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Duluth settles on plan to replace Minnesota Slip seawalls

The city of Duluth will open bids next week for a contract to replace the seawalls of Minnesota Slip, part of which is pictured here, plus 325 feet of wall around the harborside corner, stretching toward the aquarium. The estimated cost of the project is about $6 million. Bob King /

A fix for the failing seawalls of Duluth's Minnesota Slip — the SS William A. Irvin's longtime berth — could soon be in the works.

Next week, the city will open bids for a project that's anticipated to cost about $6 million in all. It already has received a favorable bid for steel pilings, said Wayne Parson, Duluth's chief financial officer. But he noted that bids for the most expensive part of the project — coating and then driving that steel — are still to come.

This past Tuesday, the board of directors for the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center signed off on the city's plan to fund the project. Parson explained that bonds that had been issued to finance the construction of Amsoil Arena in 2008 were refinanced last year at a much lower interest rate. Over the life of those bonds, he said, the city stands to save about $6.5 million as a result.

Duluth plans to use some of those savings to pay off new bonds that could be issued to finance repairs to the seawall. The seawall bonds would run through 2034 to coincide with the Amsoil bonds.

The replacement of the seawalls will open the door for pollution within the slip to be addressed. Plans call for capping contaminated sediments in place with a clean layer of sand.

But until the seawalls are replaced, the slip cleanup has been placed on hold, because contaminated soils from the destabilized banks continue to erode into the water. David Montgomery, Duluth's chief administrative officer compared the state of the current seawall to "swiss cheese."

Eager to see the issue resolved, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has offered to provide a $2.1 million grant to help cover the cost of replacing the seawalls. That will likely leave the city on the hook for about $4 million.

As for the slip cleanup, the MPCA will join forces with the federal Environmental Protection Agency to cover the capping costs.

Assuming bids come in at a reasonable cost, Parson said he expects a contract to be ready for City Council consideration on Nov. 20. If that contract is approved, the seawalls will be replaced in the spring, prior to Grandma's Marathon.

The capping would then likely occur in the fall of 2018. That project is expected to take about three weeks to complete, and while it is in progress, the Irvin and the local charter fishing boats that now tie up in the slip would need to be temporarily moved to different moorings. The DECC owns and operates the Irvin as a floating museum.

"We're very excited that between now and the end of next year, it looks like Minnesota Slip is going to finally get cleaned up," Montgomery said.

In addition to shoring up the slip, the project also would replace 325 linear feet of seawall around the harbor side stretching toward the Great Lakes Aquarium.

Montgomery said Duluth will continue to pursue additional state aid to assist with the replacement of more of the seawall that runs from the DECC toward Bayfront Festival Park.