House bill lines up cash for study
of harbor corrosion
Congress and the state move closer to providing money
to discover the cause of steel corrosion in the Twin Ports
By Peter Passi
Duluth News Tribune
Published May 26, 2005
Efforts to figure out what's chewing away at the steel
structures that gird the Twin Ports' waterfront inched
ahead this week, thanks to a bill passed late Tuesday
night by the U.S. House of Representatives.
The Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill
contains a provision for $300,000 to study the mysterious
pitting of steel in the harbor.
"We're delighted," said Jim Sharrow, facilities
manager for the Duluth Seaway Port Authority, upon receiving
news of the prospective appropriation. "This funding
would mean we could get under way with a study to fully
understand the causes of the very unusual corrosion we're
seeing in our harbor."
Perhaps most importantly, however, Sharrow hopes a study
will offer a solution to the vexing problem.
Congressman Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., noted that steel in
the harbor is corroding at accelerated rates, up to 10
times faster than what scientists would expect to see.
He said the proposed federal funding would go to help
the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers research why.
"Something must be happening in the quality of the
water to cause this to happen, and we need to know what
it is," Oberstar said.
"This is a significant problem for our area,"
agreed Congressman Dave Obey, D-Wis., who also played
an instrumental role in appropriating money for the research
project in the House bill.
Although the House supports funding a study, no federal
money has yet been secured.
The Senate still must put together its own version of
the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill,
and any differences between it and the House bill will
be reconciled in a conference committee.
Nevertheless, Oberstar remains upbeat about the prospects
for federal funding of a corrosion study.
"It's about as near to a done deal as you could
get at this point in the legislative process," the
An additional $100,000 in state funding could be in the
State Sen. Yvonne Prettner Solon, DFL-Duluth, said the
Minnesota Senate included money for a corrosion study
in the Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources
bill it recently passed.
While the Minnesota House didn't include similar funding
in its version of the same bill, Prettner Solon said a
conference committee appeared poised to preserve it in
a final compromise bill.
Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, serves as co-chairman of the
conference committee handling bill and also has been working
to provide money for a corrosion study.
"I'm pretty comfortable it will come through,"
Prettner Solon said. "You never can tell what kind
of twists and turns could happen during a special session,
but it looks pretty good to me right now.
"This corrosion is an important issue that needs
to be addressed," Prettner Solon said. "We can't
afford to delay any longer."
If the corrosion isn't addressed in the next five to
10 years, Sharrow said steel pilings and other structures
may be so badly compromised that replacement is the only
solution. And that would be a costly remedy.
A study prepared for the Corps and delivered to it in
March said replacing steel pilings alone could cost more
than $100 million.
But finding the cause of the corrosion looks to be a
challenging exercise. A panel of experts who visited the
Twin Ports in September to assess the situation identified
several areas that warrant study, including water chemistry,
the potential effect of micro-organisms and the possible
impact of electrical currents.
The panel suggested that altered water chemistry, dissolved
oxygen content and road salt could play a role in the
damage. The experts also recommended that other ports
be studied to determine whether the situation in the Twin
Ports is unique or whether similar problems are beginning
to surface elsewhere on the Great Lakes.
"We can afford to leave no avenue unexplored in
determining what may be contributing to this problem,"
Sharrow said that because of the complexity of the issue,
"The Corps has told us a comprehensive and meaningful
study could cost well over $1 million."
"There may be no silver bullet," Sharrow said.
"Our problem may result from a delicate interaction
of several factors."