Construction Halted On Already Delayed MN Slip Seawall; Irvin, Vista Affected

Continued Delays Center Around Slip's Historical Preservation Review

DULUTH, Minn. – FOX 21 has learned the William A. Irvin and Vista Fleet – two of Duluth’s top tourist attractions – might not be fully open for business as the upcoming tourism season begins – a season that usually get underway in less than two weeks in May. The uncertainty of the Vista and Irvin’s normal operations centers around months of delays and ultimately a recent construction halt involving the city’s crumbling seawall project in the Minnesota
Slip, and the potential historic preservation of that slip. FOX 21’s Dan Hanger reports.

The delays are not something we are happy with,” said Chad Scott, president of AMI Consulting Engineers and the lead designer and project manager of the complex seawall project.

“This process we actually started in April of 2017. So, it’s been a long road to get here.  And there’s been a lot of extra review because it’s one of the oldest slips in Duluth,” Scott explained.

It’s that old slip that’s turned into a so-called historic halt.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers tells FOX 21 they advised the city of Duluth in March that continued work on the crumbling seawall could be against federal law because The Minnesota Historical Preservation Office had not fully determined whether the slip should be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

This is a process that first started the project’s delay back in October of 2017, halted work in March and continues to stop any progress at the site six months later in mid-April.

The preservation office released a statement to fox 21. It reads in part:

“For this specific project on Duluth’s waterfront, the Corps has consulted with our office, both verbally and in writing, and our office has formally reviewed and responded, in writing to the agency, within established regulatory timelines, regarding the agency’s Section 106 findings and determinations for the proposed issuance of a federal permit to repair the dock wall in Minnesota Slip. The Corps, in consultation with our office, has identified the Minnesota Slip and the William A. Irvin freighter as historic properties which will be affected by the proposed federal action. The freighter William A. Irvin is a historic property which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). It was listed in the NRHP in 1989. The Minnesota Slip was recently surveyed and determined eligible for listing in the NRHP. Our office agreed with the Corps’ determination that the Minnesota Slip is NRHP-eligible. Completion of this type of historic property survey and evaluation, and consultation on the results, is what the federal agency is required to do as part of the Section 106 review process. Also, under this federal law, both NRHP-listed and NRHP-eligible historic properties are considered equal, both worthy of protection. This determination of eligibility for Minnesota Slip does not mean that it will be officially listed in the National Register nor does it need to go through any more evaluation at this time. The determination by the Corps is sufficient to complete the review of this specific federally permitted project. We are currently awaiting a response from the Corps as it pertains to additional information and documentation in support of the agency’s Section 106 finding of effect to these historic properties which we requested, in writing, in mid-March. The SHPO will be able to respond to the Corps’ Section 106 determination of effect to historic properties once this additional information is received by our office.”

So as of right now, the preservation office says they’re waiting on documentation from the Army Corps, including design information about the seawall, to make sure there are no adverse effects on the historical integrity of the Minnesota Slip.

“Right now it’s been a lot of coordination to get to this point and we’ve had a few hiccups along the way, but we’re going to get through them and we’re going to get the project done,” Scott said.

Meanwhile, the Irvin remains pushed out away from the seawall with no public plan unveiled by the DECC as to the potential temporary relocation of the ship to the back of the DECC for tourists, and whether the 60-foot wide Irvin can safely travel through the 62-foot Minnesota Slip Bridge to get there.

That bridge, by the way, is expected to open the first week of May after the completion of its new paint job.

As for the Vista Fleet, the temporary dock that the city constructed last year for operations because of the sinking dock loading area behind the DECC has been torn down, which will keep the Vista’s Queen boat out of business for the month of May, according to owner Justin Steinbach, until the engineering firm, AMI, can get approval to build that part of the seawall for Vista’s operations.

Steinbach stresses his larger Vista Star boat will begin operating May 7, but he says he’ll take a financial loss of at least $50,000 in May because of the Queen being shut down.

Meanwhile, Scott and his team remain focused on getting job done when he gets the green light to get back at it again.

“When this is all said and done, we are going to have a beautiful new dock wall, and bike path and sidewalks for the public to use,” Scott said.

The torn-out temporary dock, by the way, would have never been taken out, according to Scott, if they would have known the project would be held up this long.

Mayor Emily Larson’s office was not available for comment today citing the situation as “complex” and requesting an interview at a later date.

Meanwhile, the Army Corps of Engineers says they hope to have the historical survey information complete by the end of the month, but that can’t be promised at this point — meaning the construction and delay timeline is still up in the air.

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