St. Mary’s River cleanup takes step forward

Jan 18, 2018

The Soo Locks on the St. Mary's River
Credit U.S Army Corps of Engineers

State officials say they’ve reached a milestone in the effort to clean up the St. Mary’s River near Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. 

The state Office of the Great Lakes announced Wednesday that it’s lifting dredging restrictions for the river. 

For decades, regulators have had special rules for handling material dredged from the river bottom. American and Canadian officials declared the St. Mary’s River an "area of concern" in 1987. 

Rachel Coale, outreach coordinator for the Office of the Great Lakes, says the requirements were due to the historic contamination of the river. 

“There was a lot of industry,” Coale says. “It is a working waterfront and … the river ... ended up filled with some heavy metals, and polyaromatic hydrocarbons – which is a fancy way of saying carcinogenic chemicals.”

Local, state and federal partners have spent decades cleaning the waterway. 

Coale says pollution cleanup is complete on the American side of the river but not yet across the border in Canada. 

“We want people to be able to swim in the water, to be able to eat the fish, to be able to work on the side of the river,” Coale says, “and not have to worry … about historic contamination.”