SUPERIOR, Wis. — The city of Superior has agreed to join a roughly $18.5 million project to remove contaminated sediments from Howards Bay to improve shipping and restore fish and wildlife habitat.
The Superior City Council approved agreements Tuesday to work with federal, state and private partners on the Howards Bay dredging project, Wisconsin Public Radio reported.
Howards Bay is an estuary in the St. Louis River, which has been designated as one of the most polluted areas on the Great Lakes under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. The bay has been the location of multiple shipyards, commercial shipping activity and other industry since the early 1800s.
The bay is contaminated with heavy metals, such as lead and mercury, as well as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are cancer-causing compounds, said Joe Graham of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
The sediments are also contaminated with tributyltin, a compound that came from a particular paint used on ocean-bound ships to prevent the growth of barnacles and other marine organisms. It's extremely toxic to aquatic life and has been banned, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
"Back in the days before there was environmental regulation, there wasn't a lot of thought given to what we were putting into the water," Graham said. "Those contaminants now are a legacy that we have to deal with today and restrict our uses of those waterways."
The city of Superior has agreed to pay for the cost of stormwater treatment related to the project, as well as road repairs from hauling the dredged materials. The city will accept the dredged material at the Wisconsin Point landfill.
Superior will provide about $2.6 million in in-kind contributions to the project since the city has been cited as a source of the contamination, said Darienne McNamara, the city's environmental regulatory manager.
Leaded gasoline used on roads in the past was washed into the bay through the city's stormwater system, McNamara said.
The city's agreement was the final step to make the project eligible for federal funding this year, according to state officials. Federal funding will account for 64 percent of the cleanup, with the largest chunk coming from the Environmental Protection Agency.
The remaining 36 percent will come from the state, city and private partners, such as shipyards in Superior. Fraser Shipyards is contributing more than $2 million.
The EPA will decide this month which cleanup projects will get funding, McNamara said.
The Howards Bay cleanup project is expected to start next year and should take a year to complete.