Month: June 2017

Thunder Bay Harbour Contamination Raises Questions

Aerial view of Thunder Bay North Harbour showing shoreline fine paper mill operations (circa 1980).

On June 7, 2017 the Public Advisory Committee to the Thunder Bay Remedial Action Plan met. After introductions and a review of the previous meeting minutes the group moved on to the following agenda items:

North Harbour Contamination (presentation)

Jim Bailey provided an overview of mercury and other contaminated material in Thunder Bay North Harbour including the location, extent, toxicity and potential next steps. Curniss McGoldrick (Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change) followed this presentation with a review of the Environmental Review Tribunal order on the Superior Fine Papers property. The roles and responsibilities of the different agencies with respect to the Canada-Ontario Agreement were also discussed.

During discussion, the following questions/points were made:

Federally Contaminated Sites List

  • What is preventing the Thunder Bay North Harbour from being listed on the Federally Contaminated Sites list?
  • A question was asked about the Canada – US Binational agreement respecting the Great Lakes basin ecosystem (the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement) and whether it included reference to resolution of Thunder Bay North Harbour contamination. An additional comment was made that if North Harbour was mentioned in the agreement, perhaps this could prove useful in assisting to have North Harbour added to the federal list of contaminated sites.
  • Is the Port Authority full aware of all the potential implications of being on the Federally Contaminated Sites list?
  • What are the health implications of fishing and other uses of the North Harbour area?
  • How is the contaminated sediment and solutions for North Harbour different than those for the Northern Wood Preservers (NOWPARC) project?

Partnerships

  • Is Cascades involved in remediation discussions as an industrial partner?
  • Abitibi as an entity has evolved to become part of Resolute Forest Products; what are Abitibi’s environmental responsibilities?
  • At some time there was a North Harbour Steering Committee which included Cascades, as well as Provincial and Federal partners; why was the PAC and, nearby business owners with a substantial financial stake in the outcomes, not included?
  • Out of respect for the Robinson-Superior Treaty, what is the involvement of the PAC with the Fort William First Nation?
  • Is there the possibility that the Public Advisory Committee or one of the subcommittee’s could assist by facilitating discussions amongst key stakeholders?
  • Are the PAC Terms of Reference available on the InfoSuperior website (www.infosuperior.com)?
  • Is it worthwhile to form a smaller group, or subcommittee, to act on some of these suggestions?
  • Can we ask that a Transport Canada representative attend a future PAC meeting?

Jurisdictional Challenges

  • Is the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) responsible if there is contaminated groundwater leaking into the harbour? (i.e., is this the Province’s responsibility?)
  • How did the issue of water contamination within the harbour become a separate issue from the land-based contamination?
  • A coordinated effort to identify a lead would be beneficial
  • Will the funding be the same scheme as other Great Lakes cleanup projects (i.e. one-third Province, one-third Federal, and one-third industry)

Ongoing Work

  • Are the recommendations of this Public Advisory Committee to be considered once a project lead has been identified?
  • If filling the knowledge gaps will not impact the outcome at all, then is it worth working on filling in these gaps?
  • Do we know what studies on mercury, or the North Harbour, are currently being undertaken or anticipated?
  • Are there any potential research opportunities for the North Harbour area such as phytoremediation options or alternative solutions?

Earthcare representative Rena Viehbeck also noted that the Earthcare Advisory Board would be bringing a resolution to Thunder Bay City Council seeking formal resolution for action on North Harbour.

Fish and Wildlife Habitat Impairment (presentation)

Nathan Wilson (Lakehead University) provided an overview of the work he intends to do over the summer to develop a habitat strategy for the Thunder Bay Area of Concern. This could include developing a list and rationale for various potential habitat projects as well as mapping these locations.

 

 

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Want to sail Superior this summer?

If you’re looking to participate in sail racing this summer, the Duluth Keel Club has a message board looking to connect race boat owners with crews, and crews with race boats.

Applicants are asked to send a message to the Keel Club so it can be posted on their website. The keel club asks applicants to include their name, request, a description of sailing experience, and contact info.

The messages can be found on the Duluth Keel Club’s website, toward the bottom of their home page. It is under a header labeled ‘The Crew Board.’ The link to send a message can be found there.


