Commissioners' view: St. Louis River is a gem worth saving
This editorial was written by John Linc Stine, commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and Tom Landwehr, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The article was first published in the August 11, 2013 issue of the Duluth News Tribune.
There never has been a more perfect time for restoring a place dear to Northlanders — the St. Louis River — from more than 130 years of accumulated environmental injury. For the first time, functional partnerships, dedicated funding and the will to achieve ambitious and realistic cleanup and restoration goals are perfectly aligned to help comprehensively restore the health of not only the headwaters of Lake Superior but the entire Great Lakes region.
As the News Tribune Opinion page recently noted, the Great Lakes are an invaluable environmental and economic resource (Our View: “Don’t cut funding for Great Lakes,” July 31) — and it all begins here in the Twin Ports. Lake Superior and the St. Louis River estuary provide vital environmental and economic benefits: abundant fresh water for communities, industries and wildlife and an environmentally efficient transportation system for raw materials and finished goods.
Less than two weeks ago, a diverse group of more than 100 local, state and federal agencies and community stakeholders announced a bold and aggressive 12-year plan to finish up the important work of removing the remaining contamination and restoring critical habitat by 2025 that will cost $300 million to $400 million. The plan represents the largest cleanup and restoration effort proposed in the Great Lakes, and we believe this is the perfect time to make this reasonable investment in the resources that sustain our economy and our environment.
The most recent infusion of Minnesota Clean Water Land and Legacy Amendment money leveraged matching federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative money and will result in a $16 million kick-start for the immediate implementation of the plan’s priority actions. This unique state-federal funding partnership, along with resources from entities responsible for the pollution, will contribute greatly to the overall success of this effort over the next 12 years. Among the specific achievable and measureable goals are the restoration of 1,700 acres of fish and wildlife habitat and the clean up of all identified sites with contaminated sediments that pose a risk to human health and the environment.
This effort is designed to simultaneously address local economic issues and environmental concerns.
Economically, Duluth-Superior is the largest port on the Great Lakes and supports 11,510 jobs, nearly $546 million in wages and an estimated $1.5 billion in business revenue.
Clearly, we all share a vested interest in our St. Louis River resource. Environmentally, the historic industrial and municipal development, before environmental awareness and regulation, resulted in “legacy impairments.” Remnants of these once-sanctioned activities — including improper municipal and industrial waste disposal, unchecked land-use practices, dredging and filling of aquatic habitat and damaging logging practices — contributed to a complex set of pollution issues and natural resource losses that still exist today.
The local community began assessing and addressing these accumulated legacy impairment issues in the late 1980s. These activities led to the International Joint Commission designating the St. Louis River as an Area of Concern in 1987. It is one of 43 such designated sites throughout the Great Lakes. As a result, nine specific legacy impairments were identified and must be removed to declare the area fully restored. Importantly, even with this legacy of impairments, the St. Louis River remains an ecosystem of national significance that warrants further investment to ensure its ongoing viability.
We’re building on nearly 30 years and $500 million spent thus far to address these impairments. The results to date are impressive. Improved municipal wastewater treatment and significant progress controlling storm- and waste-water overflows to Lake Superior have contributed to water-quality improvements and rebounding fish and wildlife populations. A huge step forward has been the restoration of spawning habitat for lake sturgeon followed by the successful natural reproduction of this important fish. There also has been progress on cleaning up and restoring industrially contaminated sites such as Hog Island/Newton Creek in Wisconsin and the St. Louis River Interlake/Duluth Tar and U.S. Steel Superfund sites in Minnesota.
Despite these significant achievements, we realize there is more work to be done — much more. The recently released plan identifies in great detail the bold actions that must be taken to complete this important effort. We now have the strategic partnerships in place and the community consensus to really implement the plan.
Why is this large project achievable? A big share of credit goes to Minnesota voters who had the foresight to approve the Clean Water Land and Legacy Amendment in 2008. This dedicated, reliable funding source puts the St. Louis River at a distinct advantage over other Great Lakes restoration efforts. Minnesota voters should be proud of their vote for clean-water protection.
The financial resources are within reach and, under Gov. Mark Dayton’s leadership, we are committed to seeing it through.