Experts brainstorm reef defense

Kali Katerberg/Daily Mining Gazette Experts met at the Great Lakes Research Center on Wednesday to plan and discuss solutions to the encroachment of stamp sands from former Gay copper mills which threaten Buffalo Reef fisheries in Keweenaw Bay.

HOUGHTON — In moving forward to deal with the encroachment of Gay stamp sands on the Buffalo Reef in Keweenaw Bay, researchers, local experts, regulatory officials and other key representatives met Wednesday at Michigan Tech’s Great Lakes Research Center seeking more data, solutions and a feasible plan.

“The charge to this group is to come up with the long-term plan,” said Scott Cieniawski of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). “There are data gaps that need to be filled. We need to fill them quickly we need to come up with a solution…we need to make sure it’s financially viable, and we need to move ahead.”

The timeline for a solution is five years, with dredging planned to delay stamp sands encroachment on Buffalo Reef, Cieniawski explained.

“The reason this group was put together is because you have something to add to that work,” he said.

The daylong meeting included presentations covering topics diving into the technical aspects of issues and solutions discussed at Tuesday’s Lake Linden public meeting.

Following the presentations, attendees broke into small groups to brainstorm. The groups then reconvened to share ideas and concerns with the larger group.

Proposed stamp sand solutions included pulling back the bluffs to keep sands on land in combination with other efforts, depositing sands in mine shafts, letting it drift into deep water and creating a nearby disposal site.

The next steps will involve creating a list of these alternative solutions and breaking down the cost, impact and considerations, said Steve Casey, U.P. district supervisor of the state Department of Environmental Quality’s Water Resources Division.

One consensus was a need for more research on the effects of these proposals.

A few areas of needed study include more modeling and mapping, deepwater impacts, impact of toxins on fish eggs and wave movement changes from shifting sands and potential barriers.

More research is also needed on the amount of reef used for spawning, water chemistry and recovery after sands leave an area.

The impacts of sands on other nearby reefs were also explored.

“Let’s use every trick we’ve got to get this going,” said Tony Friona, Great Lakes liaison for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The key to success is speed and well-thought-out solutions, several speakers suggested.