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Army Corp breaks off efforts by Red Cliff to remove mystery barrels

Mike Simonson

Wisconsin Public Radio

The Red Cliff Tribe is demanding that the federal government resume talks to remove Department of Defense barrels dumped into Lake Superior during the Cold War.

Red Cliff officials say talks are at a standstill after nine years and $3.4 million spent on site surveys and removal of 25 barrels.

But there are more than 1,400 drums still in Lake Superior near Duluth. Red Cliff Environmental Director Melonee Montano says the Army Corp of Engineers won’t move ahead with a study to remove any more barrels, even though 15,000 small but still active explosives were found in 22 of the barrels. So they’re sending notice to the Corp of Engineers that they need to resume the process.

“It’s putting it on paper formerly requesting it that you have to show up and you need to speak to us,” Montano said.

Montano isn’t sure why the Army Corp or Department of Defense stopped the project.

“To me, I think there’s some sort of internal disagreement and it’s something they’re trying to settle on, I guess, and figure out before they talk to the tribes on it,” she said. “But that’s our problem because we weren’t part of that discussion since day one.”

She says similar military dumps on other tribal lands are getting cleaned up.

Lake Superior is in the ceded territory of the Ojibwe tribes, and Montano says that makes it their responsibility to make the federal government remove the barrels.

Red Cliff Tribal Vice Chairman Nathan Gordon says he understands this will take time, but it must proceed.

“To me, it’s a high priority,” Gordon said. “The Lake, Gitche Gumee, we’re here to protect the Earth and I don’t know. It just gets you thinking so much. For myself, they shouldn’t even be in there. As a tribal official, if we can get them out, we’ll get them out.

More than 1,400 barrels were dumped between 1959 and 1962 from the Honeywell Munitions facility in the Twin Cities.

The Department of Defense ordered the Army Corp of Engineers to dump the 55-gallon drums.