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Barges in the bay

A barge owned by Roen Salvage floats near the canal on Lake Superior on Monday. (Photo by Naomi Yaeger)

The gleaming red metal of the Roen Salvage machinery, parked in the middle of the Duluth Port area, may have a gritty appearance but eases the passage of shipping liners using the port.

The purpose of dredging, and those machines on the water, is to clear the way for ships. “It’s to keep the shipping channels maintained and free from obstruction,” said Adele Yorde of the Duluth Seaway Port Authority.

Dredging, or the strategic removal of naturally deposited materials, such as silt or run-off from the floor of harbors and shipping areas, is the responsibility of the federal government.

In Duluth, it is overseen by the local chapter of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which handles the maintenance of the harbor area and performs “soundings” to find the areas that require attention. Once found, these areas are “carved out.” The unwanted materials are removed and transferred to a location where they can be used.

“In the past five years, locations for use have changed a lot,” said Area Engineer Steven Brossart. “We used to take the materials to Erie Pier, where they would be hydrolyzed, separated and sent off to be used in different projects.” Erie Pier, located in the St. Louis Bay area of West Duluth, has been owned and used for dredging activities since 1979.

However, for this year, the final destination for these Lake Superior sands is far closer to home.

“For the 2013 and 2014 contracts, we have a new pilot project with our materials,” said Brossart. “It’s an area right off the Blatnik Bridge, called the 21st Avenue West location. We’re trying to create a restoration area through filling in trouble spots with the run-off materials.”

This restoration area would benefit wildlife, just as the dredging benefits shipping channels and the hired companies benefit from the work.

“Each year, companies bid on who gets to work here,” said Yorde. “Roen Salvage of Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin bid on us in 2012. However, they are just finishing up the 2013 contract, due to the earlier snow and late melting. The 2014 work starts in July.”

An eyesore to some, a profit to others, the barges are here to stay for the summer.