U.S. Reps. Debbie Dingell (D-12th District) and Rashida Tlaib (D-13th District) kayaked the Rouge River Oct. 8 to highlight environmental cleanup of the river since it first caught fire 50 years ago. The kayaking began at the Melvindale Civic Arena and finished at Belanger Park in River Rouge.
The representatives passed through their congressional districts and the Ford Rouge Plant, AK Steel, Marathon Oil and Great Lakes Steel. Both representatives were amazed at the wildlife, including painted turtles, eagles, herrings, loons, geese, ducks, frogs, and other species.
“The Rouge River fire was a turning point in the environmental history of the U.S.,” Dingell said “After the fire, some got serious, rolled up their sleeves, knew it was right and began a very long process of cleaning up decades of pollution.
“Today, we are able to kayak the river and enjoy all it has to offer. This is what 50 years of work looks like, but we can’t turn the needle back now. We must continue to cleanup and not allow new chemicals and threats to endanger our water.”
“I thank the Friends of the Rouge and partners for putting together today’s tour of the Rouge River,” Tlaib said. “While Kayaking from Melvindale to River Rouge, we passed by AK Steel, Marathon Petroleum Refinery and DTE. I saw first-hand the importance of protecting our waterways.
“Fifty years ago the Rouge River caught on fire because it was heavily polluted. We still have so much work to do in cleaning it and its watershed up. This work will also help in continuing to create safe fishing and greenways for families. I look forward to working with Representative Dingell and my other colleagues in the Michigan delegation to ensure that we not only safeguard the environmental progress we’ve made, but expand on it as well.”
On Oct. 9, 1969, the Rouge River caught fire with flames over 50 feet high, burning for hours. The fire was a result of pollution and environmental neglect of the river. From 1956 to 1948, 5.93 million gallons of oil were dumped into the Rouge and Detroit rivers each year.
The burning and environmental neglect of the Rouge River is credited with jump starting the passage of the Clean Water Act in the late 1960s. For decades since the fire, the Rouge River has seen a turnaround in water quality and an increase in wildlife species.
“Since that fire 50 years ago, our country has made great progress on environmental protection,” Dingell said. “But while our rivers may be less likely to catch fire, today we face different types of environmental threats that are just as urgent as 50 years ago but less visible to the public.
“PFAS chemical contamination is a looming threat to families at hundreds of military sites, and Michigan has the most contaminated sites in the country. The administration has also rolled back critical drinking water standards and protections that we fought years to implement under the Clean Water Act. Today we’re at a similar juncture and it’s up to our leaders to decide how this moment will be remembered 50 years in the future.”
In another environmental event later in the week, Dingell andmargeret Everson, acting director of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, toured the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge headquarters in Grosse Ile Township.
“This refuge is beautiful and reinforces one’s appreciation of the outdoors,” Dingell said. “Seeing the area and work being done matter to me, the community and the whole region. After decades, and the incredibly hard work of many, I look forward to celebrating the grand opening of the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge Gateway and visitor center” on May 9, 2020.
The Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge is the first and only international refuge in North America and stretches along the shoreline of the Detroit River and western Lake Erie.
The refuge focuses on conserving, protecting, and restoring habitats for 30 species of waterfowl, 117 kinds of fish, and over 300 species of birds, while providing quality opportunities for people to connect with nature. It is home to a variety of ecologically important bird species, including bald eagles, ospreys, peregrine falcons; fish species including whitefish, sturgeon, salmon, perch, and walleye.
In the early 2000s, then-U.S. Rep. John Dingell joined then-Canadian Deputy Prime Minister Herb Grey to form a group of local, regional, state, and federal agencies to establish a wildlife refuge along the lower Detroit River ecosystem. The congressman grew up hunting and enjoying the outdoors in these same areas and made it his mission to establish the refuge.
The process formally began in 2001 when President George W. Bush signed legislation written by Dingell to create the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge. Since that time, the refuge has grown from a couple of small tracts of land into a 6,200-acre refuge that spans 48 miles of the lower Detroit River and western Lake Erie.
The Refuge Gateway embodies the vision of the refuge. Co-managed by Wayne County and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, it includes restored native habitat on the site of a former factory, a 700-foot fishing pier into the Detroit River, and a state-of-the-art LEED-certified visitor center and offices.
The Refuge Gateway will provide public access to the river in Trenton, and is the gateway into the hiking trails of the refuge’s Humbug Marsh, the last undeveloped mile along the U.S. side of the river. In 2017, the visitor center was named after John Dingell as a tribute to his decades of service in establishing and expanding the refuge.
Source: U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell