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Duluth's 'Haunted Ship' event canceled as laker is displaced

The William A Irvin will be moved to make room for cleanup this fall, effectively closing it for the season. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com

DULUTH—Duluth's floating museum, the SS William A. Irvin, will need to be moved out of its usual haunt — Minnesota Slip — to make way for cleanup work this fall, and the retired laker's displacement will result in the cancellation of its most popular offering of the year, the annual Halloween "Haunted Ship" tours.

In fact, the Irvin will remain closed for the whole season, as repairs to the seawalls of Minnesota Slip drag on, said Steve Rankila, museum director for the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center, which manages the vessel.

He had hoped to salvage at least the latter part of the season, including Halloween, but Rankilla said delays in the slip project forced a change of plans and a decision instead to send the ship to Fraser Shipyards in Superior.

Rankila considered mooring the Irvin on the harborside seawall behind the DECC, but that would be expensive and risky, as the vessel would be exposed to potentially damaging wind and waves. At a minimum, three more massive bollards would need to be installed along the seawall to provide a proper mooring for the 611-foot-long ship, and temporary power, water and communication systems would also need to be provided.

"All those things add up," he said. "We'd love to save the season, but I think we're going to err on the side of caution."

Cleanup

The Irvin will need to exit in September to allow for crews to begin working on a project designed to stabilize and contain contaminated sediments in the slip.

That layer of "legacy contaminants" ranges from 6 to 12 feet in depth, making removal impractical, said Larae Lehto, project manager for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. The sediments contain a mix of heavy metals, including lead, some PCBs and volatile compounds from years of industrial activity.

Initially, the bottom of the slip will be leveled out. Then, barges will haul clean sand dredged from shipping lanes to the site to cap the contaminated sediments. Finally, a thin layer of aggregate will be laid down to minimize any prop wash from future marine traffic.

When the work is completed, Lehto expects water in the slip to range in depth from 12 to 15 feet — plenty of draft for the Irvin to return and to accommodate other vessels.

The pedestrian lift bridge that spans the slip will be pinned in an upright position to provide room for the Irvin to squeeze through the abutments with only 15 total inches to spare.

The bridge will remain out of commission for at least a while, if not for the duration of the cleanup project, which will begin Oct. 1 and run through mid-November.

"It will not need to be pinned back like it will be for moving the Irvin," Lehto said, and will return to normal operations after that move. "But for our project, due to concerns about public safety and the need for the contractor to be able to freely move barges in and out, there will be a disruption to pedestrian use of the bridge."

After the Irvin leaves Minnesota Slip in September, it will be moved to Fraser Shipyards, where its hull will be painted.

Shared burden

The Duluth City Council will be asked Monday to approve an agreement to provide half the funding needed to move the laker at a total cost not expected to exceed $600,000. But the city will have to to pick up any overrun expenses.

Jim Filby Williams, Duluth's director of public administration, said it would be a hardship for the DECC to shoulder the expense alone. The city proposes to use tourism tax proceeds to cover its share of the bill.

"As it happens, the Irvin is due for repairs and maintenance anyways and has to leave the slip to do that," he said. "I think what was not entirely anticipated was the cost to move the vessel in and out of the slip and the burden of complying with multiple, complex regulatory regimes that bear on the movement of the vessel."

The city is applying for a $500,000 state grant to cover the cost of restoration work at Fraser.

Filby-Williams said the city is grateful for the many project partners shouldering the majority of its cost — the seawall project received a state contribution of $2.2 million; the entire cost of the contaminant mitigation is covered by the state and EPA; and the DECC will cover most of the remaining seawall construction financing.

"So, though this $300,000 contribution from the city was not entirely anticipated, the city's overall contribution to these two important, exciting projects is quite modest," he said.

DECC executive director Chelly Townsend said she was satisfied with the agreement.

"The sad thing is that we won't have a season," she said. "The good thing is that the work will be done, and next summer will be great. We'll all have a celebration when the boat returns."

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