DULUTH – Parts of Duluth's Park Point beach will be off-limits this spring and summer as the Army Corps of Engineers cleans up aluminum-can shards and other debris it dumped there last year. The corps will also continue fortifying the eroded beach with dredge material — which brought the debris to the beach in the first place.
City and Army Corps officials said Wednesday the cleanup — spurred by a large amount of decades-old aluminum-can shards residents found along the Lake Superior shoreline — should be completed by the end of June at the latest.
"Following the appearance of can debris on the beach, the city issued a very demanding challenge to the corps," said Jim Filby Williams, Duluth's director of parks, properties and libraries. "They have responded by taking full responsibility at every juncture, without prodding or pushing."
Starting in mid-July, more beach work will take place just south of the shipping canal starting at S. 9th Street and will at times run 24 hours a day until the end of September.
"We've developed measures to mitigate the risk of inadvertently dredging and placing man-made debris," said Army Corps of Engineers project manager Melissa Bosman at a news conference Wednesday.
The beach "nourishment" plan was requested and approved by the city and is needed to temporarily replace sediment lost to high water levels and severe storms in recent years.
The project makes use of material that is dredged every year to ensure the shipping channel remains navigable and will likely create temporary odors in the area.
Opponents of the project, concerned with bringing potentially polluted material to a public beach, argue the practice is illegal under the terms of a 1970s settlement. The Army Corps and state regulators disagree.
"We require the material is fully evaluated for risk before it is placed," said Anna Hotz, a supervisor with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. "We're very concerned with making sure the material is safe."
City officials, local residents and environmental advocates say a long-term solution is needed as erosion and flooding threaten property along the shoreline.
"In the 1990s we didn't have the massive lake level shifts like we do today, so that's part of the reason we're seeing these problems," said Gary Glass, a retired EPA scientist who grew up on Park Point, which is also known as Minnesota Point and is home to more than 300 homes, hotels and businesses.
Duluth Mayor Emily Larson last month requested the Army Corps perform a Section III study, which focuses on the impact navigation projects have on coastlines and could take a close look at erosion problems and potential solutions along the 6-mile sand spit.
How much erosion can be attributed to shipping channel maintenance could determine what level of federal support goes into a permanent solution.
A similar study was last conducted on Park Point 20 years ago and found that coarse sand should be placed every decade near the Superior Entry breakwater.
The $13.3 million project was never funded.
Brooks Johnson • 218-491-6496