Coast Guard to set up safety zone as DoD barrels are removed from Lake Superior

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Removal of mysterious Department of Defense barrels from western Lake Superior will begin in about two weeks. The U.S. Coast Guard will set up an off-limits safety zone beginning July 30.

This will be a tricky project. Almost 1500 barrels were sunk in three dump sites from 1958 to 1962, some just two miles from Duluth’s water intake in Lake Superior. Because these spots are in the ceded territory, the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa is overseeing removal of these drums, many of them rusted and brittle.

Coast Guard Marine Safety Officer Judson Coleman says they’re setting up a safety zone as a precaution. “I know that there is some public interest surrounding this project, and in order for this project vessel to do its work and recover the barrels and do their testing and that sort of thing without being interrupted.”

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Jennifer Thiemann is the barrel removal project manager with environmental engineering firm EMR. In an interview last April, Thiemann says although these barrels contain parts of weapons made during the Cold War, she doesn’t think they’ll be dangerous. “We don’t believe we will find live ammunition, but because the remote possibility exists, we have to take safety precautions and treat them as potentially live.”

Meanwhile, Lt. Coleman says they won’t be patrolling the area, but they will monitor it. “They won’t necessarily be involved with enforcement but they will be there and they could notify us if there is an issue. Really, as far as enforcement is concerned, nine times out of ten, it’s just a matter of ensuring that people are aware that it’s in place.”

In all, Red Cliff hopes to raise 70 barrels between July 30 and August 20, when the safety zone is set to expire.

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