May 7, 2007
Senator Herb Kohl
Dear Senator Kohl,
The Brown County Conservation Alliance (Alliance) voted on May 2, 2007 to send this letter urging you to support Congressman Steve Kagen's efforts to reopen investigation of the Fox River PCB cleanup in Northeast Wisconsin.
The Alliance is a coalition of 12 hunting, fishing, boating, environmental protection and education, and outdoor recreation organizations, including the Green Bay Boating Club, Southern Brown Conservation Club, Izaak Walton League, Northeast Wisconsin Audubon Society, Baird Creek Preservation Foundation, Green Bay Duck Hunters Association, Trout Unlimited, Northeast Wisconsin Beagle Club, Clean Water Action Council, DePere Sportsmen's Club, Green Bay Area Great Lakes Sportfishermen, and the Green Bay Garden Club. We have a combined membership of more than 1,200 members. The Alliance is also an affiliate member of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation.
Specifically, we urge you to uphold Congressman Kagen's action in the House of Representatives, and pull a provision from the Senate version of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) that would enable the federally authorized Fox River shipping channel depth from the Georgia-Pacific Plant upstream to the De Pere Dam to be reduced from 18 to only 6 feet in depth, and the width from 150 to only 75 feet.
We also urge you to oppose the paper corporationsí plan for capping PCB contaminated sediments in the Fox River. We support these actions because:
1. This section of the river is a popular boating area used by the public and our members for fishing and recreational boating. Many recreational boats are large and could be damaged or entirely excluded from use by filling the channel and riverbed. Sailboats, in particular, need deep drafts for their keels as they pass through this area. According to a 2005 study by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR), 348,738 residents (43.5% of total residents) of the Northeast Region of the state participated in motor boating between 1992-2002. Another 40,692 (5.1%) participated in sailing, and 402,995 (50.3%) participated in fishing during the same period. (Please see report excerpt attached.) DNR records indicate that, currently, there are some 21,205 boats registered to Brown County residents alone. Water sports are popular and valuable for our members' quality of life.
2. This particular section of the river is internationally known as a trophy walleye fishery, with most anglers fishing from boats. Fishing tournaments bring thousands of anglers to our area each year, creating substantial economic benefits and stature for our community. Filling the channel and riverbed could alter the availability, spawning, habitat, and angling behavior of fish in this valuable area, reducing our members' recreational harvests and damaging local tourism businesses. We don't feel these impacts have been properly studied.
3. Climate change is expected to change Wisconsin precipitation and seasonal river flows in coming decades. A 6 foot depth could shrink to 5, 4 or 3 feet during dry spells, and nearby filled areas could become even more shallow. This could have disastrous effects on our members' abilities to boat and fish in the river.
4. A huge taxpayer investment is being made to maintain and improve the historic Fox River Locks system between Green Bay and Lake Winnebago. A drastically reduced channel below the De Pere Dam could permanently cripple attempts to capitalize on the commercial tourism benefits of the Locks system. Currently, the dam at Rapide Croche is closed with a sea lamprey barrier, but efforts are underway to develop boat lifts and cleaning processes to allow large boats to travel the entire Fox River, even past this barrier. Other additional and unknown future river uses may also become critically important over the coming decades.
5. As the Fox River becomes cleaner and our population grows in future years, the demand for public uses of the waterway are likely to increase, opening many new opportunities for our members and the tourism industry of our area.
6. Many of our members work in local businesses with connections to Great Lakes commercial shipping, so we are also concerned about the broader economic base of our community. Because the industry capping proposal targets such a dispersed patchwork of capping sites in the last 7 miles of the river, it would make much of the riverbed permanently off limits. It could seriously impede future efforts to increase or improve commercial shipping in this port. In particular, DePere and Ashwaubenon would be permanently cut off from the port. In addition, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will be forced to spend millions of our tax dollars to dredge and remove thousands of cubic yards of sand which have eroded into and filled the currently active shipping channel. Much of the capping proposal involves loose sand which would be spread as a temporary sand blanket over the river bottom. No one expects that sand to stay where it is placed.
7. This capping technology has never been proven to work in the long-term on a flowing river of this size, particularly at a northern latitude with high potential for freeze-thaw pressures and major ice-shoves during storms. According to experts who have reviewed the scientific basis of the capping proposal, many important questions still remain unanswered and several weak assumptions have been challenged. We have no confidence that the caps will permanently contain the PCBs and protect our members' health and wildlife. Capping is a risky, experimental approach which should be avoided. Enclosed is a copy of a letter from a local interagency science and technical advisory committee to the Environmental Protection Agency which summarizes significant design, engineering and monitoring issues that have not been adequately addressed in plans to date.
8. The long-term liability for monitoring the structural viability, performance, maintenance and repair of the caps has not been clearly defined. Specific liability commitments should be in place before plan approval, to protect the community and taxpayers from bearing an unexpected longterm financial burden in the future.
It would be shortsighted to abandon future tourism and commercial shipping industry opportunities for the sole purpose of making the Fox River cleanup less costly today for the paper corporations. The Fox River is an increasingly valuable public resource which should not be permanently limited for private purposes.
We urge you to support a return to the prior version of the Fox River Cleanup Plan, which relied on dredging and removal of PCB contaminated sediments. This is a tried and proven technology on the Fox River, already used successfully for 3 years on Little Lake Butte des Morts upstream.
Ronald Vander Loop, President
cc: Senator Russ Feingold