Buffalo Reef Public Meeting – Linden-Hubbell High School – Dec. 5
Posted on: November 30, 2017
Gay Stamp Sands
This aerial photo shows the drift of stamp sands from the community of Gay, south toward the Grand Traverse Harbor on Lake Superior. The community of Gay is located on the east side of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (Photo: Neil Harri).

A public meeting dealing with Lake Superior’s Buffalo Reef, which is located on the east side of Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula, will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, December 5th at Lake Linden-Hubbell High School Auditorium, 601 Calument St. in Lake Linden, Houghton County. The reef, which is 5.6 square miles/9 square kilometers in size, provides productive spawning habitat for whitefish and lake trout. Stamp sand wastes are a legacy of the copper mining industry. Over many decades, the sands, which were sluiced onto the shoreline near the town of Gay, Michigan have spread some 5 mi./8 km. south and are now threatening Buffalo Reef’s important fish habitat and spawning area. Area tribes attribute much of their lake trout catch to the important habitat at Buffalo reef.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has created a cooperative, multi-entity task force to address the Buffalo Reef situation and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have been helpful in providing the information contained in this article to better understand the Buffalo Reef situation. The EPA formed the task force to develop a plan over the next couple of years aimed at resolution of the Buffalo Reef situation.  The plan will gather input from many stakeholders, including the public. “We will be soliciting public input on what issues the plan needs to address and looking for volunteers to help us understand and resolve those issues,” says Steve Casey, Upper Peninsula District Supervisor for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s Water Resources Division.

“Nearly a quarter of the annual lake trout yield from Lake Superior’s Michigan waters comes from within 50 miles of Buffalo Reef.”

“The stamp sands were created in the early 1900s as a byproduct of copper processing at the Wolverine and Mohawk stamp mills in the community of Gay,” says John Pepin, Michigan Department of Natural Resources deputy public information officer. “Since that time, these coarse, black sands which were dumped into Lake Superior, have drifted south and are now threatening to smother Buffalo Reef and natural beaches south of the Grand Traverse Harbor.”

Nearly a quarter of the annual lake trout yield from Lake Superior’s Michigan waters comes from within 50 miles of Buffalo Reef. The Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission estimates the annual economic benefit of the reef at $1.7 million.

Map of Gay Stamp Sands.
This map depicts the stamp sands area near the community of Gay on the Keweenaw Peninsula.
“We need to develop a long-term, adaptive management plan, a solution, for the Gay stamp sands problem.”

Over the past roughly 80 years, the stamp sands have shifted south – moved by winds, waves and nearshore lake currents – about 5 miles to the Grand Traverse Harbor, covering 1,426 acres of shoreline and lake bottom. Michigan Department of Natural Resources has applied for a permit from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, under the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act, to allow the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to remove more than 200,000 cubic yards of stamp sands from Lake Superior. The EPA has provided $3.1 million to the Army Corps to design and carry out the dredging work, scheduled for May 2018. “This dredging project would buy 5 to 7 years of protection for the reef and the whitefish juvenile recruitment area south of the harbor,” said Steve Casey. “In the meantime, we need to develop a long-term, adaptive management plan, a solution, for the Gay stamp sands problem.”

We’re hoping construction can start on some type of control mechanism for the original pile of stamp sands by 2021.”

A task force steering committee has been named which includes Lori Ann Sherman, Natural Resources Director for the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, Tony Friona, Great Lakes liaison for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Engineer, Research and Development Center and Steve Casey, U.P. District Supervisor of the DEQ’s Water Resources Division. “We’re hoping construction can start on some type of control mechanism for the original pile of stamp sands by 2021, with completion two years after that,” Casey said. “We would then hope to put long-term maintenance dredging in place by 2026. The annual costs for that dredging would depend on which type of long-term remedy is selected.” The stamp sands source pile at Gay was originally estimated to contain 22 million cubic yards of material, with 2.3 million cubic yards of material remaining today.
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