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Boaters asked to steer clear of training exercise

More than 300 people take part in a two-day port exercise centered on Bird Island in the St. Louis Bay.

Operation Peeking Duck kicks off Wednesday morning with a simulated oil spill and ends Thursday after agencies deal with a feigned security risk.

Goals of the exercise include testing the effectiveness of current security and pollution response plans, providing a unified response, testing communications and strengthening partnerships, according to Lt. Judson Coleman of the U.S. Coast Guard.

"Readiness is a key point," he said Tuesday outside the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Building in Duluth's Canal Park. "We have plans in place that we need to exercise periodically to ensure that we're ready for a large-scale event, but it also ensures that our plans are ready to support us. These exercises are an opportunity for us to identify ways in which we can improve."

Due to the number of water activities taking place during the two-day event, including the deployment of oil-barrier curtains or booms around both the vessel and portions of shore, recreational boaters are asked to steer clear.

"We really recommend that recreational boaters who may be interested in what's going on keep a safe distance while they're on the water," Coleman said.

The exercise involves 10 Coast Guard units and 50 other federal, state, local and tribal agencies, including representatives from the two states, two counties and two cities that make up the Twin Ports.

The scenario involves a foreign commercial vessel entering the Duluth/Superior port which loses propulsion, hits the Blatnik Bridge and goes to ground on Bird Island, releasing oil. As the scenario unfolds, surveillance equipment will be found on board the vessel, Coleman said.

Playing the part of the foreign freight boat will be the research vessel Kiyi out of Ashland. The name of the operation comes from pollution response to protect wildlife, like ducks, and the surveillance equipment's "peeking."

While the Coast Guard tests their plans annually, they don't always hold full-scale exercises like the one this week. Since they were due for full-scale exercises for both pollution and security plans this year, Coleman said, they decided to combine them.

The lieutenant was asked if such exercises are fun for participants.

"It's a good test," he said, and they typically turn into an "all hands on deck type of evolution."