While surveying the stream’s biological communities in September 2019, ECT’s biologist Marty Boote (WR, Ann Arbor) discovered the federally endangered snuffbox mussel in the Portage Creek as part of a revitalization and redevelopment of The Mill at Vicksburg in Vicksburg, Michigan.

Marty’s discovery of the snuffbox mussel was recently featured in a NewsChannel3 story.

Click here to learn more about the endangered snuffbox mussel from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS).

A subsequent reconnaissance survey of the project reach revealed that the mussel may be present throughout the project footprint and could even be abundant. This population of Snuffbox mussel was previously unknown. The snuffbox mussel is normally a rare species throughout its range and was listed as endangered by the FWS in 2012 due to a 62 percent decline across its range. The fact that Snuffbox seems to be thriving in Portage Creek, a creek that was historically impacted by the paper mill,  is of interest to biologists from a conservation standpoint because it may provide clues about the habitat conditions that allow them to thrive and reproduce.

Marty and Greg Gaulke (WR, Ann Arbor) recently conducted a mussel survey to estimate the distribution, density, and number of snuffbox and other mussels in Portage Creek. ECT will be representing the owner in consultations with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and FWS over the next few months to explore options that could allow relocation of the mussels with incidental take if restoration is feasible. If those consultations go well, ECT anticipates potentially completing the design and permitting over the winter with construction starting in June or July of 2021 if funding is available.

Portage Creek Background
Beginning in the early 1900s, the Lee Paper Mill in Vicksburg, Michigan, started producing paper, manufacturing 17 tons of paper per day at its peak in the mid-1900s. Situated on the banks of Portage Creek, the mill was an important economic driver that once employed a significant portion of the Vicksburg population. However, the mill was shut down in 2001, leaving nothing but fond memories of a bygone era and a landscape and legacy of industrial scars. In the face of its imminent demolition, philanthropist and Vicksburg High School graduate Chris Moore purchased the property in 2014. Chris’s vision for the property is a thriving 416,000 square-foot building and 120-acre campus hosting events, conferences, museums, breweries, and distilleries. His vision is to reestablish the Mill at Vicksburg as a thriving economic center.

ECT’s Scope of Work
ECT was originally hired by Chris’s site planners and landscape architect, Johnson Hill Land Ethics Studio, to provide wetland delineation and permitting services. We have broadened those services to incorporate stream restoration design. Unfortunately, that legacy of industrial prosperity has impacted the landscape, including Portage Creek. The sediments in Portage Creek are contaminated with paper pulp and dioxins. In addition, the stream bed is strewn with metal and glass debris. Current conditions are unsafe for people to use the stream and for fish and wildlife that live there. Chris asked ECT to help him explore the potential of removing that part of the mill’s legacy from the landscape and make the stream a thriving ecological cornerstone of the 120-acre mill campus. With the owners vision in mind, ECT has helped Chris evaluate options to potentially remove 4,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment and debris from the bottom of the creek and to restore the impacted habitat within and along the creek in the overall site context.

To date, ECT has walked the stream multiple times with the project partners to visualize, conceptualize, and plan the potential restoration work, collected sediment samples for particle size analysis, conducted a morphological survey, and prepared conceptual and 50 percent design development drawings for preliminary cost estimating and feasibility analysis.

For more information about the snuffbox mussels and the Portage Creek project, please contact Marty Boote.

ECT’s biologists Marty Boote and Greg Gaulke surveying mussels in Portage Creek.