Federal and State Trustees Reach $4.5 Million Settlement with Three Companies for Natural Resource Damages Incurred at Sheboygan River & Harbor Superfund Site
Trustees Seek Public Comment on Draft Restoration Plan and Environmental Assessment
The United States and the State of Wisconsin today announced three settlements totaling in excess of $4.5 million with Tecumseh Products Co., Thomas Industries, Inc., and Wisconsin Public Service Corp. to resolve claims for natural resource damages at the Sheboygan River & Harbor Superfund Site brought under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), also known as the Superfund Law. The Sheboygan River Site encompasses the lower 14 river miles of the Sheboygan River, from Sheboygan Falls downstream to and including the Sheboygan Harbor in Lake Michigan, as well as adjoining floodplain areas.
According to the complaint, filed simultaneously with the settlement today in the Eastern District of Wisconsin, the three companies are liable for historic industrial discharges of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and/or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) at the Sheboygan River Site. PCBs and PAHs were identified in river sediments at different locations throughout the Site in sufficient concentrations to cause injury to many types of natural resources, including invertebrates, fish, amphibians, birds, and mammals. In addition, PCB and PAH-contaminated natural resources resulted in the loss of recreational fishing services.
“The restoration work enabled by this settlement will make significant contributions to the environment in the area of the Sheboygan River and nearby Lake Michigan,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey H. Wood of the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “We are particularly pleased to have been able to work alongside the State of Wisconsin, the U.S. Department of Interior, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to achieve this positive outcome.”
Under CERCLA, federal and state natural resource trustees have authority to seek compensation for natural resources harmed by hazardous industrial waste and by-products discharged into the Sheboygan River. The natural resource trustees include the U.S. Department of the Interior, acting through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; the U.S. Department of Commerce, acting through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The proposed settlements require payment of $1,295,500 to Sheboygan County as partial reimbursement for costs it incurred in acquiring the Amsterdam Dunes restoration project area for preservation and include $2,532,500 to be used on preservation and restoration activities consistent with a proposed Restoration Plan/Environmental Assessment that is also being made available for public review and comment today. Of the possible alternatives, the draft Restoration Plan recommends preservation and implementation of restoration activities at the Willow Creek and Amsterdam Dunes project properties. The remainder of the settlement funds will reimburse trustee agencies for their work at the site.
The three Defendants previously paid approximately $32 million to clean up the Sheboygan River and Harbor Superfund site under prior agreements with the U.S Environmental Protection Agency. Additional millions of dollars were invested by the federal government through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative along with state, city and county funds to further speed river restoration and restore navigation to the Sheboygan River.
“The Sheboygan River and its wetlands provide important habitats for migratory birds and fish, and support hunting and fishing activities for local residents,” said Charlie Wooley, Deputy Midwest Regional Director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Today’s settlement means we can help natural resources affected by PCBs and other contaminants, and at the same time, benefit local communities. We look forward to working with local conservation organizations to protect and restore important habitat.”
The former Schuchardt farm property, approximately 140 acres within the City of Sheboygan, will be protected to create the Willow Creek Preserve. Willow Creek is a unique natural feature within an urban environment, supporting a diverse habitat mix along it and the Sheboygan River. Conservation of Willow Creek has been identified as a high priority for maintaining and improving fish and wildlife populations and habitat in the Sheboygan River area. Under the Preferred Alternative, settlement funds would be used to transfer the 140 acres from the City to the Glacial Lakes Conservancy, a private, non-profit land conservation organization in the Sheboygan area, and for habitat restoration and recreational fishing enhancements.
“We are excited to continue the restoration work with our partners in the City of Sheboygan and Sheboygan County on this incredible resource. The projects that will be implemented will provide additional benefits to the local community and this wonderful river and coastal area.” said Patrick Stevens, Administrator of the Environmental Management Division at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
Amsterdam Dunes consists of 184 acres abutting Lake Michigan within the Sheboygan River Basin, just north of the Ozaukee-Sheboygan County line. Amsterdam Dunes is a place of unique coastal habitats and wildlife, and consists of remnants of natural lands and waters that have largely disappeared from Wisconsin’s landscape. The Trustees have worked with Sheboygan County to identify potential restoration options within Amsterdam Dunes, including restoration of wetland hydrology, stream habitat improvements, invasive species management, and conversion of agricultural land to more ecologically valuable habitat.
“We're pleased to contribute NOAA's expertise to these projects in Sheboygan County that preserve approximately 324 acres of important ecological habitat and support more recreational opportunities and public access,” said W. Russell Callender, assistant NOAA administrator for the National Ocean Service.
The consent decree is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final approval by the court. A copy of the consent decree is available on the Department of Justice web site at www.usdoj.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html.
The draft Restoration Plan/Environmental Assessment is also subject to a 30 day public comment period and is available for review at https://www.fws.gov/midwest/es/ec/nrda/SheboyganHarbor or at the Mead Public Library.