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EPA looking for feedback on cleanup plan that includes removing Otsego City Dam

Kalamazoo River
Lindsey Smith
Michigan Radio
The last remnants of the Plainwell Dam pictured in 2013. Georgia-Pacific paid to remove this particular dam in the Kalamazoo River in 2007.

Federal environmental regulators want to remove the Otsego City Dam in Allegan County in an effort to clean up toxic chemicals left behind by the paper mill industry.

The newly proposed plan released late last week also includes excavating some of the contaminated Kalamazoo River banks, and rerouting the river channel past the most contaminated areas.

The small section is just part of a 77-mile stretch of the Kalamazoo River that's been designated a superfund site; from east of Kalamazoo all the way to the mouth of the river at Lake Michigan. The EPA has been slowly working its way downstream, breaking up the contaminated areas into more manageable bites.

Cleaning up this 2-mile section will cost about $46 million and take about 5 years to complete.

Related: What's the fate of one of the largest pollution cleanup projects in Michigan?

The EPA estimates there are about 113,000 pounds of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, in the sediment and floodplain of the Kalamazoo River. PCBs can cause cancer and other health effects. A number of paper mills dumped the chemicals in the river decades ago. 

The real human health risk comes from eating fish from the river.

By rerouting the channel, and closing off a more contaminated anabranch, “fish would no longer have routine access to these areas with higher PCB concentrations,” the EPA wrote.

“Dam removal is also desired by the City of Otsego and the State of Michigan for several reasons, including reducing long-term dam maintenance and restoring natural free-flowing conditions to the river,” the proposed plan reads.

The EPA considered eight options for the site, saying this one is “protective of human health and the environment… straightforward in its implementation, and would be effective in the long term and permanent.”

But the EPA has not made the decision final. The agency will host a meeting July 25th at the Otsego Public Library at 6p.m. to share information with residents and take feedback. They’ll accept written feedback through August 30th.

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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