EPA announces $450M for Milwaukee Estuary contaminated sediment cleanup

Oct. 20, 2023
A funding agreement between the U.S. EPA and five non-federal sponsors will help to clean up nearly two million cubic yards of contaminated sediment from Milwaukee Harbor and the three rivers in the urban Milwaukee area.

The U.S. EPA announced a new funding agreement to invest an estimated $450 million to clean up nearly two million cubic yards of contaminated sediments from the Milwaukee Estuary Area of Concern — the largest cleanup project to ever be implemented under the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the Great Lakes Legacy Act.

The project agreement is between EPA and five non-federal sponsors. The cleanup will 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.

“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,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “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.”

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.

The parties will work together 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.