International Joint Commission Recommends Actions on
Restoration Activities for the St. Marys River
The International Joint Commission (IJC) today announces findings and recommendations from its
assessment of federal, state and provincial governments' activities toward St. Marys River restoration.
The assessment notes successes, recent developments and opportunities to overcome obstacles in the
ongoing effort to restore and protect the river under the binational Remedial Action Plan (RAP).
The status assessment
evaluates ongoing remediation by the responsible governments and is not an
environmental audit of current conditions in the St. Marys River. The Ontario Ministry of Environment
and Environment Canada have primary administrative responsibility of shared activities for the St.
Marys River RAP. This responsibility was confirmed by the Four Agency Framework of Roles and
Responsibilities for the Implementation of the Detroit River, St. Clair River and St. Marys River Shared
RAPs signed in Spring 1998. According to the IJC's U.S. Chairman Tom Baldini, "The signing of this
framework by the four agencies gives RAP implementation activities for the St. Marys River Area of
Concern a real shot in the arm." The four agency framework also includes the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.
The IJC regards the leadership section of the four agency framework to be among its most
important elements. Promised necessary actions in this section include:
- demonstration of leadership through visibility;
- empowerment of local leadership;
- recognition of successes;
- active pursuit of solutions to problems;
- help to define research needs and gaps; and
- facilitation of the transfer of information and methodologies.
The IJC's findings of notable successes in the St. Marys River Area of Concern include:
- Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan initiated a 25-year, five-phase project to correct combined sewer
overflows. This undertaking has been supported by state revolving loan fund low-interest loans.
- Algoma Steel Corporation [Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario] has completed a filtration plant costing
about $20 million [Cdn]. As a result, discharge of phenols has been reduced from about 551
pounds [250 kilograms] per day, circa 1990, to about 2.2 pounds [one kilogram] per day.
- St. Marys Paper Company [Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario], in 1995, installed a secondary treatment
facility that has reduced biological oxygen demand and suspended solids from the facility by 70
- During 1999, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will oversee action to remediate the
Cannelton Industries Superfund site.
- Habitat rehabilitation and enhancement projects have been implemented or are planned in
Ontario. These projects include restoration of walleye spawning areas, planned rapids habitat
and planned protection and restoration of wetlands.
- Lake Superior State University with funding provided by Michigan Department of
Environmental Quality and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is providing enhanced
logistical support to the St. Marys River Binational Public Advisory Council.
The IJC's findings noted some obstacles to the timely restoration of the St. Marys River including:
- opportunities exist to improve coordination between agencies;
- local citizens and the remediation effort would benefit from improved consultation by the
- enhanced monitoring of environmental conditions is necessary in order to enhance the agencies'
ability to recognize remedial actions that are completed by the two major industries and cities;
- specific outreach activities are needed to better communicate with Native American/First Nation
The IJC is pleased to recognize the advances made since the initiation of its status assessment. The
agencies' actions since signing the framework clearly demonstrate their intent to substantially fulfill the
requirements of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. The United States and Canada, in
cooperation with state and provincial governments, agreed to develop and implement RAPs in a 1987
protocol to the Agreement. A RAP is to embody a systematic and comprehensive ecosystem approach to
restoring and protecting beneficial uses in its respective Area of Concern. There are currently 42 Areas
of Concern in the Great Lakes basin.
The IJC is a binational Canada-United States organization established by the Boundary Waters Treaty of
1909. The treaty recognizes that each country is affected by the other's actions in the lake and river
systems along their common border. The IJC's primary purpose is to prevent and resolve disputes
concerning these shared waters. Under the 1987 Protocol, the IJC is to review and comment on RAPs
during each of the three stages of development. The IJC initiated status assessments to examine progress
in specific Areas of Concern and open lake waters. The St. Marys River Area of Concern is the second
such evaluation. The full text of this status assessment is available on the Internet at