To see the Duluth Keel Club website, click here. 

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Lake Superior Makes Legal History

 

DULUTH, Minn., May 16, 1969, NYTimes“The role of politics in pollution was highlighted in the recent Federal hearings here on the potential pollution of Lake Superior, the vast 31,820-square-mile expanse of blue water that is, from a practical stand-point, the last of the uncontaminated Great Lakes…”

This is the opening line of a New York Times article about a situation which for years put Lake Superior in the headlines across USA and Canada. News about the situation became common knowledge in households around Lake Superior, as residents became increasingly concerned as the situation evolved, twisted, turned, and disturbed.

Beginnings

The situation centres on Reserve Mining at Silver Bay, Minnesota on Lake Superior’s U.S. North Shore. The company funneled tonnes of rock into Lake Superior every day. Enough to fill a railroad car every two minutes. Around the clock. For 25 years. As a result, the company became embattled in a protacted legal battle and the case became an environmental and legal landmark.

To understand what happened at Silver Bay, it is helpful to understand the taconite production process at its mine. Mine rock delivered to the Reserve Mining facility was crushed, separating useable ore from waste rock to produce dark grey taconite pellets for the steel industry. Taconite pellets contain about 65% iron, created by crushing ore into fine powder and separating out magnetite through magnetism. Bentonite clay is then used as a binder, combined with limestone and then fired at high temperature. The resulting pellets are hard, durable, and well suited to bulk marine shipping across the Great Lakes in freighters, ending up in steel mills on the lower lakes. As an example, the Edmund Fitzgerald, which sank on November 10, 1975, took some 26,000 tons of taconite pellets to the bottom of Lake Superior.

Reserve mining began discharging to Lake Superior in 1955. Rock waste, or “tailings” slurry, contained approximately 40% asbestos fibres. For many years, concern over this discharge continued to grow. In fact, this was an early example of “binational” concern about Lake Superior. The issue gained an extremely high level of attention in the media and residents of Lake Superior cities like Duluth, Thunder Bay, Marquette, and Sault Ste. Marie became very aware of the Reserve Mining situation.

Drinking Water

Concern centred on one thing – drinking water. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chemists found microscopic fibres in the water and tests of Duluth’s water supply showed 100 billion fibres per litre of water. Research into water chemistry was made easier because fibres were not found naturally in Lake Superior, making research results very clear. When national television networks and the largest newspapers in U.S., like the New York Times, began to cover the story, standard denials about health concerns were no longer enough. Communities around the entire lake began to take very close notice, especially since government agencies noted a link between asbestos to cancer.

Reserve Mining tailings facilities on Lake Superior at Silver Bay, Minnesota, June, 1973. Photo: By Donald Emmerich, Photographer (NARA record: 3045077) (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Prove It!

The situation brewed for many years and became a full-scale legal battle in August, 1973 when three states and a consortium of environmental groups took Reserve to court. Headlines from New York Times newspapers of the day read:

Politics Roils Hearings on Lake Superior Pollution (May 19, 1969)

Pollution Fought on Lake Superior (March 4, 1973)

Reserve Mining Permitted to Continue Lake Dumping (June 15, 1974)

Judge Miles Lord presided over the case. Lord had deep roots in Minnesota’s Iron Range, having grown up there with brothers who worked in the mines and even an in-law who owned a mine.

Reserve Mining contended they had no alternative but to dump the tailings slurry into the lake. Minnesota Pollution Control Agency didn’t believe the company had not considered land based disposal. Finally, a court order forced the company to produce documentation, including detailed engineering designs, showing that they had in fact, long considered land based disposal of tailings. The case was beginning to round a corner.

 In April of 1974, Judge Lord, frustrated at Reserve’s constant denials and delays, endeavoured to negotiate a settlement. The Reserve Mining Company Chair was put on the stand but refused to cooperate in efforts to move tailings output to a land based system. Media reports from the time say that Judge Lord was furious. That same day, he ordered a halt to any Reserve Mining tailings inputs to Lake Superior. The ruling put 3,00o people out of work immediately. The news reverberated through communities heavily involved in mining around Lake Superior, in both Canada and U.S. The ruling was also front page news across the U.S. This was the first time a U.S. judge had ever ordered such a shutdown.

