Coast Guard plans safety zone for Lake Superior barrel removal
Removal of controversial U.S. Department of Defense barrels from Lake Superior near Duluth will begin in about two weeks. The U.S. Coast Guard will set up an off-limits safety zone beginning July 30. Almost 1,500 barrels were sunk in three dump s...
Removal of controversial U.S. Department of Defense barrels from Lake Superior near Duluth will begin in about two weeks.
The U.S. Coast Guard will set up an off-limits safety zone beginning July 30.
Almost 1,500 barrels were sunk in three dump sites from 1958 to 1962, about two miles from Duluth's water intake between the Lester and Knife rivers in Lake Superior.
Federal officials have said the barrels contain concrete and scrap munitions parts that pose no danger to the environment. But environmental and American Indian activists have speculated for decades that the barrels might contain toxic, radioactive materials.
Because these spots are in an area ceded by northern Wisconsin Ojibwe tribes to the U.S. government in the 19th century, the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa is overseeing removal of the drums, many of them rusted and brittle.
Coast Guard Marine Safety Officer Judson Coleman said they're setting up a safety zone as a precaution.
"I know that there is some public interest surrounding this project," Coleman said. Boaters will be kept away "in order for this project vessel to do its work and recover the barrels and do their testing and that sort of thing without being interrupted."
Jennifer Thiemann is the barrel removal project manager with environmental engineering firm EMR. In an interview in April at Red Cliff, Thiemann said that although the barrels contain parts of weapons made during the Cold War, she doesn't think they'll be dangerous.
"We don't believe we will find live ammunition, but because the remote possibility exists, we have to take safety precautions and treat them as potentially live," she said.
In 2006, Red Cliff went through U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Honeywell Munitions records and said chemicals ranging from PCBs to mercury, lead or even uranium could be in the barrels.
Government efforts to find and open several barrels in the 1990s found parts from grenade-like cluster bombs, scrap metal, ash, concrete and garbage. Water inside some of the eight barrels that were recovered contained levels of several hazardous substances such as PCBs that officials said probably leached off the metals and ash.
The recovery effort is being paid for with $2.2 million from a Defense Department fund to clean up ammunition dumps on reservations and on ceded Indian territories.
Meanwhile, Coleman said Red Cliff won't patrol the area but will monitor it.
"They won't necessarily be involved with enforcement," Coleman said, "but they will be there and they could notify us if there is an issue. Really, as far as enforcement is concerned, nine times out of 10 it's just a matter of ensuring that people are aware that it's in place."
In all, Red Cliff hopes to raise 70 barrels between July 30 and Aug. 20, when the safety zone is set to expire.
Red Cliff environmental director Melonee Montano said tribal officials won't comment on the project until after the barrels are recovered.
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