Public meeting scheduled; alternatives narrowed; dredging work continues at Buffalo Reef

Contact: John Pepin, 906-226-1352
Agency: Natural Resources

July 15, 2019

Project funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative

The Buffalo Reef Task Force has scheduled a meeting in Lake Linden later this month to discuss with the public three alternatives tentatively selected for further analysis in the fight to save this important natural reef off the Keweenaw Peninsula.

The meeting is set for 6 p.m. EDT July 31 at the Lake Linden-Hubbell High School, located at 601 Calumet Avenue in Lake Linden.

In February, the task force issued an alternatives analysis which briefly described 13 strategies for managing historic copper mine tailings threatening to destroy spawning habitat and recruitment areas important to Lake Superior whitefish and lake trout in and around Buffalo Reef.

The reef is situated off the mouth of the Big Traverse River in Houghton County.

Mine tailings, called stamp sands, were dumped a century ago into Lake Superior at Gay, Michigan during processing of copper ores from the Mohawk and Wolverine mines. Since that time, the sands have moved south along the shoreline with wave action toward the reef.

Earlier this year, the task force sought public comment on whether there were additional management strategies the group should consider and whether any adjustments should be made to the management strategies or risks described in the draft analysis.

In May, the task force released a responsiveness summary to public comments on the analysis of the alternatives.

On June 20, the task force met to review the 13 alternatives and hone the finalists down to three options that will be fleshed out further in the weeks ahead with specific costs and feasibility.

These three alternatives include:

  • Maintenance dredging at the Grand Traverse Harbor and an underwater trough area, with a stone revetment built to retain the stamp sands.
  • Dredging the entire area with disposal of the stamp sands in a newly constructed landfill to be located nearby.
  • Dredging 15 million cubic yards of stamp sands with disposal in the White Pine Mine tailings basin in Ontonagon County.

The means used to select these three alternatives as finalists from among the 13 options is outlined in a new alternatives report available at Michigan.gov/BuffaloReef.

“At the public meeting, we will discuss the selection process, request public input on the choice of the three finalist alternatives and on moving forward with these choices for full review and development,” said Stephanie Swart, a Buffalo Reef Task Force Steering Committee member and Lake Superior coordinator with the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy. “We will also provide the public with an update on this summer’s dredging work.”

Maintenance dredging has been ongoing this summer in the harbor and the trough area to buy time to develop a long-term solution to the stamp sands issue.

The detailed analysis of the final top options will begin in the fall of this year.

This project is being executed in cooperation between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy to save the 2,200-acre reef.

To find out more about the effort to save Buffalo Reef, including links to reports and video, media photos and more, visit www.Michigan.gov/BuffaloReef.