Friday, December 15, 2017

Minnesota agency fights environmental impact on St. Louis Bay site

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) is fighting the fallout from more than 150 years of historic industrial activity in an aquatic habitat restoration project for the 21st Avenue West channel of St. Louis Bay.

The MPCA is restoring roughly 350 acres of aquatic habitat toward a shallow, sheltered bay in the 21st Avenue West Channel in northeastern St. Louis Bay in Duluth, an area that includes open water flats and shallow sheltered bay habitats that have been highly impaired by historical industrialized and urban development that dates back to the 1800s, according to Diane Desotelle, Area of Concern Coordinator for MPCA.

“This project is the biggest and most complex,” Desotelle told EP News Wire today. “Past industrial work has created numerous impairments that must be removed.”

Specifically, the 21st Avenue West project is taking place within the St. Louis River and Bay Area of Concern, designated as such under the 1987 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement because the area was considered highly degraded due to factors such as historical discharges, Superfund sites, high levels of contamination in river sediments, and landfill sites. Today, this Area of Concern also receives direct sewage from a district sanitary treatment plant and remains heavily industrialized.

“If you were to scuba dive in this area, it would seem pretty flat -- nothing is growing and nothing is happening,” Desotelle told EP News Wire. “It is not a good habitat.”

Desotelle said the plan is to shallow up the site so that sunlight can reach the bottom. “Then, once a seed source is there, vegetation will grow; then insects will come and so forth as nature takes over.

“We’re just giving nature a boost to help it along,” she said.

The MPCA will monitor the project and the area once the project is finished, Desotelle said. “We have been doing the project now for over three years as a pilot program; now it’s in full gear,” she said. “We will be working at this site for the next three years -- 2016, 2017 and 2018.”

The project in the St. Louis River and Bay Area of Concern falls under the larger Lake Superior Great Lakes Areas of Concern, which are Areas of Concern targeted for restoration by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which provides partial funding for numerous projects designed to restore and maintain the quality and ecosystems of the Great Lakes watershed.

In fact, this restoration project is one of 60-plus projects that the MPCA is working on in conjunction with more than 15 partner agencies and organizations, including the EPA, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the St. Louis River Alliance (SLRA) and the Minnesota Land Trust (MLT).

Their over-arching goal is to restore the fisheries and migratory waterfowl habitats and, in turn, restore the St. Louis River estuary as one of Minnesota’s and the Great Lakes’ premier recreational fisheries. Construction activities associated with the project are being conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“We’re not just talking about a problem,” Desollet told EP News Wire. “We’re actually doing something about it.”

Currently, the MPCA is accepting public comments until Oct. 28 on an Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) for the 21st Avenue West aquatic habitat restoration project. State agencies use an EAW to decide whether a more in-depth Environmental Impact Statement is needed.

The EAW covers site location details, nearby resources and other elements, including land use, soils, water resources, existing sites with contamination, fish, wildlife, plant communities and sensitive ecological resources, historic properties, air and noise emissions, traffic, etc.

Written comments should be sent to Patrice Jensen at patrice.jensen@state.mn.us.

Organizations in this story

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency 520 Lafayette Road N St. Paul, MN - 55155

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 1200 Pennsylvania Ave NW Washington, DC - 20460

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