MARSHALL, Mich. (WOOD) - About three miles of the Kalamazoo River contaminated in the July 2010 Enbridge oil spill will re-open on Wednesday, Calhoun County Health Department officials announced at a Tuesday evening town meeting.
The three-mile segment from Perrin Dam to Saylor's Landing is the first to be re-opened for public use.
About 36 miles of the river remains closed to the public, but the EPA said more could re-open later this spring.
The EPA said that federal, state and local officials will kayak the newly re-opened portion on Wednesday morning.
Two information kiosks will be set up at both ends of the re-opened sections and a series of warning buoys and security will be placed throughout.
People will be allowed to fish, but a no-consumption advisory is still in effect until further tests are completed by the Department of Environmental Quality.
The river will be opened in three phases. The next section is expected to be re-opened in June. The entire area could be open by the end of summer, but that plan could change.
Boaters may encounter work crews in the area and could notice oil sheen on the water, as the cleanup process is ongoing.
To put things in perspective, EPA officials told the about 200 people in attendance at Marshall High School that the estimated 840,000 gallons that spilled was enough to cover the gymnasium in 10 feet of oil.
Cleanup officials said they've made significant progress in the 21 months since the spill, but there is still work to be done.
The EPA also said that cleanup crews will now focus on long-term cleaning of submerged oil in the river and embedded in the sediment.
Last year, the cleanup crews aggressively disturbed the sediment, forcing the oil to the surface, where it was collected.
Now, they will take a slower approach by placing sediment collection devices along the river and letting the current force the oil in, which will do less harm to the environment in the long-term.
Enbridge officials estimate a total clean up cost of more than $700 million.
Reinhard Pope lives along the river in the very heart of the affected area.
"I'd be out there today if I could," said Pope. "It was terrible when it first happened. There was a terrible smell, thick oil on the water. You really couldn't even see the bottom of the river. It was just like an oil flow. I couldn't even stand to be outside of my house for more than about five minutes before I would start to get a headache."
Over the 21 months since, he's seen significant progress.
"Most of the water birds are back. We see swans feeding in the river. I go down to the river and I see fish, even small bass or whatnot, so they've successfully spawned. I haven't seen any oil sheen in quite a long time," said Pope.
Several studies are still underway regarding the overall health and environment impact.
The Michigan Department of Community Health says some people ingested higher-than-safe levels of air pollutants, but only for a period of a few days.
Officials are also testing drinking water and said two wells tested positive for nickel and iron, but posed no public health risk.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said turtle and fish populations appear to have survived, but authorities still looking into long-term impact.
They are also completing a safe fish analysis to see when fish will be safe to once again consume.
GRAM Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony in front of a festive downtown crowd at Rosa Parks Circle Friday night.
Two people were taken to the hospital after one vehicle crossed the center line, causing a head-on crash in Ada Township Friday night.
Investigators in Montcalm County are working to determine what led up to a deadly crash.