August 6, 2009

Barrel Investigation Report

On Wednesday, August 5, members of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and employees of EMR, Inc environmental contractor spoke to a crowd of about 40 people in Duluth about their investigation of military waste barrels in Lake Superior. The event was hosted by Duluth Mayor Don Ness at City Hall, and was attended by representatives of of the Fond du Lac Band, the Duluth American Indian Commission, Nukewatch, Save Lake Superior Assocaition, and NAWC, as well as the mayor of Superior and staffers of Representative James Oberstar, Representative Dave Obey, Senator Russ Feingold and Senator Amy Klobuchar.

"We need to know the truth about these barrels ... and to hold the people who dumped the barrels to account."
Duluth Mayor Don Ness

After a water ceremony led by women of Red Cliff, Mayor Ness welcomed the crowd and thanked Red Cliff for taking the lead on this important study. He called the dumping of military waste into the Lake by the US Army a "terrible wrong."

Former Red Cliff Tribal Chair Jean Buffalo then explained the importance of this investigation to Anishinaabe people - from their spiritual and practical dependence on the water to the treaties signed with the US government that guarantee perpetual rights to hunt, fish and gather on their ceded lands. Pollution, she said, compromises these treaties by endangering the very sustenance of the Anishinaabeg.

Sue Anderson and Scott Carney of EMR, Inc, the environmental contractor hired by Red Cliff to assist with the study, reported that they had positively identified 591 barrels at three sites near the Lester, Talmadge and Sucker Rivers north of Duluth. This is roughly 300 more barrels than were found by the MPCA in the 1990s, and will offer a broader statistical sampling. More than 800 barrels dumped into the Lake from the Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant (TCAAP) are still unaccounted for, they acknowledged, but explained that the size of the Lake and funding constraints limit what they can do. The barrel project is being underwritten by a $1.2 million grant from the Department of Defense under its Native American Lands Environmental Mitigation Program (NALEMP), a program to clean up the DoD's own environmental disasters. According to Sue Anderson, the $40 million allocated to this program is shared by all tribes in the US, and has not changed in value since NALEMPs inception 13 years ago.

In early summer of 2010, EMR, Inc will begin pulling up 70 of these 591 barrels for testing. Red Cliff environmental officer Tracey Ledder said that the recovery will be an expensive and careful process, noting that the barrels may contain PCBs and other toxins, explosives, or even radioactive material. Based on what they find in the barrels, the Band will then test water and sediment in the Lake for possible contamination.

Red Cliff representatives concluded the presentation by welcoming local governments and environmental groups as partners in the barrel project. The activists in the audience were eager to offer partnership, but expressed some skepticism of the DoD's role in the project, specifically why the US Army Corps of Engineers, which dumped the barrels, couldn't seem to find even half of them. People also asked about rumors of dumping continuing into the 1970s, about testing the water at the city water intake for radioactivity and other dangerous toxins, and about holding Honeywell financially liable for testing and clean-up costs.

The Red Cliff Band will post periodic updates on the barrel project at its website. You can read the Nukewatch report on the barrel scandal here.

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