Cleanup plan comes together at Fraser
A plan to clean up Howard's Pocket is nearing completion; work could get underway next year.
The project is a collaboration among the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the city of Superior and Fraser Shipyards — the only U.S.-based shipyard remaining on Lake Superior.
The Superior City Council was presented with an update on the project planning.
"We're looking at funding a $12.5 million cleanup project on the pocket," said Jason Serck, economic development, port and planning director for the city. "It makes sense. It's a great project, not only for the city of Superior, but for the environment, Fraser Shipyards and putting our name on the map for cleaning up the St. Louis River."
Howard's Bay has been a used for shipyards, grain terminals, commercial shipping operations and other operations for over 100 years, said Joe Graham of the Wisconsin DNR Great Lakes Program.
"Fraser Shipyards has been around for about 125 years — family owned and everything," said Fraser's Sean Smith. "We are the only shipyard on Lake Superior; we're also a very capable shipyard."
Smith said dredging that will be done during the cleanup project will clean up existing contamination stemming from 125 years of shipyard activity and will deepen the navigable channel leading to the dry docks in the bay, which will benefit the shipyard and the city.
"The state of Wisconsin feels the shipyard is a very important business," Graham said. "Through our Wisconsin Department of Transportation, we have funded some very important infrastructure projects for the dock wall and some of the electrical upgrades through our Harbor Assistance Program."
Other facilities in the bay include the Cenex-Harvest States terminal, the largest grain elevator in the Twin Ports, which is also in the Area of Concern.
"Howard's Bay is identified as a site where action is needed to address contamination within the St. Louis River Area of Concern," Graham said. He said sediment is contaminated with elevated levels of lead, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons from petroleum, mercury and tributyltin.
"There is no question this needs to be done," said Superior City Councilor Warren Bender. Bender said he remembers as a child swimming in the slip, and when it was closed off, there were signs that said "future recreation area," he said
The project involves the Army Corps dredging the shipping channel to a depth of 27 feet as well as clean up dredging of the polluted areas, Graham said. He said the dredging and cleanup will happen at the same time to make the project more efficient. Handling of dredged materials will be done at Fraser, with dredge material later stored at Erie Pier for land uses while contaminated dredge material would likely go to a demolition landfill, Graham said.
Planning for the project is about 90 percent complete, and they are currently working on the remedial design, funded by Great Lakes Legacy Funding with a 35 percent in-kind match from Fraser and the state of Wisconsin, Graham said.
"We're also looking at the Wisconsin Point Landfill to improve that cap," Graham said. The landfill that closed in 1977 is experiencing some uneven settling that is causing some drainage issues so increasing the thickness over the waste could be beneficial by improving drainage and make it usable for recreation such as foot paths or a dog park, he said.
"The DNR has allowed recreational uses on similar sites," Graham said.
"We're going to make it safe for recreational uses," he said. "It addresses the impairments in Howard's Bay and AOC concerns. It includes beneficial reuse of dredge material. It involves a public-private partnership."
He estimates the dredging will take several months to complete, and the project is likely to get underway late next year with completion in the spring of 2018.
Councilor Tom Fennessy questioned the plan for public input on the project.
Serck said presenting the project to the public is a great idea, but no meetings have been scheduled yet.
Finalizing the project plan and agreements among the partners still have to be drafted.