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Public invited to help restore St. Marys River

Wednesday, November 16, 2011   by: SooToday.com StaffNEWS RELEASE

ALGOMA UNIVERSITY

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St. Marys River Environmental Advisory Group encourages public participation in upcoming meeting

The Binational Public Advisory Council keeps ‘the restoration and remediation fire burning,’ says chair Greg Zimmerman

Ongoing environmental restoration efforts in the St. Marys River will be the subject of discussion at a public meeting on Tuesday, November 22 at Algoma University in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.

The meeting will bring together members of the Binational Public Advisory Council (BPAC), a stakeholder group with representatives from either side of the international border.

With the river showing noticeable signs of recovery, BPAC chair Greg Zimmerman hopes that more members of the general public will attend and take part in advising government clean-up initiatives and celebrating the recreational, cultural and ecological attributes of the St. Marys River.

“We would really like to get more people involved,” says Zimmerman, a professor of biology at Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. “The St. Marys River is a focal point of our sense of place with respect to fishing, boating, beauty, history and culture. We’d really like to hear more from people about how a healthy St. Marys River fits into their lives.”

The BPAC was formed shortly after the St. Marys River was designated a Great Lakes Area of Concern in 1987.

Under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, Canadian and U.S. government agencies developed a remedial action plan (RAP) to address the issues that have made the river an environmental hotspot - including the cumulative impacts that contaminated industrial waste, sewage and stormwater have had on fish populations and habitat, shoreline, sediment, and overall water quality.

The legacy of nearly a century of development is manifest in restrictions on fish consumption, beach closures, algal blooms, and elevated toxins in bottom-dwelling organisms, among other “beneficial use impairments,” all of which the RAP aims to address.

The BPAC’s role is to engage stakeholders and members of the general public to advise, critique and recommend actions taken by government agencies on both sides of the border to remediate the St. Marys River.

The group’s membership is comprised of Lake Superior State University, Algoma University, the Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, local environmental consulting firms, Bay Mills Indian Community, Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians, the Municipalities of Sault Ste. Marie Michigan and Ontario, Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority, Chippewa East Mackinac Conservation District, Algoma Public Health, Chippewa County Health Department and members of the general public, including longtime participants Al Wright, Don Marles, James Dukes and Mary Rossiter.

Because the RAP process is contingent upon public involvement and support, BPAC plays a critical role in advocating restoration projects and the ultimate “delisting” of the St. Marys River Area of Concern.

“BPAC’s job is to continue to advocate for the agencies to get work done and to help facilitate the necessary collaborations to get the work done,” says Zimmerman. “BPAC also provides stakeholders with a forum for expressing their desires on how we want the river to ultimately be restored.”

In 2010, Dr. Paula Antunes of the Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre and Algoma University helped strengthen Canada’s effort by taking on a facilitation role in the RAP process.

The Innovation Centre and Algoma University work jointly to communicate information to the public and harmonize ongoing rehabilitation efforts led by Environment Canada and the MOE.

Algoma University-based RAP Coordinator Corrina Barrett agrees with Zimmerman that it’s time more residents of the Canadian Sault get involved and voice their opinion as the St. Marys River enters its final phase of remediation.

“Becoming involved with BPAC allows members of the public to keep informed about issues concerning our local waterway,” says Barrett. “It also provides a unique opportunity to have a voice in the restoration of the St. Marys River.”

Current projects are focused on developing strategies to manage contaminated sediments on the river bottom east of the Bellevue Marine Park area - a subject to be discussed at the November 22 meeting, which is scheduled for 6 p.m. in the Biosciences and Technology Convergence Centre, BT 305.

Environment Canada scientists will attend the meeting to present the findings of two recent studies that provided insight into the extent of the impacts of pollution on sediment-dwelling species on the Canadian side of the St. Marys River and the depth of which toxins have contaminated the river bottom.

“In order to assess how we are going to deal with the sediments, we have to understand what the degree of impairment is,” says Barrett. “These studies will help to determine progress made to date, and better target resources for future action.”

Meanwhile, Zimmerman’s end goal is the anticipation of a renewed and revitalized St. Marys River.

“It took decades to degrade the river, and it has taken decades of ongoing effort to keep the restoration and remediation fire burning,” he says. “Finally, after all those years, we are seeing progress. Both countries and the provincial and state governments have made substantial investments in the restoration. Let’s not let that work lapse.”

What: Binational Public Advisory Council meeting

When: Tuesday, November 22, 6 p.m.

Where: Algoma University, Biosciences and Technology Convergence Centre, BT 305

For more information: www.lssu.edu/bpac

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