Government leaders gathered at the University of Wisconsin-Superior’s ballast water treatment facility on Montreal Pier in Superior Tuesday, Sept. 8 to announce a $14 million boost to federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding for environmental projects throughout the Twin Ports.

Environmental Protection Agency Deputy Administrator Doug Benevento said the list included $3.7 million to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for restoration of the Pickle Pond habitat in Superior; $900,000 to the city of Duluth to restore approximately 528 acres of land near the St. Louis River; and $5 million to the University of Wisconsin-Superior's Lake Superior Research Institute for ballast water research at Montreal Pier.

The five-year UWS grant will pull together a binational group of stakeholders from federal, state, tribal and business entities. They will engage with UWS researchers to assess the risk of spreading aquatic invasive species through ballast water and identify best practices commercial vessels can use to prevent that spread.

UWS Chancellor Renee Wachter said there are 21 proposed projects outlined in the Great Lakes Ballast Water Research and Development plan. They will be helmed by the Lake Superior Research Institute team, which has been studying ballast water treatment for more than a decade at the one of a kind Montreal Pier facility.

“Right now one of the major focuses of this research and development plan is vessels that trade just within the Great Lakes,” said Kelsey Prihoda, Lake Superior Research Institute program manager. “While those vessels may not introduce invasive species to the Great Lakes, they are able to spread an invader very quickly from lake to lake.”

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She said ocean-going vessels are required to install ballast water treatment technology, usually ultraviolet- or chlorine-based treatment systems. But there is no such mandate for Great Lakes vessels unless they were built after 2009.

“And the reason is that we still need some science to help to advance that,” Prihoda said.

Lakers do, however, utilize best management practices to reduce the amount of organisms in ballast water discharge.

Prihoda said they hope to get data about the treatment technologies and best management practices to see if there are other options that may work on board vessels.

What they learn could help shape future laws and regulations regarding ballast water treatment on the Great Lakes, said U.S. Rep. Tom Tiffany, R-Minocqua.

U.S. Rep. Tom Tiffany, R-Minocqua, right, talks with Dr. Matt TenEyck, the director of the University of Wisconsin-Superior’s Lake Superior Research Institute, after a tour of the facility Tuesday, Sept. 8. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)
U.S. Rep. Tom Tiffany, R-Minocqua, right, talks with Dr. Matt TenEyck, the director of the University of Wisconsin-Superior’s Lake Superior Research Institute, after a tour of the facility Tuesday, Sept. 8. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

He and U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber, R-Hermantown, attended the event. They took a boat ride on the St. Louis River, toured the Montreal Pier facility and visited the EPA’s Duluth facility during their visit.

“This investment we made is certainly important to the future,” Stauber said. “This is the economy that touches the entire world. Thirteen percent of our GDP comes through the Great Lakes.”

The Twin Ports are a critical transportation node for not just the area but also for the country, Tiffany said.

Leaders said funding clean water and a healthy environment is a non-partisan issue.

“I grew up on Lake Superior. I grew up watching the St. Louis River become healthier over time ... I boated here, I fished here, I recreated here,” Stauber said. “This is important to us. This is important to Duluth-Superior.”

Additional programs being funded by the $14 million include a $100,000 grant to Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to purchase 38 acres of land to permanently protect rare native plant communities; and a $3 million grant to the University of Minnesota to collect and analyze Great Lakes sediment in support of the Great Lakes Sediment Surveillance Program.

Kurt Thiede, EPA regional administrator, pointed out environmental cleanup work that was poised to begin in the area. An $18 million effort to dredge up approximately 83,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment from Howard’s Bay in Superior is set to begin in weeks; and remediation of roughly 55,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment at the Azcon Duluth Seaway Port Authority Slip is expected to be completed before the end of the year.