ISHPEMING - U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Detroit visit Ishpeming Friday to tour the completed first phase of a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant funded project diverting Partridge Creek from mine workings underneath the city that have contributed to increased levels of mercury in Deer Lake.
The total cost of the two-phase project is estimated at $8.3 million. The EPA awarded a $2 million Great Lakes Restorative Initiative grant to the city for the first phase of the project.
Construction costs came in under budget and the city plans to return about $20,000 to the EPA. Engineering and design cost about $350,000 for the initial project phase.
From left, State Rep. Steve Lindberg, D-Marquette, Ishpeming City Manager Jered Ottenwess, Ishpeming Mayor Pat Scanlon and U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Detroit, tour the Partridge Creek diversion project Friday in Ishpeming. (Journal photo by John Pepin)
This revamped section of the former stream bed of Partridge Creek, north of East Ridge Street in Ishpeming, is scheduled to again be flowing with water next year after completion of the city’s diversion project. (Journal photo by John Pepin)
"It's reassuring, I can tell my colleagues that our Great Lakes initiative money is put to very good use. Of course, I knew that before I got here, but this adds to the argument for me," Levin said. "It always helps to see the way our funds are spent. People read a lot about the way funds are misspent. It's important that people here know how important these federal programs are and how important this Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is.
"The budget's tight, obviously and we're cutting budgets. So it's always a battle for the priorities which matter to us on the Great Lakes. This is an important one so when we see it actually being finished and under budget, that gives us a good argument."
Phase one involved ripping up streets to replace storm sewer piping under the city. Much of the work congested and rerouted traffic in the downtown area this past summer, where the streets were recently repaved.
Ishpeming Mayor Pat Scanlon said the city was grateful for the grant funding.
"The best thing was that the government came through with money when we were desperate," Scanlon said. "So it was nice to have the senator here, mainly to thank him for his help and to have him come and look at the job to see where the money's going and to be able to tell him we're under budget. We're going to give some money back."
Ishpeming City Manager Jered Ottenwess said the second phase of the project is expected to cost $1 million for design and engineering and $5 million for construction. When the project is completed, the final hurdle to having the EPA's Area of Concern designation removed from Deer Lake will have been achieved.
Since around 1970, Partridge Creek was diverted into the New York Mine pit off Seventh Street in Ishpeming, with permission of the Cleveland Cliffs Iron Co.
From the pit, the water enters workings underneath the city of the Cliffs Shaft Mine, which are filled with water. The creek causes water to flow through the underground portion of the mine and out to the Carp River, which then flows to Deer Lake north of Ishpeming.
The lake is home to trophy pike and other game fish, but a health fish consumption warning, because of mercury, allows catch and release fishing only.
"Deer Lake is contaminated with mercury from several sources, including a former gold mine, natural processes, former lab operations at the mine and existing sediment," a city pamphlet on the project states. "The mercury in Deer Lake resulted in elevated levels in the lake's fish."
City officials said the project to divert Partridge Creek out of the mine workings and into a storm sewer flowing under the city to the Carp River will help eliminate the only controllable source of mercury contamination to Deer Lake.
More federal GLRI grant money has been awarded for phase two of the project. The city is in the design and planning stage and if work stays on track, construction will begin next May and be completed in September.
"We'll be able to complete the diversion at that time, the conclusion of phase two," Ottenwess said.
Levin and state Rep. Steve Lindberg, D-Marquette, walked from the Ishpeming City Hall with Ottenwess and Scanlon down Main Street, up Cleveland Avenue and Third Street to north of East Ridge Street, where the creek's flow is expected to be restored next fall.
"It's amazing to have a U.S. senator here checking out the project, not to mention one of the U.S. senators that's endorsed and supported the GLRI more than any other," Ottenwess said. "That's amazing. It's great to see the support for the initiative and to see what kind of impacts it has on the local community. A lot of gratitude to the senator."
John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.