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Hog Island Inlet cleanup should expand habitat in harbor area
ENVIRONMENT: Trucks are hauling contaminated sediment away from the site on the Superior shoreline.
By John Myers
Duluth News Tribune
Published September 7, 2005

Hog Island Inlet on Superior's shore of the Twin Ports harbor is finally being scraped and cleaned after years of industrial contamination.

When the job is finished later this year, it could become key spawning and feeding habitat for fish and waterfowl -- and one of the few contaminated Great Lakes' hot spots to be cleaned up.

Backhoes are loading dump trucks with tons of contaminated sediments that cover the 17-acre inlet by up to 3 feet.

The $6.3 million cleanup, only the second under the new federal Great Lakes Legacy Act, will continue through November. The Environmental Protection Agency is footing65 percent of the bill, with almost 35 percent paid by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, which is overseeing the cleanup. Some money is being contributed by private firms.

An average of 50 dump trucks will leave the site each day, hauling contaminated soil to the Moccasin Mike Landfill, where it will be buried in a lined cell, said John Robinson, team supervisor for the DNR's Remediation and Redevelopment Program.

"We've had nearly 100 truckloads in one day," Robinson said. "It's going a little better than expected."

Dry weather has helped speed the project, which required contractors to build a water-filled fabric barrier between the harbor and the inlet and then divert Newton Creek. With the inlet dry, crews began building access roads and hauling out contaminated sediment.

Before it was completely dry, DNR fisheries crews rescued more than 1,700 fish -- including walleyes, northern pike and muskies.

"We were surprised by how many fish were in there, and some big ones, too," said Dennis Pratt, DNR fisheries manager in Superior.

He said the inlet could become a key chunk of habitat in the harbor area, where most wetlands have been filled or developed.

"It's already being used, and it's only going to get better," he said.

DNR studies show that industrial waste has caused serious damage to the inlet's ecosystem, including severely limiting the variety and number of underwater invertebrates that make up the base of the aquatic food chain.

High levels of lead contained in the sediment also are considered a human health threat, and signs have been posted for years warning people not to swim or wade at the site.

The inlet -- which is at the mouth of Newton Creek -- is considered one of the 10 worst "hot spots" of contamination in the Duluth-Superior Harbor and, while not an official Superfund site, it's a cleanup priority.

"'We've been working on this for 15 years, and it's good to see the end coming," Robinson said. "A lot of people are excited about the possibilities for the future."

The DNR also has dredged the lower reaches of Newton Creek that flow into the inlet below U.S. Highway 2 -- the last section of the 3-mile creek to be cleaned in a ten-year effort.

Murphy Oil cleaned upper reaches of the creek, starting at its Superior refinery, in the mid-1990s. The company also upgraded its wastewater treatment plant, which feeds into the creek. In low-water periods, the plant is the primary source of the creek's water.

The DNR last year spent $700,000 cleaning up middle stretches of Newton Creek, which runs through the heart of Superior before draining into the harbor at the man-made inlet. The inlet was created using dredge spoils half a century ago.

In addition to paying for the upper creek cleanup, Murphy Oil has agreed to pay $200,000 for the Hog Island Inlet cleanup.


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JOHN MYERS covers the environment, natural resources and general news. He can be reached at (218) 723-5344 or at jmyers@duluthnews.com.

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