Exposing Falsehoods and Revealing Truths
As much as the Red Cliff Band of Chippewa can be credited for its tenaciousness and for doing all it has to find out, finally, the contents of those mystery barrels in Lake Superior, secrecy and a lack of transparency continue to mar the efforts.
Last summer, the band, working with an environmental engineering firm from Duluth, set out to bring up, bust open, inspect and test for safety and/or hazardous materials 70 of the more than 1,400 barrels dumped in the big lake in the late 1950s and early 1960s not far from the Duluth-
Superior Harbor. The Department of Defense barrels were said to hold scrap metal from a grenade project the U.S. was eager to keep secret from the Soviets. But reports of purplish ooze, bouncing Geiger counters and more long fueled speculation, concern and even conspiracy theorists.
The band recovered only 25 barrels, and it did so under what was called a “news blackout.” No media was allowed near the recovery work and there were no briefings with reporters about what was going on or what was found. A “safety zone” kept curious boats well away.
“We need to stay focused on the work rather than informing the public,” Red Cliff Environmental Director Melonee Montano said in an August story in the News Tribune.
The band apparently wasn’t focused on informing anyone else, either. Despite promises to keep state and federal authorities up-to-date, and assurances that that was happening, in January, six months after the recovery work was said to be completed, officials from the MPCA, the Secretary of the Army, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and elsewhere complained they hadn’t received any information. It wasn’t even publicly known where the recovered barrels were, assuming they were removed from the lake. And a website developed by the band to keep the public informed hadn’t been updated since Aug. 15. That was nearly half a year of silence.
In January, the band did say there were no “immediate (health) threats or concerns to the public,” an assurance it reiterated a month later.
Earlier this month, however, the MPCA launched an investigation into how barrels may have been brought to shore and transported through Minnesota without permits or advance notification. The PCA at one point was told any recovered barrels would be brought through Wisconsin. But the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources said it was told by the band the barrels would move through Minnesota. Thus the investigation, which came after weeks of unsuccessful attempts by the MPCA to get information.
So why should you care about all this (beyond the possibility, albeit slim, that the barrels are polluting Lake Superior and the water we drink)? Because you’re paying for it, to the tune of $3.3 million. The barrel recovery effort is being financed through a U.S. Department of Defense fund to clean up ammunition dumps on reservations and on ceded Indian territories.
The Red Cliff Band is scheduling another news conference in March. But it’ll be an invitation-only news conference. A News Tribune reporter and photographer have requested to be there. They’re “on the list for consideration,” they were told via e-mail.
So secrecy and a lack of transparency continue.