Posted on July 12, 2022
There once was a park at Verburg Park.
Technically, the park is not gone — but it’s also not quite there. The land is buried under gravel and heavy machinery. Trail closure signs and fencing keep passersby away from where excavators are busy dredging polluted sediment.
Long-awaited remediation is finally ramping-up in Kalamazoo this summer with the onset of dredging at Verburg Park. Work began in mid-June to remove toxic PCBs from an urban Kalamazoo River cove popular with local fishermen and will continue elsewhere nearby for a couple years.
“In the grand scheme of things, what we’re trying to accomplish is to address some historic contamination in the river,” said Chase Gerbig, senior environmental remediation engineer at Wood PLC, a British firm in charge of the design and engineering on the project.
Georgia-Pacific and International Paper are removing PCBs which have plagued the river since the 1950s, when Kalamazoo paper mills that recycled carbonless copy paper made with the persistent chemicals discharged waste to the river.
To date, most of the cleanup has been in several river-adjacent landfills and downstream communities like Plainwell and Otsego. Design and engineering for the dredging the urbanized stretch between Comstock Township and Parchment began in 2017. The most recent removal took place in late 2020, when PCBs were dug from a side channel at the old Crown Vantage landfill on the edge of Parchment.
The polluted sediment is taken to the park’s south end behind a big grassy berm along Gull Street, where where it’s mixed with Portland cement in a processing area called “The Spa” that features liners and other measures to keep contamination from leaching into the soil. Once drained and hardened, the sediment is sent to the Autumn Hills Landfill near Zeeland.
In the water, turbidity curtains are being used to control sediment migration during dredging. Sand will cover finished areas and banks will be stabilized with rip-rap when complete.
The federally-ordered project was supposed to begin last year, but engineers were thrown a curveball when the Morrow Dam upriver in Comstock Township unexpectedly drained its reservoir in late 2019, flooding the river with an estimated 369,000 cubic yards of additional sediment.
The dam, which adjusts the river flow to generate electricity, is also causing substantial water level fluctuations that Gerbig said creates “headaches” for the dredging effort.
Dredging at Mayors Riverfront Park will occur after those projects are completed.
“When it’s done, it’ll look just like the Verburg Park that it was before we took this over, and in some ways, will actually be better,” Gerbig said.