Duluth Works Project to revitalize the neighborhood | To exploit
DULUTH – The site of a long-standing old steel mill in Duluth, where raw iron ore from the Iron Range mines was turned into products used near and far, has been teeming with life for many years.
US Steel’s Duluth Works steel and cement manufacturing complex in West Duluth, operating from 1915 to 1987, was once the city’s largest employer and the state’s fourth-largest industrial complex.
Once bustling with life, the resort – built on land near Spirit Lake, a widened stretch of the St. Louis River that flows into Lake Superior – contained so many buildings that it was practically a city in its own right.
The steel from the factory helped build ships at the Duluth Shipyards used during both World Wars. It made mesh used to build the country’s highway systems and to build Cold War missile silos in the Midwest.
It even produced grinding rods which are returned directly to the Range for use in taconite pelletizing plants.
But hardly anything remains for more than 30 years of the massive complex, which closed for the most part in the 1970s. By the mid-1980s, its buildings were all razed.
Pretty much all that was left was the nearby Morgan Park neighborhood, originally built as a corporate town to house Duluth Works employees; railroad tracks leading nowhere – and a site polluted with contaminated sediment from years of steelmaking, when heavy metals and chemical wastes were dumped into streams and spilled into the Saint-Louis River .
But the neighborhood is coming back to life thanks to a multi-million dollar project to clean up the site and eventually create a recreation area, with a trail following the historic railroad that carried iron ore to the facility, and other waterfront features.
The Spirit Lake Great Lakes Legacy Act project is being carried out under a voluntary agreement between US Steel, which still owns the old plant site, and the Great Lakes National Program Office (GLNPO) of the Environmental Protection Agency. the United States.
US Steel’s location is quite large; it became a Superfund site in the 1980s. Superfund sites are polluted places in the United States requiring a long-term response to clean up hazardous material contaminations.
“Many aspects of the clean-up or end-use of the site are handled by US Steel and the State of Minnesota Outside the Project (GLNPO),” said Mark Loomis, US EPA-GLNPO project manager. “The Spirit Lake project is focused on remediation and reclamation at Spirit Lake, adjacent to the former US Steel plant.
The total cost of the proposed Legacy Act deal is $ 75 million for construction activities, Loomis said. However, the cost to complete all planned work will be higher and US EPA and US Steel are working with contractors, state agencies, the Lake Superior Chippewa Fond du Lac Band, the Town of Duluth and other key stakeholders. to better refine the work of the project. associated with these additional costs, he said.
The Legacy Act is a voluntary cleanup program that uses non-federal matching, in cash or in-kind, to leverage federal actions. In this case, the non-federal sponsor is US Steel.
“We started working with US Steel under the Legacy Act about 10 years ago,” Loomis said.
Physical work began in October 2020 and from July crews will begin dredging contaminated sediment offshore, which will then be contained and safely buried on US Steel land in Contained Disposal Facilities (CDF). .
Loomis said he expects the dredging and remediation to be completed as early as 2023. The project includes restoring habitat for native species, from water to shore to land. Restoration will improve fish and wildlife habitat for locally important species, allowing populations to increase and thrive.
The Legacy Act project also provides for the construction of a trail “along the historic railroad, near the river, where people can safely recreate themselves,” Loomis said. He intends to “bring back that long connectivity to recreate along the river, hiking, biking, fishing, boating”.
Loomis added that the Town of Duluth will participate in the final plans for the recreation area, which could include a fishing pier and a small boat launch.
According to Sammy Maida, area historian and administrator of the US Steel Duluth Works public Facebook page, the Duluth Works complex, which once employed 3,500 people, including railroad workers, shaped the past of Duluth.
The town’s population skyrocketed at the heyday of the mill and cement factory.
Ultimately, the “dumping” of steel by foreign steel producers (selling massive amounts of steel at prices far below what domestic producers could match), as well as a lack of market. region large enough that US Steel would justify investing in the facility – plus the problem with plant pollution, was the demise of Duluth Works.
But as the site comes to life – as habitat is restored and people return to the water and land where industry once prevailed – more and more connections are formed, more transformations will occur. , Loomis said. “It creates a link between the environment and the community.”