTON – Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced funding for the largest cleanup project to ever be implemented under the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the Great Lakes Legacy Act, thanks to historic resources from President Biden’s Investing in America Agenda. Under a new project agreement between EPA and five non-federal sponsors, an estimated investment of $450 million will go toward the cleanup of nearly two million cubic yards of contaminated sediments from the Milwaukee Estuary Area of Concern.

This long-awaited cleanup will greatly advance the environmental, community, and economic revitalization of Milwaukee-area communities and will help lead to the ultimate removal of the Milwaukee Estuary from the list of 25 remaining U.S. Areas of Concern (AOCs) — highly environmentally degraded areas found across the Great Lakes basin.

EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan announced this effort alongside U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (WI) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin at Discovery World, a science and technology museum on the shore of Lake Michigan. Administrator Regan and Senator Baldwin joined project partners, state and local officials, community leaders and students from the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee’s School of Freshwater Sciences for the event.

“President Biden’s historic Investments in America continue to boost our efforts to restore and protect our treasured waters and the communities of the Great Lakes basin,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “Today, we’re building on this progress to restore this economic engine with our partners in Wisconsin as we work to clean up the Milwaukee Estuary Area of Concern for good. Together, these investments will support cleanup of 610 Olympic-sized swimming pools of contaminated sediments from Milwaukee Harbor and the three rivers in the urban Milwaukee area.”

“Protecting the Great Lakes is not just an environmental goal for Wisconsin communities, it’s an economic imperative for the Badger State. I’ve been proud to support the Great Lake Restoration Initiative, which has transformed our fight to protect and restore our greatest freshwater resources, accelerating cleanup efforts to reverse decades of legacy pollution,” said Senator Tammy Baldwin. “Today’s funding announcement puts us on a path to expedite cleaning up the Milwaukee Estuary, ensuring that generations to come can reap the health, economic, and environmental benefits of a safer, more sustainable Lake Michigan watershed.”

“Every Wisconsinite deserves access to safe, clean drinking water, but for far too long communities that surround the Milwaukee Estuary have been impacted by water pollutants and dangerous contaminants,” said Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers. “This groundbreaking $450 million investment from the Biden Administration will accelerate our efforts to remediate the Milwaukee Estuary so we can remove it from the list of Areas of Concern, revitalize the local economy, and ensure clean water for Milwaukee and the greater region.”

“With this important funding through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative – an effort I have long championed – President Biden’s Investing in America agenda is helping make Milwaukee a better place to live, work, and visit,” said Congresswoman Gwen Moore. “Nearly four decades after being designated as an Area of Concern, the EPA and local stakeholders can now move forward to permanently address this public health threat, protect Lake Michigan, and again allow Milwaukeeans and visitors to our city to enjoy these waters.” 

The new project agreement reflects a partnership between EPA and five non-federal sponsors, Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, We Energies, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the City of Milwaukee, and Milwaukee County Parks, to complete the cleanup of harbor and river sediments contaminated with PCBs, petroleum compounds, and heavy metals, including mercury, lead and chromium, in the Milwaukee Estuary Area of Concern. These five partners will contribute more than $170 million to implement the project — the largest non-federal sponsor contribution to a Great Lakes Legacy Act cleanup. EPA will contribute an estimated $275 million in funds from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to cover the approximately $450 million project, with final project cost estimates to be determined following the bidding and procurement process.

“This is a once in a generation opportunity to remove contamination that has gone unaddressed for more than 150 years,” said EPA Region 5 Administrator and Great Lakes National Program Manager Debra Shore. “By cleaning and opening up this waterway, EPA and our partners will restore ecosystems, increase opportunities for recreation and community and economic revitalization.”

Many decades of industrial activity throughout this predominantly urbanized watershed have resulted in significant pollution accumulation in the Milwaukee Estuary AOC, especially in sediments found at the bottom of Milwaukee harbor and the Milwaukee, Menomonee, and Kinnickinnic Rivers. Addressing these contaminated sediments will lead to improved water quality, healthier fish and wildlife, and improved recreational opportunities, in addition to community revitalization.

In February 2022, President Biden and EPA Administrator Regan announced a $1 billion investment from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to significantly accelerate cleanup and restoration of the Great Lakes. EPA projected that the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding, combined with funds from annual Great Lakes Restoration Initiative appropriations and funding from other sources will enable the agency and its partners to bring work to completion at 22 of the 25 remaining AOCs, with Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding directly supporting 11 of these sites, including the Milwaukee Estuary AOC.

Here’s what our partners are saying about this historic agreement:

“The State of Wisconsin is thrilled that all five project partners have signed the historic Milwaukee Estuary Area of Concern (AOC) project agreement. To help address the extensive contamination in the area, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the Environmental Protection Agency, together with over 20 partner organizations, formed the Waterway Restoration Partnership. I am grateful for their collaboration and am encouraged that the historical investments by the partners will result in a cleaner environment for all future generations to enjoy in Milwaukee,” said Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Secretary Adam N. Payne.

“The City of Milwaukee is extremely proud to collaborate with our partners at the US EPA,” said Mayor Cavalier Johnson. “The cooperation between Federal, State, and local partners is unprecedented and will lead to cleaner beaches, restored habitat, and contamination being removed from our waterways.  The goal of swimmable and fishable waterways in our sights.”

“Milwaukee County Parks is excited to continue our successful GLLA partnership as we enter the next phases of this landmark clean-up effort,” said Guy Smith, Executive Director of Milwaukee County Parks. “Remediation will improve over 30 acres of floodplain and support the larger effort to restore habitat and delist the Milwaukee Estuary Area of Concern. This work will help ensure safe enjoyment of our waterways and parkland within the Milwaukee River Greenway, one the most loved and highly used recreational areas in the County!”

“Today’s announcement is historic and shows action by President Biden to protect public health, provide jobs, and help protect Lake Michigan,” said Kevin Shafer, Executive Director of Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District. “Now that hard work begins by removing contaminated sediments, improving habitat, and making the Milwaukee region a safer, cleaner place to live.  We owe many people our warmest and sincere gratitude for getting us this far. We will deliver!”

“We are pleased to support this historic effort to clean up the Milwaukee Estuary. Our work to remediate nearly 45,000 cubic yards of impacted sediment from the bottom of the Milwaukee River is an important first step in restoring our waterways,” said Liz Stueck-Mullane, WEC Energy Group Vice President. “This coalition is making a positive impact and our participation is a part of our commitment to a bright, sustainable future.”

“THE WORK TO CLEAN UP OUR WATERWAYS IS COMPLICATED BUT IMPORTANT. This funding will provide the much needed funding and leverage to change the course of history,” said David Frazer, a member of the Community Advisory Council. “As a small group who serves as the voice of the community in the process of cleaning up Milwaukee’s Area of Concern, we are looking forward to continuing to create and facilitate conversation between the community and the regulatory authorities in charge of completing this work, ensuring the community’s concerns and ideas are recognized and prioritized going forward.”

Learn more information about the Milwaukee Estuary Area of Concern.

Learn more information about the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

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