The Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa is having another go at the munitions barrels dumped into their waters by the Army Corps of Engineers during the Cold War years.
Nearly 1,500 55-gallon drums were interred beneath the lake on orders of the U.S. Department of Defense from 1959 to 1962. In 2012 the band received $3.3 million in federal funds to pull up 70 of them, but stopped at 25 after they found 22 of the containers to be packed with live ammunition. The band’s contractors wrapped the barrels securely and promptly returned them to the depths.
Now, proper permits in hand, the Red Cliff Band has been pulling up the barrels again and will send them to Michigan to be incinerated, reported the Northland News Center.
The U.S. Coast Guard confirmed that crews have once again started the removal process from the site, which is on Lake Superior near the McQuade Safe Harbor, according to Roundhouse Talk. Nearly 1,450 of the 55-gallon barrels still lie 130 to 400 feet below the surface of the lake and are within at least 1.5 miles of the drinking-water intake system for Duluth and Superior, Wisconsin.
Explosive dangers aside, experts said the munitions are not a threat to human life, since no traces of toxins that could contaminate nearby food or water supplies were found.
“Preliminary data results show no immediate cause for concern regarding the safety of water and fish consumption, and citizens of the region should continue to follow existing guidelines for Lake Superior,” the Red Cliff Band said in a statement earlier this year.
The barrel removal is more about protecting ceded territory and keeping it safe for people and animals using the lake, be it wildlife or humans.
“We feel dedicated to do that,” said tribal Chairwoman Rose Gurnoe-Soulier at a news conference, according to Wisconsin Public Radio. “Dedicated to the cause of things in those barrels, seeing if it’s harmful to our lake, to the environment, to the wildlife, to our eagles and just to people who recreate on the lake, if they ingest water.”
In a February 18 blog entry, Red Cliff assured the public that “regulatory compliance is a major component of this project,” but the site has not been updated since then.
The band is using a $3.3 million grant from the Department of Defense under the Native American Lands Environmental Mitigation program, which aims to address the effects of past military operations on Indian lands.
“Due to the barrels’ site being of most concern and lying within our ceded territory, we applied for and received funding for our first Cooperative Agreement under this program in 2004,” Montano told ICTMN last year.