Tittabawassee River

A slow, wide stretch of the Tittabawassee River.

Dow Chemical's $77 million settlement over an environmental complaint with federal, state and tribal governments will be used to restore wildlife injured through hazardous waste released since 1987 near Midland.

That settlement, if approved by a federal judge, will restore fish, wildlife and habitats injured from dioxins attributed to the company.

Dow will also pay for new public recreation areas with trails, bike paths and fishing docks.

“This settlement has been more than a decade in the making by a combined team of state, federal and tribal partners working together for the benefit of Michigan’s environment and precious natural resources,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said in a news release. “I look forward to seeing these projects implemented to the benefit of the communities and ecosystems impacted by Dow’s contamination.”

According to federal law, natural resource trustees, including the Department of Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Michigan Attorney General’s Office, can authorize and recover damages caused by hazardous substances.

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) is another trustee overseeing the projects.

“In addition to our top priority of restoring habitat, we are also resolving some claims that will result in projects bolstering environmental access and education in the community,” EGLE Director Liesl Eichler Clark said in a statement. “These projects include a docking facility and education center to bolster BaySail’s environmental science program and the renovation of the Saginaw River Rear Range Lighthouse to allow public use.”

Trustees reached that sum through a 128-page assessment that detailed contamination damages.

The research, conducted since 2005, estimated the dioxin damage to surface water, sediment and wildlife in the Tittabawassee River, Saginaw River and Saginaw Bay.

Lisa Williams, Environmental Contaminants Branch chief of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, told The Center Square the settlement spans 13 projects overseen by the trustees, including fish spawning and passage improvements, habitat restoration and public nature areas including trails and bike paths.

Dow will implement eight of those projects and fund five additional projects.

“The settlement requires Dow to implement and fund restoration projects, which are outlined in a draft restoration plan, that will benefit fish and wildlife and provide increased outdoor recreation opportunities for the American public,” Charles Wooley, regional director for Interior Region 3 at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said in a statement. “This restoration work can now begin even while separate, ongoing cleanup efforts continue.”

The settlement also provides for $10 million to maintain and monitor long-term project restoration, and a minimum of $5 million for additional future resource restoration projects decided by the trustees and the public.

Dow will reimburse costs previously incurred by agencies and trustees that conducted the assessment.

“The trustees are working to compensate the public for past and expected future losses to recreational fishing, park use and hunting as a result of public health advisories issued because of releases from Dow’s Midland facility,” Michigan DNR Director Dan Eichinger said in a press release. “We appreciate being at the table to ensure that the citizens of Michigan are appropriately compensated for resource damage, and we look forward to continuing to improve the natural resources, wildlife and fisheries opportunities for people within these areas.”

Dow Chemical said in a statement that the projects will create about 8,000 acres of natural habitat across the Great Lakes Bay Region that will benefit wildlife and public recreational opportunities.

Trustees will hold a public information meeting and a Q & A session at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 21 at the Four Points by Sheraton in Saginaw.

Staff Reporter

Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org. Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.