Lawmakers this week introduced a bill that would allow the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District to build a nearly $100 million project to contain contaminated sediment as part of an intensive cleanup of the waterways that feed Lake Michigan.
MMSD, along with several other state, local and federal partners, plans to build a Dredged Material Management Facility, or DMMF, that would hold nearly 2 million cubic yards of polluted sediment dredged from Milwaukee’s estuary system as part of a significant remediation project that could approach $400 million.
The $96 million DMMF project would fill a 42-acre section of the Milwaukee harbor, an area that could ultimately become developable land. MMSD — along with partners that include the city of Milwaukee, We Energies and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources — are advancing construction of the DMMF facility, among other parts of the estuary cleanup. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, meanwhile, is covering some $260 million in dredging work, or about 65% of the project’s expected cost.
But to start construction on the facility, the agency needs a change in state law. Lawmakers on Monday introduced a bill to give MMSD the authority to build the DMMF. Project partners hope the bill reaches Gov. Tony Evers’ desk soon, allowing construction to get underway next spring. Officials estimate the project could create 1,000 construction jobs.
“It’s fast-tracked. We can start as soon as we get the approvals from the legislative body and the governor,” said Tom Chapman, a project manager for MMSD. “The EPA is all lined up to begin dredging. Everything is lined up to proceed. Its a very valuable and important piece of work to get done.”
Republican State Sens. Dale Kooyenga, R-Brookfield, and Robert Cowles, R-Green Bay, introduced a bill on Monday that would change state statute to give MMSD the authority to build the project and issue bonds to pay for the work. The bill also requires MMSD to adopt a resolution by the end of the year requiring that it won’t raise its capital budget tax levy past 3% through 2028.
The bill was referred to the Senate’s Committee on Natural Resources and Energy. A spokesman for Kooyenga said proponents hope for a public hearing on the bill “in the near future.”
$100M ‘bathtub’ stores polluted sediment
The DMMF project would contain enough sediment to fill 13 football fields 50-feet deep with material. Dredged sediment supplying the containment facility would come from 10.5 miles of Milwaukee’s estuaries — including 6.5 miles of the Milwaukee River and about 2.5 miles each of the Menomonee and Kinnickinnic rivers.
The work is aimed at eliminating the Milwaukee estuary entirely from the EPA’s list of Areas of Concern, or sites that are significantly polluted. The Milwaukee estuary was once home to intense industrial activity that led to extensive pollution. For more than 30 years, the estuary has held latent pollution from that industrial activity.
In early 2020, however, officials from agencies that include the EPA, Wisconsin DNR and city of Milwaukee reached a deal to accelerate a cleanup of the area and fund the project. MMSD and We Energies recently completed design work for the project, with Foth Infrastructure & Environment serving as a consultant.
If lawmakers grant MMSD the authority to build the DMMF project, the agency could begin bidding construction work late this year. The project would build 51 cellular coffer dams 46 feet in diameter in an area of the harbor north of the Lake Express Ferry terminal and east of South Lincoln Memorial Drive in Milwaukee. The project would essentially create a large “bathtub” designed to hold sediment from the dredging projects, said Bridget Henk, a senior project manager for MMSD, during a public hearing on the project last month.
An analysis of the project conducted by the Wisconsin DNR found that building the DMMF would cost about half of the $200 million it would take to dispose of sediment by trucking it to a landfill.
Once construction of the DMMF wraps up in late 2023 or 2024, crews are expected to finish filling each of the segments of the project by 2027. It could take years for the sediment to settle before the entire area is capped. Eventually — potentially decades in the future — the area could be used as developable land.
“Its a win-win for the region to get all of this work done,” Chapman said. “There will be tremendous economic growth and value out of that because it will be a cleaner environment.”Follow @natebeck9