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Lake Pepin habitat restoration project moves forward

Rylee Main, executive director of Lake Pepin Legacy Alliance, explains to a packed house April 4, 2018, how a special dredging project will reduce sediment in Lake Pepin. Sarah Hansen / RiverTown Multimedia

The Lake Pepin Legacy Alliance started the new year with two rounds of good news regarding its proposed project to control sediment and restore habitat in the upper end of Lake Pepin.

When LPLA leaders first applied for a grant from the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Fund, they were told they had not been recommended for funding. Then, in mid-December, they received a second call stating that extra money had become available, and the LPLA was being recommended to receive $750,000.

"The whole bill has to go through the Legislature this spring," said Rylee Main, executive director of the LPLA. "My understanding is that typically with these funds, they don't make any changes to the final bill. That doesn't mean they can't, but we are very hopeful that we will get the full amount of the funding."

Then, a short time later, they learned that they had been chosen as one of 10 projects out of 95 proposals in a pilot program with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that will be fully funded under Section 1122 of the Water Resources Development Act of 2016.

The Corps initiated the program as a way to find good uses for the material they dredge from the Mississippi River each year as part of efforts to maintain the 9-foot navigation channel. The Corps asked for proposals on ways to use the materials effectively.

Originally, the LPLA project, called the Upper Lake Pepin Habitat Restoration Project, was designed to restore habitat in the upper Lake Pepin area which meant that all aspects of the project needed to focus on habitat objectives.

Being selected as part of the Corps' pilot program, however, means they can expand their concerns.

In addition to providing placement sites for the material dredged by the Army Corps of Engineers, the pilot program "allows us to do things beyond habitat," Main said. "That means that we could dredge out Bay City's harbor as part of this whole program and expand our objectives to include things like recreational access. It covers the ecological benefits, but you also get that social and economic benefit."

Because the Army Corps of Engineers removes 250,000 cubic yards of dredged material from the Reads Landing Dredged Material Placement Site in Lower Pool 4 every year, the chance to use that material for island and habitat construction at the upper end of Lake Pepin is a welcome development for the Corps.

"Building islands in Upper Lake Pepin will be a great success story for the Corps and its partners," said Tom Novak, project manager with the Corps, in a written statement. "Not only will we improve the environment with this project, we will also create some additional storage capacity for the dredging requirements near Wabasha."

Main said the islands would be constructed using the sand being dredged near Wabasha because it is coarser grains and will make a better foundation. The finer silt that is dredged from the upper end of Lake Pepin will be used as a topsoil for the islands, allowing vegetation to grow there.

Because the pilot program allows more flexibility, LPLA has discussed the possibility of additional islands that not only break up wind and waves, but might add to boater safety.

The water outside the navigation channel is "super shallow at the upper end of the lake and that is where most of the boat groundings happen," Main said. "If you extend one of those islands downstream, boaters are going to be guided back into the channel before they get to that shallow area, and that will reduce the boat groundings. Now that we have funding that is based on how we can use the material beneficially, it can also be used for recreational safety."

Steve Gardiner

Steve Gardiner taught high school English and journalism for 38 years in Montana and Wyoming.  He started working at the Republican Eagle in May 2018.  He focuses on features and outdoor stories.  

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