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Release Date: February 18, 1999
Contacts: Jennifer Day Windsor, ON (519) 257-6733
Bruce Kirschner Windsor, ON (519) 257-6710

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 percent.
  • 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 agencies;
  • 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; and
  • specific outreach activities are needed to better communicate with Native American/First Nation communities.

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 www.ijc.org/php/publications/html/stmarys/status.html(.)

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