Tribe Funds Continued Dredging as Lake Superior Mine Waste Threatens Harbor

Nov 27, 2020

The original site of the massive stamp sands pile on the Lake Superior shoreline.
Credit Ben Meyer/WXPR

Fall storms have forced more dredging to protect part of the Lake Superior shoreline from being overrun by mine waste.

The cold-weather dredging is being done at Grand Traverse Harbor on Upper Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula and is being funded by the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community.

We first visited Grand Traverse Harbor this summer, where five miles of beaches were covered by black, pebbly mine waste called stamp sands.

Jay Parent, a supervisor with the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy.
Credit Ben Meyer/WXPR

Again this fall, strong storms are threatening to push the sands onto parts of the harbor that are still untouched.

“The biggest thing is the high water that’s really killing us,” said Jay Parent of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy. “We’re trying to pull the sand back away from the wall before the waves throw it in.”

The reefs and beaches at Grand Traverse Harbor are key habitat for whitefish and lake trout, which are historically caught by members of the nearby Keweenaw Bay Indian Community.

That tribe is now funding ongoing dredging to clear the sands.

“The key thing was the timeliness of the tribe jumping in and funding pulling back the sands, because the state’s money was held up due to COVID restrictions,” Parent said.

The ongoing dredging is only a temporary fix to a giant problem.

In the early 1900s, copper mining companies dumped 25 million tons of the waste near Lake Superior.

The tribe, DNR, and their partners are still trying to figure out a long-term plan to stop the stamp sands from spreading.

The yellow-sand beach south of Grand Traverse Harbor and the beach to the north, covered by dark mine waste.
Credit Ben Meyer/WXPR