Barrel Recovery Operation to Begin Monday in Lake Superior


An ambitious effort to raise 70 Department of Defense barrels dumped into Lake Superior a half century ago is expected to get underway Monday.

Almost 1500 of these 55 gallon drums were unloaded in three sites a couple of miles east of Duluth from 1958 to 1962. The Department of Defense is now paying the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa to recover a sampling of these ammunition barrels as part of a federal program to clean up dump sites near or on reservation lands.

Project Manager Jennifer Thiemann says they have two big challenges. First, they’re dealing with potentially explosive material, “We’ll have a team of munitions experts on the barge and we have explosive site plans to help with the handling of that. It includes keeping all non-essential personnel off the barge when munitions are potentially present.”

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That specialty company is Violia of Neenah which will use a custom-built barge. Thiemann says the second challenge is raising old rusty, steel drums without having them disintegrate, “Before we touch any barrels, we’ll be getting a visual confirmation through the remote operated vehicle, which is like an underwater robot. That’ll have a camera on it and it’ll be operated from the barge. If the barrel is showing any signs of degradation which could be holes or rust that could compromise the integrity of the barrel, we’ll have a set of tools on board that can be deployed to help gather that barrel up.”

Army Corp of Engineers records show a variety of unsavory ingredients in these barrels including PCBs, mercury, lead and possibly even uranium. Thiemann and tribal officials say it is important to do no harm in this 15 day operation. They want to remove the potential pollution, not spread it.