The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its Trustee partners (the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources) have completed the first phase of the restoration of the West Branch of the Grand Calumet River. Over several decades, a number of factories, refineries, and other manufacturing facilities had released oil and pollutants into the Grand Calumet River, leading to multiple injuries to natural resources and nearly $70 million in natural resource damage settlements. In 2010, the Trustees provided $11.6 million from the NRDAR settlement as the local cost share to leverage $21.5 million of Great Lakes Legacy Act funding. The Great Lakes Legacy Act, administered by the Environmental Protection Agency, provides federal money that is matched by local funding to clean up polluted sediment along the shores and waterways of the Great Lakes. The $33 million project has been undertaken to remove and cap heavily contaminated sediment along a stretch of the river in Hammond, Ind. Native grasses, flowers, trees and shrubs have also been planted along riverbanks and upland areas to restore the river shoreline, providing habitat for migratory songbirds and improving water quality by reducing runoff into the stream. The Grand Calumet River originates in the east end of Gary, Indiana, and flows 13 miles through the cities of Gary, East Chicago, and Hammond, Indiana.
The West Branch component of the project entailed the removal of about 92,000 cubic yards of polluted sediment along a one-mile stretch of the river. The removal of the sediment will be followed by the placement of a cap over the dredged area. The sediment contains pollutants such as PCBs and PAHs (polychlorinated biphenyls and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), heavy metals, and pesticides. This unique region is one of the most industrialized areas in the country as well as home to some of the most diverse native plant and animal communities in the Great Lakes Basin. Related upland restoration activities near the Grand Calumet River have been under way for many years, including the use of settlement funds to protect and restore of rare habitats such as dune and swale and native prairies. The project area is part of a larger Chicago/Northwest Indiana Corridor where a regional restoration plan is in place. The sediment cleanup and shoreline restoration will complement the habitat restoration efforts.