Grand Traverse Harbor dredging moves forward

Heavy equipment operators began work recently to dredge stamp sands north of Grand Traverse Harbor in Keweenaw County.

According to a press release from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Copper mine tailings from the Wolverine and Marquette mines (stamp sands) were deposited at a milling site located in Gay, Michigan along Lake Superior.

Since that time, the stamp sands have been moved by winds and waves south down the shoreline 5 miles, inundating natural sand beach areas and threatening to cover spawning habitat and recruitment areas important to Lake Superior whitefish and lake trout on and around Buffalo Reef.

A multi-entity effort, primarily funded by through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, has been mounted to combat the stamp sands problem.

During the winter of 2019-2020, workers contracted by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources cleared the dark-colored stamp sands from the harbor and a portion of the beach.

However, lake currents and waves have continued to push stamp sands to the harbor, especially with the aid of powerful fall and winter storms.

Stamp sand movement has also been accelerated by high lake levels. If annual preventative action isn’t taken, stamp sand will inundate juvenile whitefish habitat, as well as fill in the harbor.

“Whitefish are the primary economic driver for Buffalo Reef,” said Patrick Hanchin, Lake Superior basin coordinator for the DNR’s Fisheries Division. “Losing juvenile whitefish habitat is the most immediate threat facing Buffalo Reef. Five miles of the nearshore beach habitat is already covered with stamp sand and less than 3 miles remain. Juvenile whitefish need this habitat to survive.”

Funding for this latest effort to push back the stamp sands at the harbor was provided by the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, via the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Photo: DNR