No one yet knows exactly what it will take to rid a Park Point beach of metal shards inadvertently left behind after beach nourishment efforts last year.
A concerted assessment of the situation is about to begin, according to Lt. Col. Scott Katalenich, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Detroit District.
He said the initial challenge will be to determine the extent of the problem, noting that the 50,000 cubic yards of sand pumped onto the beach last year would be enough material to cover a football field end zone to end zone with 25 feet of material.
“How long it takes to execute the cleanup really depends on what we learn from the survey. If the debris is found to be concentrated in a relatively small area, then we may be able to complete the cleanup rather quickly. But if the debris is more dispersed, then the cleanup effort may take longer,” Katalenich said.
“Bottom line: Our goal is to remove as much of that debris as possible as quickly as possible for safety’s sake,” he said, explaining that metal-detecting equipment will be deployed.
So far, about 20 gallons of metal fragments have been collected, mostly from the stretch of beach between Seventh and 10th streets, although some of the trash has migrated south of that area due to wave action.
“Of course, we all wish that decades ago these cans had never been put in the harbor in the first place. And we wish that they’d never been placed on the beach, as we worked to mitigate those erosion concerns. But having been presented this challenge, the Corps is committed to working together with the city, the community and our contractors to find appropriate solutions and do everything we can to make things right,” Katalenich said.
Duluth Mayor Emily Larson said erosion along the lake side of Park Point has been a growing concern.
“We worked together in partnership to find solutions to building the beach back up to protect the sandy shore that we and millions of other people love — the property, the parkland, the infrastructure, all of it — it is such a cherished place and piece of land,” she said.
Larson said that, left to its own devices, the city lacks the resources to address the erosion issue on Park Point.
“Without the Corps, the solution of placing sediment to build the beach back up would not be possible,” she said.
Larson thanked Katalenich for being transparent and taking responsibility when it became clear that shredded metal cans had been placed on the beach along with sorely needed sand.
“You have stepped up to the plate for us when we needed you,” she said.
The Park Point Community Club actively sought the Corps’ help to address the increasing loss of shoreland in recent years, said Hamilton Smith, a club member and chairman of the group’s Erosion and High Water Committee.
“This was a long process — I’d say, almost a begging process from our end — trying to get the Corps and the city to at first listen to us. But once the city got on board, the Corps followed pretty quickly, and we were able to get our beach nourishment done in 2020,” he said.
When the issue of the stray shredded cans came to light, Smith said the city, the Corps and the community club worked together.
“It’s been a good collaboration from several groups to get to this point where we have a good, sound mitigation proposal to clean up the beach. I guess the proof will be in the pudding. We’ll see how well it works. But I am happy with the coordination and the efforts of all the organizations concerned,” he said.
Roz Randorf, who represents the city’s 3rd District, including Park Point, on the Duluth City Council, said: “I want to thank the Park Point Community Club for their thoughtful input on this process, and really most importantly all of the neighbors, like Hamilton, who have been such committed stewards of the beach, by picking up the cans, documenting the debris and really just cleaning up the beach.”
“I also want to thank the Corps of Engineers and their ongoing partnership with city administration and their dedication to not only fixing this problem but making it a top priority,” she said.
Larson said the issue has required the cooperation of many parties. “And the ability that all of these partners have had to not do excessive finger pointing and to just figure it out, that is really hard to do. And I’m really proud of all of these partners.
“Clearly there are so many people in this Park Point beach nourishment kitchen, and I just cannot say enough how difficult and complicated this is and has been,” Larson said.
This story originally identified 3rd District Duluth City Councilor Roz Randorf as representing an incorrect district. It was updated at 2:54 p.m. April 1. The News Tribune regrets the error.