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City of Superior joins Howards Bay cleanup efforts

The Superior City Council on Tuesday, March 19, approved partner and contribution agreements for an estimated $18.5 million project to clean up contamination in Howards Bay.

The Howards Bay Remediation Project is slated to begin in 2020. Howards Bay, also known as Howards Pocket, is the largest contaminated site on Wisconsin's side of the harbor, according to a project background provided by Jason Serck, economic development, planning and ports director. Cleaning it up would go a long way toward getting the St. Louis River off the federal list of areas of concern, which is similar to superfund sites.

The project would include dredging and disposal of contaminated sediments in Howards Bay and three slips on the bay's south shore: Fraser, Cumming Avenue and Hughitt slips. The sediments there are contaminated with heavy metals, including mercury, lead, organotins and poly aromatic hydrocarbons, according to the partnership agreement.

Howards Bay has been used for shipyards, grain terminals, commercial shipping operations and other industry for over 100 years. The dredging that will be done during the project will clean up existing contamination and deepen the navigable channel leading to the dry docks in the bay, Joe Graham of the Wisconsin DNR Great Lakes Program told the council during a December 2016 update on the project.

Partners in the project include the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Fraser Shipyards Inc. and the city. The non-federal partners must cover 35 percent of the costs through cash and in-kind contributions.

Fraser Shipyards will pay up to $2.2 million, according to the project agreement. There will be no direct cost to the city. Instead, the city will allow the project to place dredged material at the closed Wisconsin Point landfill, saving over $2 million in disposal costs.

The city will also pay for treatment of stormwater runoff from the project and provide labor to repair Moccasin Mike Road during the project.

The city stands to benefit from the project in other ways. Once the project is complete, the landfill cap would be enhanced, making it thicker and addressing drainage issues. The city spent approximately $60,000 in 2012 to address thin spots on the current cap that were created by decades of settling at the site, according to the background information Serck provided.

The closed landfill will also be improved with native plants, trails and benches following the project to create a recreational area.

In response to public input, changes have been made to the project. All dredge material going to the closed landfill must meet stricter soil requirements and damage done to Wisconsin Point Road will be repaired to pre-project conditions.