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Duluth mayor requests feds to study ship canal structure's role on Park Point erosion

A study under the Rivers and Harbor Act of 1968 authorizes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to investigate the impact federal structures have on adjacent shorelines.

File: Park Point cans
Multiple ring-top beer cans found on the beach at Park Point in February 2021 indicate that dredging machinery must of encountered an older cache of trash. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

Duluth Mayor Emily Larson has requested the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers investigate the environmental impact federal harbor structures have on Park Point's shoreline.

"We have a very serious, very chronic problem with severe beach erosion," said Jim Filby Williams, Duluth’s director of property at a news conference on Friday.

The mayor sent a letter to the Corps on March 12 formally requesting the investigation, which is called a Section 111 study under the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1968.

"The study, if approved, will give us invaluable insights on the long-term trend of our beaches if we take no mitigating action and help us to develop and assess a variety of actions so that we can come up with a solution that's environmentally sound, that's cost-effective, that we can rely on in perpetuity," Filby Williams said.

The Corps would foot the entire bill of the investigation, which is expected to cost at least $500,000.

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For the study to become approved, the Corps has to first activate the request. Then it's passed on to the U.S. Office of Management and Budget before it reaches the U.S. Congress for final approval, said Kate Van Daele, Duluth's public information officer.

The city is planning for final approval in the fall, meaning the study would begin in 2022.

Should the investigation find that shipping canal infrastructure is contributing to the erosion of Park Point, the federal government would pay for at least part of the cost to remedy that under the Rivers and Harbors Act, Filby Williams said.

The act authorizes the Detroit District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to analyze the impacts federal structures have on adjacent shorelines.

Hypothetically, Filby Williams said, if the study were to reveal that federal structures are contributing to 25% of erosion around the Duluth shipping entry, then the federal government would contribute anywhere from 25% of the remedy costs up to a maximum contribution of $12.8 million.

The last time the Corps conducted a Section 111 study on Park Point was in 2001. It determined that the human-made structures were only part of what caused increased erosion.

However, the suggested remedy at that time would have cost $13.3 million, which exceeded the federal government's investment limit of $12 million. As a result mitigation efforts were halted.

The study, if approved, is just one step in a united nourishment effort on Park Point. In August and September last year, the Corps placed about 50,000 cubic yards of dredge material from the bottom of the harbor on a shrinking section of the beach.

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In October, the Corps became aware that fragments of old metal cans from approximately 50 years ago that were likely dredged up from an area of the harbor that was covered in trash.

PREVIOUSLY:

  • Citizens' group offers scathing review of plan to deal with metal shards left on Park Point beach A draft mitigation and cleanup plan from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has drawn sharp criticism.
  • Duluth searches for solution to shredded metal cans found on Park Point beach The shards were dredged from the harbor and dumped on the beach along with tons of sand as the city sought to slow erosion.

On Thursday, the Corps placed signs at various beach access points warning people of potential metal shards in the sand. The area of concern is on the lakeside of Park Point, between the shipping canal and 13th Street South.
The city is currently reviewing the Corps clean-up plan, which will be announced next week.

Now that the snow has melted, Corey Weston, chief of construction and survey with Detroit District of the Corps, said employees have been walking the beach again, about twice a week, to collect fragments. As of Friday, Corps employees had collected about 20 gallons of debris along with 20 gallons of non-dredging-related debris.

"We'll continue to do that until we can get the material cleaned up as best as we can," Weston said.

He urged the public to continue to use caution in the affected area and to dispose of any debris they come across. More details on the clean-up plan are expected from the city and Corps next week.

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