How do we get over a century’s worth of construction debris out of the Huron River, or doesn’t it really matter?

As many of you probably know, crews have begun work constructing a bike bridge over the Huron River, just east of downtown, as part of the Border To Border Trail connecting Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti… Well, in the process of doing so, they’ve cleared away vegetation from both sides of the river, exposing the massive amounts of historic construction debris that form the banks of the Huron. Here, to give you a sense of what I’m talking about, is a photo that I just took this evening while walking my dog through Riverside Park.


I know, in the whole scheme of things, it’s probably pretty low down on the list of things that need to be dealt with in the city, but it always occurs to me, as I’m walking along the Huron, and notice a giant chunk of concrete or asphalt sticking out of the water, that I should probably ask someone and see if perhaps there may be grants available to help communities like ours deal with such things. While a lot of us do what we can to pick up garbage along the river, there some things that just aren’t possible without professional crews and heavy equipment, and I’m curious as to whether we may have access to such resources in the future. Again, I know this is probably low priority, but I’ve thought about it for years, and today, thanks to the work being done on this new bridge, I finally had an image to help me convey the situation.

When I talked with Elizabeth Riggs at the Huron Watershed Council not too long ago, I know she mentioned that they were raising a fund that would allow them to “remediate legacy pollution sites and restore natural shorelines,” but I don’t know to what extent they were planning to focus on our little piece of the river… Maybe it’s time for me to follow up.

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  1. Lynne
    Posted September 23, 2015 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    I wouldnt be opposed to spending public money to clean that up but I have to agree that it is probably a low priority. My concern is that there might be toxic chemicals in that construction debris such as lead or asbestos or who knows? The look of it has never bothered me so if it were a purely aesthetic issue, I would be ok with just planting some good plants to cover it up. I wonder if it would be worth testing the soil. I wonder where one would send it. I know that 15 years ago when I bought my house, the bank wanted me to have the soil tested because the lot next store was a known brownfield (since cleaned up, thanks State of Michigan!) and it was going to cost me several thousand dollars. The thing is, if there are toxic chemicals in that debris, it not only would be important to clean up, it would probably be eligible for more grants.

  2. HR
    Posted September 23, 2015 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    Have Lauara Rubin back on your show and ask her.


  3. Eel
    Posted September 23, 2015 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    Most of the big stuff along the bank of the river seems to be cement, so I doubt it poses too much of an environmental threat. It’s more of an eyesore. Maybe the solution is to have a sledgehammer party and break it up.

  4. Posted September 23, 2015 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    Turn Frog Island back into an island?

    As is, the construction debris is probably the better part of erosion control on much of the riverbank through the parks — removing it probably requires putting back new rip-rap and plantings to replace it (and possibly rethinking some of the slopes: does the river edge of frog island need to be so high/steep?). Could look at this as riverbank / habitat restoration or runoff / pollutant prevention, when thinking about funding-friendly keywords?

  5. Mr. X
    Posted September 23, 2015 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    Yes. Unless it poses either a safety or health problem, I’d be inclined to cover deposits like this with vegetation and focus on the larger pieces of debris that are not on the bank, but in the river proper.

  6. Lee
    Posted September 23, 2015 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    not exactly related, but this made me think of it… Many many years ago, a friend and I noted a bicycle in the river right by the foot bridge under cross street. For some reason, we were hell bent on getting it out. Not because it was a good bike, it was garbage, just for fun — the summer can be brutally boring. We made a few different tries on it over a few days. In the end, we got close once hoisting it out with a rope and some other mechanisms, but lost it and it went further down and unreachable. Certainly still in there somewhere.

  7. Elizabeth Riggs
    Posted September 24, 2015 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

    Whoa, that’s a rough looking river bank, Mark. I would hope that stabilization of the bank with some of today’s preferred techniques is included in the scope of the construction for the bridge and trail. We could ask Beth Ernat or Ralph Langes at the City.

    But, I believe, that the question you asked was more broadly about the condition of the riverbanks through the city and how to remediate problem sections. I’m not aware of any recent survey that looks at quality of the riverbanks in the city for restoration/stabilization potential. A survey would provide an overall assessment of the conditions and help with prioritizing areas needing attention and what the goal is for improvement. In some areas, the goal may be to improve habitat for fish, bird, etc., while others may be to remove hazards or beautify for civic pride. Different goals, different solutions.

    (Some sections of the river have been assessed by HRWC and others, such as for the current fish habitat project that we’re leading and a city-initiated review of banks in Riverside Park from a few years back. Some parts are, in fact, fairly nice.)

    In a nutshell, I’m reticent to suggest that there’s one solution for treating the highly modified riverbanks. If there’s enough interest, leaf-off is a good time for a survey!

  8. Posted September 25, 2015 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    Stripmining my email archive for active grant opportunities:

    NOAA FY2016 Community-based Marine Debris Removal: Projects awarded through this grant competition will implement effective, on-the-ground marine debris removal activities, with priority for those targeting medium- large-scale debris, including derelict fishing gear. Projects should also provide benefits to coastal communities, and create long-term ecological habitat improvements for NOAA trust resources. $15k-$350k with 50/50 local match requirement, proposals due Nov. 2. Not sure if the Huron qualifies?

    EPA 2015/2016 Urban Waters Small Grants: EPA seeks to fund projects that address urban runoff pollution through diverse partnerships that produce multiple community benefits, with emphasis on underserved communities. … [Eligible activities] engage communities in learning about, planning and developing green infrastructure/low impact development (LID) approaches, programs and practices that enhance the sustainability of their communities and more effectively manage urban runoff / stormwater pollution [or] include stream/stormwater system surveys, investigations and/or monitoring efforts that involve the collection, assessment/analysis, and/or communication of existing/new water quality data as they relate to addressing urban runoff/stormwater pollution. $40k-$60k grants with minimum $4k local match. Proposals due Nov. 20. Reading eligible/ineligible activities, this wouldn’t cover actually hauling out debris, but could maybe be used to inventory and evaluate riverbank conditions (including debris) and develop plans for debris removal and bank restoration with a focus on runoff control and erosion management?

    …but these are not programs I’m familiar with beyond the grant notice spam, so somebody would need to dig further to figure out whether/how they’d apply.

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