Sunday, November 13, 2005 - By Jeff Alexander - CHRONICLE STAFF WRITER
It sounded like a whopper of a fish story: Workers removing tons of toxic mud from Ruddiman Creek, one of Michigan's most polluted streams, said they spotted two salmon and one trout last week in the beleaguered waterway.
Two members of the creek cleanup crew said they spotted the fish swimming upstream, near Barclay Street in Muskegon. The fish were in an area where crews excavated 7,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment from the creek this summer, replaced the toxic mud with clean sand and armored the creek's channel with tons of rock to reduce stream bank erosion, which has inundated the stream in the past with sand and silt.
Rick Rediske, a local scientist monitoring the $10.6 million cleanup of the stream and Ruddiman Lagoon, said he also has seen fish swimming in the creek recently. He said the cleanup work that has been completed to date has pumped new life into a stream that local industries once used as a dumping ground.
"I think it's going great ... you can see fish in the water and diatoms (the plants that take up nutrients) growing on the stones in the creek," said Rediske, a professor of water resources at Grand Valley State University and chairman of the Muskegon Lake Public Advisory Council.
The cleanup project, which continues through next summer, has three primary objectives: make the creek safe for humans, fish and wildlife by removing 80,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment; restore Ruddiman Creek's natural channel; and stabilize water flows in the creek, which is fed in part by storm water that drains off parking lots and streets in parts of Muskegon, Roosevelt Park, Norton Shores and Muskegon Heights.
The excavation of contaminated sediment in Ruddiman Creek was completed last week. A much larger dredging project in Ruddiman Lagoon will continue through February 2006. Next spring, crews will plant native vegetation along portions of the creek and lagoon where the cleanup work took place.
Crews had to remove an 11-foot-thick layer of sediment in parts of the creek to reach mud considered clean enough for human contact. The excavation will remove a 7-to-9-foot-thick layer of contaminated mud on the bottom of Ruddiman Lagoon.
The Ruddiman Creek cleanup is part of a larger effort to clean up streams that flow into Muskegon Lake, one of 42 Great Lakes toxic hot spots. Local industries that routinely dumped chemical wastes into area waterways prior to 1974 left a legacy of contaminated sediment in Muskegon Lake and some of its tributaries.
Rediske, one of several scientists who documented severe pollution in Ruddiman Creek, said it is gratifying to see water quality improving in the long-abused stream. He said a blanket of sand and stone laid on the bottom and sides of a 225-foot section of the creek, between Sherman Boulevard and Barclay Street, has cleared up the water, reduced stream bank erosion and decreased the amount of sand and silt flowing downstream.
Excessive amounts of sand and silt flowing into the lower creek and Ruddiman Lagoon had filled in parts of the lagoon and triggered a bumper crop of cattails, Rediske said.
The cleanup will create more open water in Ruddiman Lagoon and improve the quality of water flowing into it, Rediske said.
The blanket of 6-inch-diameter rocks lining a portion of the creek -- known officially as a velocity dissipation structure -- survived heavy rains that pounded West Michigan last week, said Eric Bowman, a senior project manager for Environmental Quality Management Inc., which was hired by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to run the project.
"The rocks keep a big rush of water from hitting the lower parts of the creek," Bowman said. "It's amazing how much water comes out of that (storm sewer) pipe."
The rocks cause sand and silt to settle to the bottom of the creek, which makes the creek "crystal clear," said Stavros Emmanouil, the EPA's on-site coordinator. "It's a lot better than it was before."
Bowman said the 8-foot-diameter storm sewer pipe that empties into Ruddiman Creek at Barclay Street carries more than water into the stream.
Heavy rains last week sent an automobile hood into the creek. Cleanup crews also have removed numerous tires, shopping carts and an automobile engine from the creek, Bowman said.
"We haven't found any bodies yet," Bowman said, "or Jimmy Hoffa."
Ruddiman cleanup crew makes progress