Going to Work in Kalamazoo, MI

Cleanup of the contaminated Kalamazoo River is underway in Michigan, and the $21 million environmental restoration project is boosting the local economy by providing jobs for people and clients for local businesses.

The work is by no means replacing the hundreds of knowledge jobs lost when pharmaceutical giant Phizer announced a pullout earlier this year. But it's good hard honest work nonetheless - something the people of the Great Lakes excel at - and it's adding value to the local quality of life that will improve the Kalamazoo region's competitiveness in the modern economy.

The river cleanup primarily involves removing some 132,000 cubic yards of waste material, including 4,400 pounds of PCBs, a nasty chemical linked to an array of adverse health effects such as cancer and reproductive disorders.

Removing the toxin-laden soil and sediments, disposing of them, and restoring the riverbanks with a green buffer is putting some 75 people to work, according to Stephen Garbaciak, a principal engineer and vice president of ARCADIS BBL, the firm managing the work.

"On-site contractor labor executing the construction typically will be between 10 and 30 personnel with an average of 20 during 2007," Mr. Grabaciak told the Great Lakes Guy. "In addition, four construction oversight personnel, a surveyor, and a health and safety professional will be on site full time."

"A team of over 50 scientists and engineers have contributed to the site evaluation and design of the removal project," Grabaciak added.

Much of the work is going to local firms. Terra Contracting in Kalamazoo is managing earthwork construction and transportation services. A yet-to-be named company from the Great Lakes region will install sheet steel pilings to retain the river banks as well as a system to manage the water flow. All aggregate materials are being purchased locally. And a local contractor will seed native plantings along the river banks to complete the project.

The project is another of many local examples that demonstrate how approving and fully-funding the comprehensive Great Lakes cleanup bills languishing in Congress will generate immediate short-term job opportunities, provide new customers for local businesses, enhance quality of life, and speed the Rust Belt's transformation to the Blue Belt.