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Verburg Park to close for PCB cleanup

The next phase of the Kalamazoo River Superfund cleanup starts in March, at Verburg Park in Kalamazoo.

Signs were posted in the park last week letting visitors know that the remediation of the Kalamazoo River, beginning at the end of March, will last about three years, and that Verburg Park will be closed until April 2023.

The responsible parties, Georgia-Pacific and the International Paper Company, will remove PCBs from the river between Gull Road and East Mosel Avenue, but there’s a problem: the hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of sediment released from Morrow Lake in 2020.

As the remedial project manager of the Kalamazoo River site, Jim Saric oversees the project for the Environmental Protection Agency.

“After the Morrow Dam released the sediment, we have had an increase of sediment. It was deposited on top of these areas. Some areas it’s as thick as 2 to 4 feet, some areas it’s not.”

What does that mean for the companies doing the cleanup?

“What it ultimately does is it results in more material having to be excavated from the river as part of our Superfund cleanup,” said Saric.

Saric said turbidity curtains will float alongside and parallel to the bank to help contain the sediment churned-up by excavators pulling the muck out of the river and onto barges. Once it’s removed, the contaminated sediment will be dried at a staging area in Verburg Park, then trucked away for disposal at permitted landfills.

Before any of that can happen, trees along the bank will have to be cut down.

“They have to remove some of the trees so that they can get access to the river and work along the banks from there,” said Saric. “So, they do that and then when the project is done, we have a restoration plan that typically may include, you know, installing other trees.”

While the final restoration plan has not yet been approved, Saric said the park should look better than before. He encouraged concerned citizens to look at completed PCB remediation projects at Portage Creek by the Plainwell Dam or near the Otsego Township Dam. He said vegetation will be replaced, the water will be cleaner and fish in the area will start to recover.

“We’ve made it really clear, it’s safe to recreate in the Kalamazoo River and always has been. Obviously, we don’t want people swimming in the construction zone,” Saric warned. “You really have to avoid the park during this time, just for everyone’s safety because it’s a construction zone.”

To that end the public will not be able to use the current Kalamazoo River Valley Trail that runs alongside the park, but Saric said Kalamazoo County is finalizing plans to reroute the KRVT so people can still use of the trail during the cleanup and have safe access around the construction site.

The boat launch at Verburg Park will also close. Saric said Georgia-Pacific is working with the city to permanently repair the boat launch at Mayors' Riverfront Park. That launch was damaged by the Morrow Dam sediment release and will be repaired before Verburg Park is closed, to give boaters and emergency workers continuous access to the river.

Leona Larson (Gould-McElhone) was a complaint investigator with the Detroit Consumer Affairs Department when she started producing and co-hosting Consumer Conversation with Esther Shapiro for WXYT-Radio in Detroit while freelancing at The Detroit News and other local newspapers. Leona joined WDIV-TV in Detroit as a special project's producer and later, as an investigative producer. Today, she splits her time as a general assignment reporter at WMUK and a part-time journalism instructor for the School of Communications at Western Michigan University. Leona prefers to use her middle name on air because it's shorter and easier to pronounce.