State, feds agree on $16 million cleanup plan for Erie Pier ponds along Duluth harbor

The work is expected to begin in early summer of this year.

The ponds behind Erie Pier on Duluth's harborfront will be cleaned up in a $16 million project funded jointly by state and federal agencies. The area holds 45,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment. (Steve Kuchera/ File / 2016)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency have agreed to a $16 million cleanup plan for the highly contaminated Erie Pier ponds area along Duluth’s harborfront.

The project agreement will remove 45,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment that built up in the area over the years. That’s about 3,200 large dump truck loads of material.

The sediments contain toxic heavy metals, dioxins, furans, PCBs, PAHs, mercury and chromium.

The cleanup will include dredging all contaminated sediment in the project area; temporarily storing and dewatering the sediments on-site; disposing of the dewatered sediments at an off-site landfill; placing about 6 inches of clean cover material over the dredged area; and revegetating the site.

Eventually, the city of Duluth’s Cross City Trail will run adjacent to the site and allow users access once the cleanup project is complete in July 2022.


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According to the agreement announced Wednesday, the state will cover $5.6 million of the cleanup with the federal government fronting the other $10.4 million — part of the ongoing, yearslong Great Lakes Restoration Initiative aimed at cleaning up so-called Areas of Concern, restoring habitat and thwarting invasive species. The state money already has been approved by the Legislature in the form of construction bonds.

The project, headed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is slated to start early this summer.

The contaminated area is in ponds between the Erie Pier dredge disposal area and the main shoreline and is not believed to be related to the storage of dredged material.

Two backwater ponds at the site are surrounded by wetlands and along the St. Louis River estuary. The cleanup is expected to help the area’s aquatic creatures recover from a century of unchecked pollution in and around the harbor, especially small organisms that are the base of the river’s food chain. In turn, that should reduce the level of toxins in fish, making them safer for people to eat.

"EPA’s partnership with Minnesota continues to produce results in the St. Louis River," acting EPA Regional Administrator Cheryl Newton said in a statement released Wednesday. “This sediment cleanup will address a century’s worth of contamination, protecting public health and aquatic life while improving access to a port that is critical to the region’s economy.”

Erie Pier.jpg

PCA Commissioner Laura Bishop said the cooperative project is one of several in the harbor that “continue to bring exciting opportunities that support healthy families, recreation and our economy.”


The project is one of the largest so far in the Twin Ports under the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

For more information, go to .

This story was edited at 10 p.m. Jan. 27 to further clarify that the contaminated area is in ponds between the Erie Pier dredge disposal area and the main shoreline and is not believed to be related to the storage of dredged material.

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at
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