The case didn’t end there. Reserve appealed and won. They were granted leave to continue dumping to Lake Superior but had to construct a land-based disposal system and start utilizing this new system once complete.  Jobs were cited as an important part of this decision. Health risk was weighed against this important driver of Minnesota’s economy. Reserve built a $370 million disposal system almost 6 square miles in size. The company stopped dumping to Lake Superior.

Settlement Ends Mine Dumping Suit, (April 25, 1982)

Legal Landmark

The decision on this Northern Minnesota situation, directly linked to human health and the well-being of thousands of residents within the Lake Superior basin, was a legal landmark. The case also became one of the most expensive pollution prevention cases in U.S. history. The decision has also produced a legacy. Careful assessment of risk is now a central element of legal cases involving the environment, human health, and the economy.

Epilogue

On August 7, 1986, Reserve Mining Company filed for bankruptcy. Liquid assets were sold and the company did not reopen. Assets were purchased by Cyprus Minerals three years later and operation was started with new owners and management.


To see the Wikipedia entry for United States vs. Reserve Mining Company, click here. 

To see the MNopedia.com entry for United States vs. Reserve Mining Company, click here.

To see the entry for State of MINNESOTA et al. v. RESERVE MINING COMPANY et al. No. A-232. UNITED STATES v. RESERVE MINING COMPANY et al. No. A-262, click here. 

To see ‘Enemies of the People: Asbestos and the Reserve Mining Trial,’ an article by the Minnesota Historical Society, click here. 

 

 

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Trump budget proposal axes Great Lakes funding in 2018

On May 22, the Trump administration released its budget proposal for 2018. It does not include any funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI). The budget proposal was initially submitted to Congress on March 16.

On page 87, the budget files US Environmantal Protection Agency “Geographic Programs” as an elimination, transferring the responsibility for regional environmental clean up onto states and local communities.

The official justification for the budget elimination suggests that “These activities are primarily local efforts and the responsibility for coordinating and funding these efforts generally belongs with States and local partnerships,” and goes on to conclude that “The Geographic Programs, including the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the Chesapeake Bay Program, have received significant federal funding, coordination, and oversight to date. State and local groups are engaged and capable of taking on management of clean-up and restoration of these water bodies.”

The Detroit Free Press also notes that the national Sea Grant program also gets the axe for 2018. The Michigan Sea Grant, jointly run between the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, has conducted Great Lakes research and project facilitation since 1969. Strong Sea Grant programs have also run for many years in both Wisconsin and Minnesota

These cutbacks are accompanied by a proposed 45% reduction in EPA funding for categorical grants to states. States use the funding to enforce regulation of federal environmental laws, like the Clean Air and Clean Water act.

The Detroit Free Press breaks down the budget cuts, percentage wise:

Overall, the EPA faces a 31.4% cut under Trump’s budget plan; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers a 16.3% cut; the National Science Foundation a 10.7% cut. The budget eliminates funding for Energy Star energy efficiency programs and several other voluntary partnership programs related to energy and climate change.

It is important to note that the budget proposal is not official until it is passed by Congress. The Free Press notes several Republican and Democratic lawmakers and representatives have spoken out against the proposed measures.


To view the proposed 2018 U.S. federal budget, click here. Cuts pertinent to the GLRI can be found on page 87.

To read the Detroit Free Press article, click here.

 

 

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Saxon Harbor’s flood-damage relief plan

More than 10 inches of rain fell on Saxon Harbor on July 11-12 last year, an area on Lake Superior on the border between Wisconsin and Minnesota. The Duluth News Tribune reported that $1.375 million in funding from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will be dedicated to dredging and repairing the flood-damaged harbour. The funds are dedicated to a project that will adjust the depth of the harbour and maintain it as a safe refuge for boats during future Superior storms.

The News Tribune recounts the flood damage included destruction of Saxon Harbor’s marina and campground, washed out roads, overflow of Oronto Creek, and 19 boats beached (others sank or set adrift). Three deaths were confirmed in the flood’s wake, and several people had to be rescued from the Apostle Islands. Significant amounts of sediment and mud were swept out to Superior’s shoreline, causing concern for drinking water quality.

