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EPA, Michigan to spend $6.7 million to protect endangered Lake Superior reef

Aug 16, 2019 08:53PM ● By Editor

The coastline along Lake Superior at Gay is covered with a thick layer of stamp sands, which extend south to the Grand Traverse Harbor. Photo: Michigan Department of Natural Resources

By Matt Durr | [email protected] - August 16, 2019

GAY, MI -- The Environmental Protection Agency announced it will spend $3.7 million on the removal of copper mining waste rock from a Lake Superior harbor which threatens a fish spawning area, according to the Associated Press. 

The state of Michigan will also contribute $3 million to this cleanup project in the Upper Peninsula.

The effort will clean up waste in the water known as stamp sands. These smothering sands are encroaching to cover Buffalo Reef, a 2,200-acre natural underwater structure that scientists and researchers say is vital for lake trout and lake whitefish spawning. 

“It is currently estimated that this reef, critical to both lake trout and lake whitefish populations in the area, is currently 35 percent unusable by spawning fish due to sand that has filled spaces between rocks, which are necessary for successful fish egg deposit and incubation,” Phil Schneeberger, Michigan Department of Natural Resources Lake Superior Basin coordinator, has said. “Furthermore, migrating sands along the shore have made nursery areas unsuitable to newly-hatched fish.”

The Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission estimates the reef brings $1.7 million annually in economic benefit to the region. Should the reef be buried by the sands, 25,000 pounds of whitefish and 12,500 pounds of lake trout would be lost annually.

“If the reef is lost, over $1 million in tribal fishing jobs would also be lost,” said Keweenaw Bay Indian Community president Chris Swartz, when testifying before Congress. “There would be additional impacts to the recreational fishery, as well as to local businesses that rely on locally caught fish.”

It’s estimated that 60 percent of the reef will not be usable for fishing by 2025 if nothing is done to clean it up. 

The issues began nearly a century ago when stamp sands were deposited into the lake near Gay, Michigan. The area was home to milling operations for the Mohawk and Wolverine mines.

However, in recent years, the stamp sands started overrunning a protective barrier, causing several different issues for fish and fishermen.

In order to correct the problem, 157,000 cubic yards of rock will be removed from Grand Traverse Harbor along with digging a trough to create a sediment trap near the reef, according to the AP. The EPA funding was granted through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative which works to fix environmental issues in the Great Lakes region.

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