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Published: Saturday, 3/6/2010

Ottawa River's rebirth

AFTER too many delays, the Ottawa River is finally ready to shake its reputation as the most polluted waterway in the state. The long-awaited cleanup of the riverbed hits high gear in early May. Completion is expected by December.

No one expects the Ottawa to be brought back to full ecological health overnight. But it will be on a solid course of restoration.

The project, one of the largest recovery efforts of its kind in Great Lakes history, will cost $49 million. Half of that amount will come from the government under the Great Lakes Legacy Act, enacted by Congress to remove polluted sediment from Great Lakes harbors and tributaries.

The rest will be covered by a group that includes the City of Toledo and seven companies that were among 13 targeted by the government for legal action in 2004 to address the site. Historically, Environmental Protection Agency officials say, rivers were often used as almost industrial sewers, and the Ottawa is no different.

The restoration process involves removing more than five miles of tainted sediment, with most of it going to Toledo's Hoffman

Road landfill. Material deemed too chemically volatile for the landfill will be transported to a facility in southeast Michigan that is licensed to accept it. Water will be drained and treated before it is returned to the river.

The goal is to make the Ottawa, which flows into western Lake Erie's Maumee Bay, a place that people can again swim safely in, and catch walleye good enough to eat.

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