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Survey of cans, metal accidentally dumped on Duluth beach planned for this spring

Fragments of metal and cans were inadvertently dumped on Park Point Beach after sediment from the harbor was added to combat erosion.

Work to clean up sharp fragments of old pop and beer cans that were inadvertently dumped on a Duluth beach during a dredging project will get underway soon. 

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) in August and September 2020 dumped nearly 50,000 cubic yards of dredged material — enough to cover an entire football field in 25 feet of material — from the shipping channels in the Duluth-Superior Harbor on the north end of Minnesota Point/Park Point Beach in an effort to help restore the eroded beach and dune habitat. 

Old aluminum cans dating back to the 1970s were soon discovered on the busy beach near Canal Park. 

The USACE took responsibility, saying in January it believes about 27,000 cubic yards of beach nourishment material was dredged from an area of the harbor where cans and trash had apparently been dumped decades ago. 

Since the cans were discovered in October 2020, the Corps and city officials have been working on a plan to collect the debris and prevent this from happening in the future. 

The city and USACE on April 1 provided an update, saying they'll soon begin a survey of the situation on the beach between 7th and 12th streets using metal-detecting devices. The USACE will issue a report and determine the best says to clean up the cans.  

"Bottom line: Our goal is to remove as much of that debris as possible as quickly as possible for safety's sake," Lt. Col. Scott Katalenich, commander of the USACE's Detroit District, which includes Duluth, said during a news conference last week.

But how long it takes to clean up depends on what USACE learns from the survey.

"If the debris is found to be concentrated in a relatively small area, then we may be able to complete the clean up rather quickly. But if the debris is more dispersed, then the cleanup effort may take longer," Katalenich said, according to the Duluth News Tribune. He noted in the news conference, USACE will look beyond where it dumped sediment last year because waves continue to erode the beach, bringing the trash farther south on the beach.

About 20 gallons of cans and aluminum pieces have been collected from the beach thus far by residents and the Park Point Community Club, with the debris being collected from an area between 7th and 10th streets.

Meanwhile, signs warning people of the cans and fragments were placed at beach access points back in March.

"We should tell our beachgoers to be careful. If you're digging in the sand, be aware that you might hit some sharp objects, wear water shoes, watch your pets. Be ready to maybe bring a first aid kit," Dawn Buck, who lives on Park Point and is part of the Park Point Community Club, told WDIO

A meeting about the cleanup process is scheduled for April 14, Duluth Mayor Emily Larson said. 

Erosion at Park Point has been a growing concern among residents and officials. Larson said last week the city doesn't have the resources to build the beach back up on its own, so without the USACE, the temporary efforts to address erosion wouldn't have been possible.

In total, USACE, in partnership with local, state and federal agencies, has placed 1.1 million cubic yards or dredged material in Duluth-Superior Harbor since 2013, including 53,000 cubic yards of material on the south end of Minnesota Point in 2019 as part of the beach restoration project.

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