WABASHA — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, along with the Wabasha Port Authority, presented a revised plan to remove dredged material from the Mississippi River here at a public meeting Wednesday. The revised plan, based on a 2018 memorandum of understanding, was designed in response to local concerns regarding the original plan in March 2017.
“This is an agreement that all parties will work together in good faith to manage the dredged material in Pool 4,” Col. Karl Jansen, commander of the St. Paul District, told the audience of approximately 60 who attended the meeting at Wabasha-Kellogg High School. “I am here tonight to confirm that we are fully committed to this approach.”
The earlier controversy surrounded the Corps’ plan to use agricultural land in Minnesota and Wisconsin to permanently store the dredged material. Residents were upset that the land was being taken and that the plan included trucking the material through the city of Wabasha.
“Many of you remember what was a tough summer in 2017,” Jansen said, “but I will tell you that due to the controversial nature of that report, the old plan has been scrapped, and the controversial properties have been removed. You know those as River Drive, Drysdale, and Weisenback properties. We are working on a new approach to managing sediment in this region.”
In the public comment period after the initial plan was released, the Corps of Engineers received more than 1,000 comments which caused officials to evaluate, according to Nick Denham, planner for the St. Paul District.
“Many of these comments had useful ideas that the Corps could use in our plan going forward. We consolidated them and came up with a more refined list. Ultimately, the next version of the draft report, which is expected to be out late spring 2020, will highlight many of the suggestions, and you will be able to see how they were considered and incorporated,” he said.
Denham explained that the Corps of Engineers contacted the fracking industry, the railroad industry, and other possible sources who might be able to make beneficial use of the dredged materials. The Corps also looked at gravel pits, old frack holes, and mines, and staff contacted private landowners to locate sites where permanent storage of dredged materials would be welcome.
In the process of that search, the Corps of Engineers also learned about a government program called Section 217 which has become an important part of the revised dredged materials management plan.
“Basically, the 217 allows us, under federal law, to enter into a partnership with a local entity to manage our dredged material,” said Paul Machajewski, dredged materials manager for the Corps of Engineers. “We will be working with the Port Authority to manage the material. We will be able to pay them a fee, the same fee that it would cost us to do the management of the material. This is a good thing, because we will all be involved in the solution.”
The Port Authority currently plans to establish a barge terminal on the west end of town. The sand removed from the river and islands would be moved to that terminal where it will be loaded on trucks and shipped to permanent destinations, according to Chad Springer, Wabasha city administrator.
“We can get the traffic out of town without bothering residents,” Springer said. “We have eight sites now that we are looking at that will be able to encompass close to 15 years worth of material. We don’t have information that we can share, because private parties are involved, but I would say that 95% of the sites are either existing holes or other areas where sand will become perhaps developable land after that, or some form of recreation area.”
After the presentation, the panel responded to several questions from the public and explained plans to minimize noise, traffic, and other concerns.
“Our mission is to engineer solutions for the nation’s toughest challenges,” Jansen said. “Navigation is one of those tough challenges that we contend with every day. Keeping the waterway system open for safe and efficient transport is important to our local, regional and national economic vitality and our national security.”
To maintain the navigation channel, the Corps of Engineers must dredge an increasing amount of material each year.
“We have a huge amount of material that we are wrestling with each year,” Jansen said. “We are looking for approaches that provide capacity for long periods of time.”