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EPA Won't Remove PCBs In Floodplain During Work On Otsego Township Dam

The Otsego Township Dam
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

The Environmental Protection Agency ordered what’s called a “time-critical removal action” for the area behind the Otsego Township Dam. The failing Kalamazoo River dam is struggling to hold PCBs leftover from old paper mills. The action orders the responsible parties to remove PCBs from behind the dam - even though that part of the river isn’t scheduled to be cleaned up for several years. 

Meanwhile, contaminated soil near the river has been eroding into the water. Though workers plan to dredge riverbanks near the dam, the EPA says the order does not allow them to dig up the floodplain. That will have to wait until the EPA formally addresses that area of the river.

“We tried to work with the responsible parties to add that component, but in the end the time-criticality and the limits of what we were going to dig out was solely related to what we believe would be transported downstream if the Bittersweet Dam or the Otsego Dam failed,” says EPA On-site Coordinator Paul Ruesch.

Gary Wagar is the executive director of the Kalamazoo River Cleanup Coalition. He says the EPA should not have to issue these special orders to get the responsible parties to move forward on the Kalamazoo River cleanup.  

“Time-critical removal action is the only thing that moves these people to get some action done,” says Wagar.

Officials with the EPA say the agency has to follow protocol and sometimes that takes a long time. Part of the Kalamazoo River will be closed to the public near the M-89 bridge. The EPA cautions drivers to slow down for workers in the area.

Rebecca Thiele was an environmental reporter and producer of Arts & More for WMUK. She worked at the station from 2011 to 2019.
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