Due to some bad info, and a failure to follow-up with other sources (on my part), some very erroneous information was put out last week, concerning what was thought to be the destruction of the better part of the heron rookery along the Black River. Phones were ringing fast and furious, at my home, and others, to put out a fire that I ignited. I am back to apologize for my failure to “do my homework” (though I did on the rest of the article), and shed some light on what is going on over there.
With Loraine Ritchey’s help and playing middle-man (person?), I was able to get a tour of the site and surrounding area with Utilities Director Corey Timko. Corey took me to the site that Mike Kennedy and I had visited to explain what was really happening. The area we saw was being leveled and graded, with new grass planted to restore the area to a natural state, hopefully as close as possible to what it was in its original prime. Over the years that US Steel has been there, the property there had become a dumping site, for metal trash, slag, and other byproducts of the steel making process. With the realization over recent years that we should be taking better care of Mother Nature, this is what prompted the land’s donation to the City. The City was then able to get federal funds to clean it up. Should the City ever renege on keeping the property in its pristine natural condition, it would be responsible for paying back the $6+ million it received for the clean-up.
Corey informed me that the City is doing a very thorough job bringing this property back from the condition it’s been in for a long time. The slag, lime, scrap metal, dead trees and wood and other ‘waste’ generated by the Mill is being consolidated into individual piles, for recycling, processing, and eventual removal from the area. The wood is being shredded and will eventually be used for compost and/or mulch. The lime can eventually be used to ‘sweeten’ ground, making it produce better vegetation, by increasing the pH of acidic soil, providing a source of calcium for plants, and improving water penetration for soil.
According to Corey and the Master Plan, the restoration actions laid out for rescuing the area include installing fish shelves to create fish habitat at feasible locations, slag pile remediation, wetland restoration/construction and stream bank stabilization. Great care is being taken with this entire project. Returning 80 to 100 acres of the land to a natural state is a source of pride to all involved. Eventually, the entire area could be an eco-tourism sightseeing venture, with boat rides up the river. Paths are being mapped out and constructed along the northern side, so people can walk or ride bikes to see what’s been done.
When I asked about the low level of the river banks, and the fear of the river overflowing and flooding the area, Corey told me that they hope that it will, and possibly create a small stream through the leveled area, allowing nature to take its own course through the area. Having the site be reconstructed naturally will make the land even more habitable to/for native species.
Approaching another area along the river, we came upon hundreds of planters with young bushes and plants. These were flora native to the area and the habitat. These would eventually be put in along the riverbank.
We drove down a steep hill, coming to a stop almost level to the river. To the left of us was a large stand of trees. Corey pointed up into the tops of the trees.
Here’s the start of the rookery. Just in this photo alone, there are 8, possibly 9 nests. According to Corey, the herons do migrate south, contrary to the report I cited in last weeks article. We didn’t see a single heron while we were down there.
Eventually, after the acreage is restored, and the scrap is removed, attention can be turned to the other part of the property the City owns there. There are hopes to relocate the treatment plant there, which would clean the river up even more, and a source of cooling water provided to the steel mill. There are other ventures being planned for the area, all of which would create jobs, and be environmentally friendly.
So, the herons are fine, their protection and habitat preservation was of utmost importance in the implementation of this restoration plan. As the preserve matures, it is hoped that the population continues to flourish here, with the river being cleaner, a thriving area conducive to more of the native species, and land that is much more natural.
Clicking on the map above will take you to the pdf file of the entire Master Plan for the ecological restoration of the Lower Black River. I encourage you to look it over.