Radio Tower Bay cleanup gets more moneyThe National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will pump another $1.5 million into the cleanup and rehabilitation of Radio Tower Bay on the St. Louis River in Duluth.
By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will pump another $1.5 million into the cleanup and rehabilitation of Radio Tower Bay on the St. Louis River in Duluth.
The federal grant is one of several NOAA announced this week across the Great Lakes totaling $15.8 million.
The money will be used to remove nearly 117,000 cubic yards of wood waste, restore historic water depths and re-establish aquatic vegetation in the bay that’s upstream from the Oliver Bridge and named for the radio towers located there.
The goal is to restore 24 acres the kind of shallow-water habitat for fish, waterfowl and other species that dominated the lower St. Louis River estuary before the Twin Ports became industrialized.
The wood waste was left behind by sawmills that lined the river where it becomes the Duluth harbor in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
An estimated 41,000 tons of sawmill waste, sawdust and slabs are still covering the bottom of the bay, amazingly intact even after a century under water and ice. In some places, test borings showed the debris packed 8 feet thick. All that stuff covering the bottom is preventing fish and aquatic habitat from reclaiming the 45-acre sheltered bay.
The project, part of the coordinated Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, received about $898,000 of federal and state money in 2012 to remove 460 pilings (about 146 tons) using giant equipment while Radio Tower Bay was covered in ice.
Phase II of the project, which will remove the debris and excess sediment that’s built up in the bay, is expected to begin in summer 2014, said Lisa Angelos, eastern district manager for ecological and water resources for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Ecological Services division.
The federal money is matched by $1.7 million from Minnesota’s legacy fund that’s stocked by a portion of the state sales tax dedicated to natural resource projects. The state fund already has approved $6 million for St. Louis River estuary projects, including Radio Tower Bay.
After years of plotting to clean up and restore damaged parts of the estuary, river enthusiasts are happy to see progress.
“The moons have finally aligned and the work is getting done, and that’s exciting progress for the river’s restoration,” said Julene Boe, director of the St. Louis River Alliance.
Fish biologists say Radio Tower Bay could become a perfect nursery area for walleye, lake sturgeon and longnose sucker — three native species that spawn a few miles farther upstream. The bay could become a critical spot for newly spawned fish to grow. It also could be a key area for muskie, smallmouth bass, northern pike, black crappie and bluegill.
The St. Louis River Restoration Initiative — a coalition of state, federal and nonprofit agencies — hopes to restore more than 1,400 acres on the lower river during the next 20 years.
“We’ve experienced decades of pollution and damage from industrial activity in the Great Lakes,” said Buck Sutter, director of NOAA’s Office of Habitat Conservation. “We’re excited to invest in projects that will help return our environment to a healthy state. We want to secure a future in which fishing, boating and other pastimes remain a treasured part of life throughout the region.”
Some of the other Great Lakes projects funded by NOAA this week include the Menomonee River fish barrier removal in Milwaukee; the St. Marys River Little Rapids habitat restoration in Sault St. Marie, Mich.; and remediation of contaminated sediment within the Manistique River in Manistique, Mich.