Temporary signs have been posted at the public entrances to a stretch of Duluth's Park Point beach, warning people to be cautious and watch for sharp and potentially injurious shards of metal cans in the sand.
It will still be awhile before most folks feel safe taking a barefoot stroll in the area.
Those shredded cans were placed on the beach late last summer, as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers used sand dredged from the Duluth-Superior Harbor to rebuild a piece of eroded lakeside beach situated between the Duluth Entry and 10th Street. Unfortunately, the dredging equipment encountered a pocket of trash, including metal cans that were ground up in a transfer box before being deposited on the beach.
No one is sure exactly how much metal debris is contained within the 49,000 cubic yards of dredge spoils placed on the shore of Park Point last year. But in a couple of weeks, a contractor will begin surveying the area by water and land in an attempt to pinpoint impacted areas. That assessment is expected to take about two weeks to complete, and it will be used to develop a cleanup plan, explained Melissa Bosman, project engineer for the Corps.
The beach is owned by the city, and Jim Filby Williams, Duluth’s director of parks, property and libraries, said nothing short of a thorough removal of the hazardous trash will suffice.
Following the discovery of the problem, Filby Williams said: “The city issued a very demanding challenge to the Corps — a challenge that was necessary and appropriate but also, for any organization, was resource-intensive and at points no doubt daunting. We challenged the Corps to take responsibility to complete removal of can debris from a large area, to the extent possible, before the beginning of this summer.”
Filby Williams credited the Corps for “taking full responsibility at every juncture without prodding or pushing.”
Bosman said that depending on the extent of the metal litter discovered, the Corps aims to complete the cleanup sometime between Memorial Day and the end of June.
The Corps also is laying plans to continue its beach nourishment efforts on Park Point this summer, picking up work where it left off last year — between Ninth and 10th streets — and continuing to just south of 12th Street, a popular stretch of beach known locally as the S-Curve.
She explained that the Corps is charged with maintaining shipping channels. “However, we will be more selective when evaluating which nonmaintained areas of the harbor to dredge, given the potential for debris in those areas.
“We are also evaluating equipment that is capable of detecting man-made debris in the shoaled material in the harbor prior to dredging that material,” Bosman said.
Additionally, the Corps will require the contractor it hires to install a grate with openings no larger than 2-by-2 inches around the transfer box to block the passage of any stray cans into the mix. Bosman explained that any smaller grate opening would slow dredging to such an extent that needed work to maintain navigation in the harbor could be unacceptably delayed.
Kevin Meyer, a biologist for the Corps, said extensive testing of harbor sediments for a laundry list of contaminants has occurred in recent years and will be used to help guide where dredging for the beach nourishment project will likely occur.
In addition, he said: “The Army Corps is committed to testing sediment in the harbor prior to any dredging being undertaken. We want to know what the characteristics of that sediment are before any project is undertaken, so it does not become a problem at a later date. Essentially, we want to make sure that it’s safe to place somewhere before that placement begins, because obviously you don’t want to learn that sediment is potentially a concern after it has already been put in place.”
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency also will be testing dredge materials to make sure they are acceptable and that the project remains in compliance with the federal Clean Water Act, said Anna Hotz, a supervisor for the state agency.
She said the MPCA also went back to do additional independent testing of dredge materials placed at Park Point last year and found the sediments to comply with stringent public health standards.
As for the MPCA’s monitoring of the project planned for this summer, Hotz said, “We are very concerned with making sure that the material is safe and within acceptable values to be placed on the beach.”
The next round of beach nourishment on Park Point is expected to begin in mid-July and must be completed before the end of September.