Wisconsin Public Radio published an article outlining the concerns around heavy storms affecting water quality.

Photo credit: Wisconsin Public Radio: http://www.wpr.org/how-heavy-flooding-can-damage-drinking-water-quality

The dredging and repair project is part of the Army Corps’ 2017 budget, with a project bidding opportunity to be released Sept. 30. When work begins in 2018, the project will aim to restore the harbour to a depth more suitable for larger boats. Eric J. Peterson, a forest administrator for Iron County, WI, told the News Tribune that this will improve the harbour’s now-limited use. Before the storm, Saxon had three boat launches that could handle boats of 40 feet or more. Currently, the harbour only has one boat launch, facilitating boats of 24 feet or less.

“Saxon Harbor is a designated harbor of refuge on Lake Superior,” he said. “With that comes the responsibility for Army Corps to maintain the channel entering to the marina and the channel down the north basin of the marina.” (Eric J. Peterson to the Duluth News Tribune, 30 May 2017)

Funding for the work laid out above came about after U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis) sent a letter to the Army Corps last fall for assistance in rebuilding the area. On behalf of Iron County, she requested the project be made a priority. In addition to the dredging project, efforts are underway to rebuild the camping ground and marina; construction is to take place in 2018, with a target completion for the 2019 recreation season.


To see the full Duluth News Tribune story, click here.

To see InfoSuperior’s original post on the Saxon Harbor storm, click here.

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June 22 Nipigon Bay PAC Meeting Features Lakewide Action Plan

Nipigon Bay
Nipigon Bay, Lake Superior

The Public Advisory Committee (PAC) to the Nipigon Bay Remedial Action Plan will meet at 7 p.m. on June 22nd in the Red Rock Marina Interpretive Centre in Red Rock, Ontario. Anyone interested in the environmental health of Lake Superior and its surrounding watershed is welcome to attend. The meeting is free of charge.

Rob Hyde of Environment and Climate Change Canada will provide a presentation on the Lake Superior Action and Management Plan. The plan guides Binational Partnership efforts aimed at Lake Superior restoration and protection.

Additionally, a representative of the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate  Change will provide an overview of ongoing environmental monitoring in Nipigon Bay on Lake Superior. Environment and Climate Change Canada will provide information about Nipigon Bay’s status as a Great Lakes Area of Concern. The PAC will also discuss future direction.

Meeting Package:

The Red Rock Marina Interpretive Centre is located at 7 Park Road, Red Rock, ON, P0T 2P0.

To RSVP on Facebook, click here to see our event page. 

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North Harbour Contamination Topic of June 7 PAC Meeting

Thunder Bay North Harbour
A backhoe working from a barge excavates a sample of contaminated material in the northern portion of Thunder Bay Harbour. This work was completed as part of efforts to better characterize the 400,000 cubic meters of contaminated, pulpy material.

The Public Advisory Committee for the Thunder Bay Remedial Action Plan will be holding a meeting on June 7, 2017 at Lakehead University. Remedial Action Plans deal with environmental impairments in Areas of Concern on the Great Lakes. This includes chemical, physical, and biological degradation resulting in pollution and impacts to habitat.

The June 7th meeting will focus on an overview of mercury and other contamination in the northern portion of Thunder Bay Harbour, work completed toward cleaning up the contamination, and planned efforts to move forward with the project. The meeting will begin at 7:00 p.m. in the Advanced Technology and Academic Centre (ATAC) building room 3004 (located in the NW corner of 3rd floor).  Free evening parking at Lakehead University is available right beside the ATAC building.

Lakehead University graduate student Nathan Wilson will also outline work he will be undertaking aimed at developing a “habitat strategy” for the Thunder Bay Area of Concern. Nathan will conduct research  to pinpoint locations which could benefit from protection or restoration. Shorline, coastal wetlands and stream and river mouths entering Superior are highly productive for fish and wildlife but have been heavily impacted by development.

A detailed agenda and a map showing the meeting location are accessible via the links bel0w:

 

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