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MPCA investigates tribe's waste recovery effort

DULUTH, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota regulators are investigating how the Red Cliff Band of Ojibwe handled barrels of Cold War military waste that tribal members recovered last summer from Lake Superior.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency confirmed it has an open investigation into how the barrels were brought to shore and transported through Minnesota without proper permits or advance notification, the Duluth News Tribune reported Tuesday ( ).

John Elling, director of the MPCA's hazardous waste division, said he couldn't comment on the investigation because it was still under way.

The MPCA and the newspaper have struggled to get information from the Wisconsin tribe on the contents of the barrels and recovery effort.

Last Friday, the tribe issued a report saying some of the 25 barrels it recovered in July and August contained small explosive devices mixed with cluster bomb parts but that there was no immediate human or environmental threat. The band said it also found munitions parts, ash, concrete and scrap metal similar to another haul found in the 1990s, and that there was no sign of radioactivity.

But the tribe also said the presence of explosives prompted it to scale back the $3.3 million federally funded recovery effort from the proposed 70 barrels to 25 so that money could be spent on safe disposal.

The band said it could be several more months before it releases a complete analysis of the contents.

Between 1957 and 1962, an estimated 1,457 steel drums were trucked from a Honeywell weapons plant in the Twin Cities to Duluth and secretly tossed off barges into Lake Superior. The 55-gallon barrels were dumped roughly along a line from the eastern Duluth city limits nearly to Two Harbors, from one mile to five miles off the Minnesota shore.

Several efforts have been made to retrieve them since the military confirmed their existence in 1977. The MPCA spent more than $400,000 between 1990 and 1994. While tests on some barrels turned up traces of toxic chemicals, MPCA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials concluded that leaving the remaining barrels under 200 feet of water posed no major risk.

The route that these 25 barrels took after they were recovered from the lake last year isn't clear.

In January, nearly six months after the barrels were recovered, MPCA officials said they still had no idea when or where any barrels were brought to shore. Neither Red Cliff officials nor the band's contractor, Duluth-based EMR, obtained permits or submitted manifests to land any hazardous material in the state or move it through Minnesota. The agency said the band also failed to provide information on where it would dispose of hazardous material, possibly in violation of state law.

While the MPCA was told that the band planned to transport recovered barrels through Wisconsin, officials with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources officials told the News Tribune last month that the band told them it would move the barrels through Minnesota.

The Red Cliff band became involved in 2005, when tribal officials said they adopted the project as a way to attract federal military cleanup money. Though the Red Cliff Reservation is 50 miles from the nearest known dump site, the band has treaty authority to be involved in environmental and natural resource management on Lake Superior.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.