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Restorative action begins on Utica’s portion of Clinton River

Residents encouraged to do their part

By: Sarah Wojcik | Shelby - Utica News | Published August 21, 2017

 Funded through a federal grant, restorative actions in and along the Clinton River should begin soon at Heritage Park, according to Utica Department of Public Works Superintendent Bill Lang.

Funded through a federal grant, restorative actions in and along the Clinton River should begin soon at Heritage Park, according to Utica Department of Public Works Superintendent Bill Lang.

Photo by Sarah Wojcik

UTICA — In 2015, Sterling Heights and Utica partnered to take advantage of a $4.5 million U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant geared at cleaning up 9 miles of the Clinton River — 2 in Utica and 7 in Sterling Heights.

The grant — part of the Clinton River Corridor Habitat and Restoration Project — aims to foster and protect aquatic life in the river and stabilize its banks.

During the Aug. 8 Utica City Council meeting, Utica Department of Public Works Superintendent Bill Lang said the work is coming to an end in Sterling Heights, and crews will move into Utica soon. Work in Utica had not yet begun as of Aug. 17.

“They’re making some habitat and shoreline stabilization upgrades to the stretch within Heritage Park, and then moving upstream to an area behind the DPW, and then farther upstream,” he said.

Lang said that there is more work to do in the river than there is funding, so the city chose to address the “worst or most detrimental” areas to the health of the river. He cautioned the mayor and City Council members that they might get calls concerning equipment in the river.

“That is absolutely the way it is done and the restoration efforts are carried out, so it’s permissible,” Lang said. “The (Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is) there, and the EPA is watching over what goes on.”

He estimated that the work in Utica’s portion of the river will take about a month.

Councilwoman Faith Terenzi asked about kayakers and canoers. Lang said the city will let the public know when limited river closures will take place via its Facebook page, www.facebook.com/CityofUticaMichigan, and other media channels.

While officials initially hoped to finish the work before 2017, Clinton River Watershed Council ecologist Matt Einheuser said all parties involved quickly realized that restoration efforts would take longer than originally anticipated.

Acquiring state permits and working around seasonal timelines to avoid disturbing certain animals’ habitats, such as bats and fish, extended the length of the project, he said.

In a prior interview, Gerard Santoro, the Macomb County land and water resources program manager, said the EPA grant will specifically implement better forms of stormwater management at access sites along the Clinton River, as well as in public areas where retrofits can be developed to prevent stormwater in parking lots and roads from flowing directly into the river.

The work will help cool the river, which is better for fisheries; eliminate debris and soil deposition; and add natural plants to mitigate pollutants, Santoro said.

The ultimate goal, Einheuser said, is to get the Clinton River delisted as an “area of concern.”

“It’s really encouraging to see the investment in our urban rivers and finding that balance between natural environment and the environment we’ve created as humans,” Einheuser said.

He said mitigating efforts have made a lot of improvements to the Clinton River, but there is still more to do.

There are steps the public can take to help delist the Clinton River as an “area of concern.”

One of the main problems is stormwater runoff into the river, Einheuser said, because it carries contaminants and causes high-energy erosion.

Diverting roof runoff from gutters to native vegetation to slow it down, cool it off and naturally clean it — instead of allowing it to flow directly into storm sewers — and planting trees on private property along the shoreline of the Clinton River are two ways those in the Clinton River watershed can help, he said.

“Grass has roots less than an inch deep, and that really does not add any structure to the soil or protection to the bank, so leaving a buffer or repairing areas made of vegetation or high grass can do a lot for the stream bank,” Einheuser said.

He added that the Clinton River Watershed Council offers a variety of volunteer opportunities and programs to clean up and monitor the river, such as its Adopt-A-Stream program.

The Clinton River watershed spans 760 square miles, four counties, 72 communities and 1.5 million people, according to www.crwc.org.

For more information or to volunteer, contact the Clinton River Watershed Council at (248) 601-0606, email contact@crwc.org, or visit www.crwc.org or www.facebook.com/ClintonRiverWatershedCouncil.