EPA and Partners Complete Cleanup and Restoration, Open New Trail at Spirit Lake near Duluth, Minnesota

Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding accelerated the project, part of the St. Louis River Area of Concern on Lake Superior

CHICAGO (July 10, 2024) – Today, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced the completion of a four-year, $186 million sediment cleanup and habitat restoration project at Spirit Lake near Duluth, Minnesota. EPA contributed $92 million to the project, including funding provided through the Biden-Harris Administration’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, in a cost-sharing partnership with U.S. Steel.

The completion of this work allowed for construction of a new two-mile-long waterfront trail, which was officially opened to the public today by Region 5 Administrator Debra Shore, Mayor Roger Reinert and project parters.

“With today’s grand opening, we’re seeing firsthand how Great Lakes Legacy Act partnerships are transforming affected land and water into restored ecosystems and recreational opportunities,” said EPA Region 5 Administrator and Great Lakes National Program Manager Debra Shore. “Thanks to this investment from President Biden’s Investing in America agenda and the support of our many partners, a significant portion of a legacy contaminated site has been cleaned up and restored to beautiful habitat, and we’re one step closer to restoring the entire St. Louis Area of Concern.”

“For decades, excessive pollution in and around the St. Louis River watershed kept Minnesotans away,” said Sen. Tina Smith. “Completing the cleanup at Spirit Lake and opening a new pedestrian trail is a huge step toward reviving public access to this natural resource and keeping the St. Louis River watershed and Lake Superior clean for generations to come.”

“This vital project and investment moves us one step closer to our ultimate goal of removing one of the Great Lakes’ most important waterways from the Great Lakes Area of Concern List,” said Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Deputy Commissioner Peter Tester. “In partnering with federal, state, local, and Tribal governments, as well as other stakeholders, our work to restore and revitalize the St. Louis River will support healthy families, recreation, and a vibrant local economy well into the future.”

“U.S. Steel is excited to join EPA and our local partners in celebrating the official opening of the new recreational amenities along the Spirit Lake project site on the St. Louis River,” said U.S. Steel Senior Director of Environmental Remediation Mark Rupnow. “The significant environmental improvements to the St. Louis River Estuary and the former site of Duluth Works were only made possible by the collaboration and perseverance of the project partners. The area will provide an environmentally engaging space for years to come.”

The Spirit Lake site is located south of the Morgan Park neighborhood in Duluth, within the St. Louis River Area of Concern. The purpose of the project was to address chemicals in the sediment, primarily polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, and heavy metals including lead, copper and zinc. Work began in 2020 and continued throughout 2023. In total, 1.3 million cubic yards of impacted material was remediated. 460,000 cubic yards of sediment were dredged and placed into two newly built disposal facilities at the site. Protective caps were also placed over 96 acres of aquatic habitat. The project resulted in extensive restoration and habitat enhancement, including the creation of a new 42-acre shallow sheltered bay for fish spawning habitat.

This project is part of the larger effort to restore and delist the St. Louis River as a Great Lakes area of concern. EPA managed the Spirit Lake cleanup under the Great Lakes Legacy Act, a voluntary cleanup program funded by the federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding. As the non-federal sponsor, U.S. Steel provided project management, technical expertise, and covered the remainder of project costs.

Some of EPA’s portion of the funding comes from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s $1 billion investment to accelerate cleanup and restoration of the Great Lakes. The agency is leveraging this funding with annual Great Lakes Restoration Initiative appropriations and funding from other sources to finish cleanups and restoration at the remaining 22 United States areas of concern. Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding directly supports 11 of these cleanups, including those in the St. Louis River Area of Concern.   

More information about the project is available on EPA’s Spirit Lake webpage.

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