BEMIDJI-A decades-old effort to restore a contaminated section of Cass Lake will continue this summer, with the federal government looking for input on its latest endeavor.
Over the next few months, the Environmental Protection Agency will open a public comment period regarding a project to dig up and replace soils deemed contaminated. The polluted ground is in a 125-acre site located just south of train tracks running through Cass Lake and east of Aspen Avenue (State Highway 371), near Pike Bay.
From the 1950s-1980s, the area was home to a St. Regis Paper Co. facility, where creosote and other chemicals were used to treat wood.
After its closure, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and the EPA identified contamination at various areas on the site. In the ensuing years, steps have been taken to remedy the area's contamination.
According to the EPA, International Paper Co., which was once Champion International Inc., the company that bought St. Regis, removed visibly contaminated soil and sludge from the area and placed it in its own vault designed to hold hazardous waste. Additionally, when the company was still Champion International, it installed a groundwater pump to treat the water.
Then, from 2004-2006, the EPA removed 3,900 tons of soil from the site. Because more pollutants remained, though, the EPA is considering additional remedy options.
The current option was first presented in 2016, with a plan of excavating contaminated soil from residential properties on the site and backfilling the area with clean dirt and new vegetation.
Leslie Patterson, EPA remedial project manager, said the agency is re-introducing the project to the public with a comment period opening next week and ending in August. Patterson said the proposal will include soil management on- and off-site.
"If it needs to get hauled, it's loaded on trucks and brought to a facility in St. Cloud. For on-site, there will be a location identified belonging to a responsible party," Patterson said. "Clean soil will be excavated there, and brought to the residential areas. The contaminated soil will then be filled there and covered with a geotextile material. Ultimately, the result will look visually the same as it does now."
While some soil will remain on-site, though, Patterson said only soil with low contamination levels will remain.
"Any soil that poses a leeching threat, one that can threaten groundwater, is going to be hauled off," Patterson said. "The soil staying will be very low residual contamination, which is stuck quite strongly to the soil and doesn't dissolve into groundwater."
Along with International Paper Co., Patterson said responsible parties include BNSF Railway, Cass Forest Products and the city of Cass Lake. However, Patterson said the city resolved its liability with the agency, despite being listed still as a party in the matter.
The estimated cost of the project is $18.5 million and Patterson said it's only focusing on a section of the site in residential neighborhoods.
"We're also overseeing feasibility studies for the other three units at the site," Patterson said. "They're more industrial and commercial areas, as well as the former city dump site. We will propose a plan for those areas, too. We're going to be considering the same kinds of ways to address those areas."
The EPA's comment period starts Monday and ends Aug. 15. Comments can be emailed to Heriberto Leon at firstname.lastname@example.org. Additionally, comments can be made at www.epa.gov/superfund/st-regis-paper. The public is also invited to a meeting at 6 p.m. on July 30, at the Cass Lake-Bena Elementary School, 15 Fourth St. NW.