Minor Snag on Buffalo Reef Dredging Project
Posted on: June 14, 2018
Map of Gay Stamp Sands.
This map depicts the stamp sands area near the community of Gay on the Keweenaw Peninsula.

Buffalo Reef, a natural structure that provides spawning and rearing habitat for a significant number of Lake Superior’s trout and white fish populations is in danger of being swallowed up by fine sand tailings from a century old copper mine. The Stamp Sands, as they are referred to, were originally deposited in the lake and on its shores near Gay, MI.

Erosion of the original sand deposit, estimated to have been 22 million cubic yards, has reduced it to 2.3 million cubic yards. The majority of the eroded sediment has travelled south along the shore of Lake Superior towards Grand Traverse Harbour and the nearby Buffalo Reef on Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula.

A retaining wall at Grand Traverse Harbour keeps the majority of the sands from travelling further south onto natural white sand beaches, although a storm in October 2017 did push some past the wall.

This aerial photo shows the stamp sands deposited along the coast north of Grand Traverse Harbor and the natural beaches that lie to the south. (Photo courtesy of Neil Harri)

Grand Traverse Harbour has been dredged previously in 2003, 2009, 2015 and most recently in 2017 and will most likely be dredged again this fall to protect young fish populations coming from Buffalo Reef. It is predicted that 60% of Buffalo Reef will no longer be able to support fish spawning by 2025, so dredging north of Buffalo Reef is necessary to extend its lifetime.

There are plans to do just that, but the project might be delayed until next year according to Steve Casey, Upper Peninsula district supervisor for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s Water Resources DivisionDredging of 200,000 cubic yards of stamp sands from an underwater bedrock trough was set to take place last month but has been delayed due to permit and contracting issues.

An aerial view shows a recent dredging operation in progress at the Grand Traverse Harbor. (Photo courtesy of Neil Harri)

The United States EPA had provided $3.1 million dollars for the planning and implementation of the dredging project to be carried out by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Everything was set to go until concerns were brought up regarding real estate and the dredging of natural sands from the underwater trough. Steven Check, a project manager with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Detroit, has suggested that if bid documents are adjusted and submitted by late June, dredging could begin by late August.

The coastline along Lake Superior at Gay is covered with a thick layer of stamp sands, which extend south to the Grand Traverse Harbor. Credit: Michigan Department of Natural Resources

A public meeting is being scheduled for July to provide further updates on this project and to gather public input on proposed long-term protection plans for the reef. The trough dredging project will only provide 5 to 7 years of protection for Buffalo Reef; therefore, the groups involved in protecting the reef hope to have a long-term plan in place by 2026 and a prevention system for further erosion of the source pile by 2022.

Links to Previous InfoSuperior Articles on Buffalo Reef Project:

Podcast: Critical Fish Habitat Endangered on Superior’s Buffalo Reef

Saving Buffalo Reef

Buffalo Reef Public Meeting Dec. 2017


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