Officials: Wetland restoration reclaims former industrial site for future

Photo by Tom Tigani

Photo by Tom Tigani

Anna Cook (left), biological technician for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, points out details of the Monguagon Creek Daylighting and Wetland Restoration Project at Wayne County’s Refuge Gateway on Wednesday to Trenton High School teacher Rebecca Lowe (second from left) and her advance placement environmental class.

Photo by Tom Tigani

Photo by Tom Tigani

Wayne County Commissioner Joseph Palamara (D-Grosse Ile) praises the public-private cooperation in restoring Monguagon Creek wetlands at the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge Gateway.

Sunday Times Newspapers

TRENTON — Wednesday marked the celebration of what was billed as a win for both man and the environment at the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge Gateway, 5437 West Jefferson Ave.

State, local and federal officials gathered with members of the community to celebrate the completion of the site’s Monguagon Daylighting and Wetland Restoration Project.

Refuge officials say it re-creates 6 acres of wetlands in an area that has lost 97 percent of its coastal wetlands to development. It is expected to improve the quality of urban storm water entering the Detroit River through the creation of a treatment basin and prairie wetland that naturally filter the storm water, restoring the natural hydrology of the refuge gateway and adjacent Monguagon Delta.

The $750,000 project was funded through a partnership between Wayne County, the Clean Michigan initiative of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Downriver Community Conference, Metropolitan Affairs Coalition, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The EPA awarded a brownfield cleanup grant to the coalition.

In addition to the ecological benefits, officials say the project catalyzed work in the region’s architecture, engineering and construction industries, including the creation of 10 jobs at Glencorp Inc., the primary construction contractor, for people who previously were out of work.

“The Monguagon Daylighting and Wetland Restoration project at the refuge gateway is best described as transformational for our region,” said Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano. “This project is literally transforming the Downriver area by cleaning up a brownfield site (which formerly contained a Chrysler paint plant), restoring wetlands, treating storm water, furthering environmental education and leading by example in public-private partnerships for meeting the 21st century sustainability challenge.”

U.S. Rep. John Dingell, who could not attend Wednesday’s event and represented Trenton at the project’s outset in 2002, thanked Ficano, Wayne County Commissioner Joseph Palamara (D-Grosse Ile) and county parks officials for their leadership on the “truly remarkable results” of the project.

“For those seeing this dramatic change for the first time, it is difficult to imagine this revitalized site as it was only a few months ago,” Dingell said.

Officials in turn thanked Dingell for his role in helping to create the refuge.

The event marked the first time Trenton Mayor Gerald Brown had been on the site since the project started.

“When I walked in, I was in awe,” he said. “I knew what it was before, I saw what the Chrysler Corp. had left behind, and what you see today is remarkable.”

At first, Brown said, he and the City Council were not necessarily on board with the project. There was considerable disagreement over what should be the project’s face along West Jefferson, he said.

Dingell’s vision prevailed, however, the mayor said, and the Congressman’s negotiating skills eventually convinced them that the right thing to do was turn the site over to the county and eventually the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Addressing students from Carlson and Trenton high schools who were in attendance, Brown said, “This is our generation that brought it here. This is for your generation and your children, and after that, to keep it going and enjoy it.”

“I’m also proud of the fact that this is in Trenton. We didn’t have that understanding in the beginning, but we do understand that this is the right thing for this property.”

Brown thanked John Hartig, manager of the refuge, for his “vision” and being the “key person” in working to preserve the site, which includes Humbug Marsh among its islands, coastal wetlands, marshes, shoals and waterfront land along 48 noncontiguous miles of shoreline along the Detroit River and western Lake Erie. Dingell said he looks forward to more announcement similar to Wednesday’s as the refuge continues to be built.

The refuge gateway is the future home for the headquarters of the refuge itself and for its visitor center.