ISHPEMING - Ishpeming's Partridge Creek diversion project is getting a big boost, with the announcement Friday morning of $6 million in grants from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Funded through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the grant funding will help the city complete phase two of the project, with the first phase currently under construction. The grant does not require a local match.
The EPA will provide $4.8 million this year and an additional $1.2 million in 2013.
Patricia Birkholz, director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’ Office of the Great Lakes, speaks Friday during the announcement of $6 million in grants award to the city of Ishpeming for its Partridge Creek diversion project. (Journal photo by Johanna Boyle)
"It's quite a day for Ishpeming and the Partridge Creek project," Ishpeming City Manager Jered Ottenwess said. "I can't believe how much progress there has been."
The project will remove the creek's waters from mine workings under the city where it is picking up mercury contamination. The creek will be routed through the city's storm sewer system where it will flow once again into Deer Lake. Eliminating that source of mercury could enable Deer Lake to be eliminated as an Area of Concern.
"When the second phase is done, Partridge Creek will no longer flow through the abandoned mines underneath Ishpeming and will no longer carry mercury into Deer Lake," EPA regional administrator Susan Hedman said. "Deer Lake has some of the best fishing in the U.P. Preventing mercury contamination from reaching Deer Lake will be the first step needed for the state of Michigan to remove fish consumption advisories from the lake.
"This project improves the environment here in the U.P. It makes Ishpeming and the Deer Lake fish healthier and therefore makes the people who consume those fish healthier. And it will expand recreational opportunities."
The grants will allow the city to move forward with preparations for phase two of the project, beginning by selecting a firm to perform the engineering on the project and accepting the grant agreement, which is expected to come at a special meeting set for 7 p.m. Wednesday.
Optimistically, the city could complete the underground sewer portion of phase two this fall with the open channel stream portion that will complete the project coming in the spring of 2013.
The diversion structure that will reroute the water at the east end of the city is also included in phase two.
"You are improving your community... and with Partridge Creek as the primary waterway contaminating Deer Lake and increasing the elevated levels of mercury, you said this is not acceptable. It's not acceptable to our community, to our people nor to our future," said Patricia Birkholz, director of the Great Lakes Office of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.
An EPA grant awarded in 2010 provided $2 million for phase one of the project.
For the city, the grant announcement is "huge," Mayor Pat Scanlon said.
"The council has worked ... very tirelessly," Scanlon said. "It's a great day for the city of Ishpeming."
Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.