St. Paul Audubon Society Treasurer Kiki Sonnen has visited Pig's Eye Regional Park since the 1970s. The park is part of a major North America flyway for heron, who nest there and travel up to 30 miles around the region to feed before returning to Pig's Eye.
"Great blue herons, great egrets, black-crowned night herons, double-crested cormorants. They nest together on an island called Pig's Eye Island Number 2," Sonnen said, who is passionate about birds and wildlife.
But over the years, the number of heron nests have declined sharply, from 1,200 to 500, said Sonnen. One cause could be the high level of pollutants, including PFAS, that have been found in eggs at the Heron Rookery island at the park, according to a St. Paul staff report.
The St. Paul City Council is asking the state for funds from President Joe Biden's federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the state's $7 billion state budget surplus to help clean up years of pollution near the underutilized lake. The amount of funding needed was not specified.
The area near the lake, wetlands and flood plain were used as a landfill from 1920 to the early 1970s. The state designated the Pig's Eye landfill and fish hatchery dump site as a Minnesota state Superfund site in 1989.
Serious pollutants threaten all downstream communities that rely on the Mississippi River for their water supply, Council Member Jane Prince said in an e-mail.
"With the climate disruptions that have become more common, there is an increased likelihood that flooding of Pig's Eye threatens the Mississippi River," Prince said.
Council Members Prince and Nelsie Yang will introduce a resolution on the issue Wednesday, and Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-St. Paul, will hold an Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy hearing on the matter Jan. 18.
"We think that once it's cleaned up, then people won't look at it as a dump anymore, they'll look at it as a sacred site, a valuable site for the entire community," Sonnen said.