Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Lake Superior Barrels Project Field Work

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Preliminary fieldwork results for the Lake Superior Barrels Project recovery fieldwork conducted in the summer of 2012.

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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 of Lake Superior Chippewa (Red Cliff Tribe) has completed initial field work and assessment on the content of barrels recovered from Lake Superior. Through guidance by the Red Cliff Tribal Native American Lands Environmental Mitigation Program Committee (NALEMP Committee), the Red Cliff Tribe and their contractor (EMR, Inc. of Duluth, MN) conducted this fieldwork. This on-going project is taking place in several steps, spanning multiple years, and beginning in 2004 with the identification of the Lake Superior Barrel dumpsite as an area of potential human health and environmental concern and the subsequent application by the Red Cliff Tribe for funding through the Native American Lands Environmental Mitigation Program (NALEMP).

NALEMP is a program created for the specific purpose of aiding Tribes in addressing the effects of past military operations on Native American Lands. In 2006, the Red Cliff Tribe entered into a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) through NALEMP, which is funded by the Department of Defense (DoD), to investigate the barrels. Oversight for the project is provided by the USACE-Omaha District, the Red Cliff Tribal Council, the Red Cliff Environmental Programs Manager, and the Tribal NALEMP Committee. The NALEMP Committee is composed of a group of Red Cliff Tribal members who volunteer their time to oversee the project for the Red Cliff Tribe. In 2007, the Red Cliff Tribe contracted EMR to complete a Work Plan Set, consisting of the Field Sampling Plan (FSP), Quality Assurance Project Plan (QAPP) and Site Safety and Health Plan (SSHP), for a geophysical survey to map barrel locations. In 2008 the Tribe contracted EMR to update and implement the Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study (RI/FS). Field sampling for the RI/FS phase was originally scheduled for 2009, but was rescheduled for 2012 due to the lack of funding and additional regulatory requirements.

The Lake Superior Barrels Project is known as being both unique and ground-breaking. It is the first NALEMP funded project located within Ceded Territory in which the Lake Superior Chippewa Bands maintain Treaty Rights. It is the first project to be located within a large body of water that is part of a vast transportation system. Lake Superior is one of five Great Lakes in which through their connecting channels, they form the largest fresh surface water system on earth. These factors presented a number of challenges and regulatory requirements that have never been encountered before in a NALEMP funded project. These challenges have involved extensive consultation with many federal and state agencies, including DoD, USACE, U.S. Army Environmental Command (USAEC), the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA).

A total of 25 barrels were recovered during the barrel recovery fieldwork between July 30, 2012 and August 13, 2012. Two types of contents were discovered within the barrels; a composite material of incinerated metals was found in three of the barrels and munitions parts were found in the remaining 22. All of the munitions parts recovered from these barrels were identified as ejection cup assemblies for BLU-4 cluster bomb devises. Explosives experts on board conducted tests in the ejection cup assemblies and identified an active ejection charge composed of M5 propellant. Each of the 22 barrels contained between 600 and 700 ejection cup assemblies. Similar barrel contents were recovered during investigations during the 1990s. These investigations had determined that the charges within the ejection cup assemblies were inert; therefore the discovery of active charges was unanticipated. 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.

Although the goal of the fieldwork was to recover 70 barrels, the recovery team faced several challenges upon the discovery of and accumulation of several thousand active ejection charges. The primary concern was the safety of the team combined with the logistical concerns regarding the transport and disposal of explosive materials. After the recovery of 25 barrels, the Red Cliff Tribe and EMR, in consultation with federal agencies, made the decision to stop the recovery of additional barrels in order to reserve a portion of the project budget for the transport and disposal of the ejection cup assemblies. All recovered materials are securely stored while regulatory compliance details are arranged.

A variety of analytical testing was performed on samples taken from within the recovered barrels and from sediment and water outside of the barrel before they were recovered. Radiation testing was conducted immediately after each recovered barrel reached the surface of the water. No levels of radiation above background were detected at any point during the fieldwork. All samples were shipped to an independent, accredited laboratory and tested for a wide range of chemical constituents, including Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) metals, VOCs, PCBs, PAHs, and asbestos. All of the analytical testing has been completed and analysis is ongoing. Work will continue on this project through the spring and summer. The analytical results will be used to determine if the barrel contents pose any potential threat to area residents, tribes, fisheries, aquatic life, or the environment. The primary goal is to determine if further investigation or remediation is required. Results will be summarized in a Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) compliant Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study reports, which are expected to be complete in 2013.

The mission of the Red Cliff Tribe to fully characterize the type and extent of military wastes, which may have impacts on human health, the economy, natural resources, and cultural uses within Chippewa Ceded Territory and to determine if further remedial work is required to preserve the rich natural resources of Lake Superior. Further, the Red Cliff Tribe is committed to the protection and restoration of natural resources in the Ceded Territory, and is dedicated to working with federal agencies to clean up, restore, and protect the ecosystems of the Ceded Territory. The Red Cliff Tribe is also committed to ensuring that the US Government meets their Federal Trust responsibilities associated with the lands and waters of the Ceded Territories. Our goal is to allow for the full use of and enjoyment of the protected resources and ecological conditions of our region, without restriction due to contamination.

The Red Cliff Tribe will be hosting a closed press conference (invite only) in the near future.

For further information please contact:
Frank Koehn at 218-341-8822 or ; Red Cliff Tribal NALEMP Public Relations
Melonee Montano at 715-779-3650 or ; Red Cliff Tribal Environmental Programs Manager

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Frank Koehn
Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa
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Melonee Montano
Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa
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