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Duluth gets more cleanup money from EPA for Lafarge site

The federal Environmental Protection Agency invested more money Thursday in Duluth's ongoing effort to transform shuttered, polluted industrial sites into new development.

Lafarge site map
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The federal Environmental Protection Agency invested more money Thursday in Duluth's ongoing effort to transform shuttered, polluted industrial sites into new development.

The federal agency announced a $200,000 grant for cleanup of chemicals in the soil on a 12-acre harborfront site that city officials want to turn into a public boat landing and marina. The site is next to a proposed $30 million hotel, retail and condo project at the former Lafarge Cement site. The so-called Lot D site is the westernmost parcel of the big Bayfront development plans and is laced with heavy metals, petroleum waste and polyaromatic hydrocarbons.

EPA officials also announced a $650,000 grant to Duluth for a city-run revolving loan fund to be used to clean up similar polluted sites along the waterfront corridor from downtown to Fond du Lac.

The sites are so-called "brownfields" compared to undeveloped, unpolluted "greenfield" sites such as farm fields where it is easier to start new construction projects.

Susan Hedman, EPA regional administrator in Chicago, announced the new money at a news conference in front of the Duluth Heritage Sports Center in Lincoln Park -- a project that got started in 2002 with a $250,000 EPA cleanup grant. The Heritage project eventually received a total of $650,000 in EPA cleanup money, the seeds for what became a $32 million development.

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"It's hard to believe that just a few years ago this was a brownfield," Hedman said, standing in front of the bustling sports, community and restaurant site. "Based on the track record we see here, we know this (new) money will be used to further transform this beautiful city."

City officials praised the EPA's efforts to offer early cleanup money to help erase the pollution legacy of Duluth's myriad long-closed smokestack industries. Many of the sites can't be redeveloped if they aren't first cleaned up. Cleanup costs on the Lafarge harborfront site alone could hit $7 million, city officials have noted, and many investors won't jump in until the sites are ready for construction.

Since 2002, EPA has awarded more than $2 million in brownfield cleanup money to Duluth that has helped leverage more than $77 million in private and other funding.

"It's a great form of real estate recycling," said David Montgomery, the city's chief administrative officer.

Minnesota Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon said the federal money helps continue the city's waterfront redevelopment effort begun in the 1980s, when "we turned our city around so it faced the lake."

Related Topics: ENVIRONMENTLAKE SUPERIOR
John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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