A publication of the Upper Mississippi Waterway Association.
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July 2017
Upper facing 'Double Jeopardy'  

   It was a down-river trip to the Quad Cities that triggered Greg Genz’s recent OpEd piece in the Waterways Journal. The long-time UMWA member and leader says,   “I was in complete shock at how bad the river is in terms of an efficient and viable 15-barge river.
     “Dredging is far from sexy and engenders strong negative emotions, but is vital to making sure our river systems can be an important part of this nation’s economic health.”

     Channel deterioration has come gradually, Genz says and, “There are times when six-barge tows are all we can get out of St. Paul Safely.
     "We are facing double jeopardy on this upper end. Corps maintenance budgets are based, for the most part, on tonnage moved on the system. Diminished tow sizes lead to diminished tonnage, which leads to diminished funding for channel maintenance, which leads to a diminished channel - and the circle gets bigger." 

     The solution is to start treating the channel as an important part of the infrastructure of the system, Genz says.  (See Exec. Director's column for more info on Corps' plans)
     “The Corps won’t get to pour concrete or participate in ribbon cutting photo ops, but dredging and channel maintenance are just as important, if not more important than the locks.”
(Above)  Greg Genz says channel silting leads to less traffic which leads to less dredging on the Upper River

Media reports on river needs

     President Donald Trump’s recent “Infrastructure Week” has brought a lot of much-needed attention to the importance of inland navigation in the nation’s economy and the sorry state of its locks and dams.
     For example,  Fox News recently put out story headlined, “ Trump’s Infrastructure Push Could Cut Highway Traffic By Improving Waterways.”
And Davenport Iowa’s KDRG reported in another story that, “Locks and Dams Have 1-Billion In Repair Backlog.”
     The station also provided a primer for viewers on how the locks work and the barge traffic that passes through Lock and Dam 15 every day.  The report pointed out that 60% of the country’s exported grain passes through the Mississippi lock and dam system.
     And Iowa Public Television offered a beautifully photographed and fact-filled story on the collision of new shipping technologies such as container-on-barge and the aging lock and dam system.

From the Executive Director...

     For the past month or so, the Corps of Engineers' St. Paul District has been engaged in dredge management studies covering Mississippi River Lower Pool 2 and Lower Pool 4.  The focus of both studies is channel management, sediment removal and storage/beneficial use.

Pool 2
     Not surprisingly, the Minnesota River is the largest source of sediment into Pool 2 by far, contributing 1.33 million tons of suspended sediment and about 300,000 tons of bed material each year.  The Mississippi River above Anoka  contributes about 19,000 tons of suspended sediment and 14,000 tons of bed material.  The St. Croix River is a light-weight, contributing only a minimal amount of suspended sediments and no bed material.  Overall, states the Pool 2 study, approximately 1 million tons of sediment are deposited in Lake Pepin annually.  

     While the gradual fill-in of Lake Pepin is a serious subject onto itself, the major issue with the Pool 2 study is whether to maintain a near-90 degree bend in the Boulanger Bend area, or to relocate the navigation channel across the river thereby eliminating the pesky bend and shortening the river by about two-thirds of a mile (aka the Boulanger Cut-off).  River pilots generally support the relocation option, not only because it takes the kink out of the the channel, but also makes navigation easier and safer.  The relocation would also improve public safety (think recreation and commercial) by reducing the hazard associated with groundings; it would decrease costs to the navigation industry by allowing the more efficient transit of 15-barge tows thereby reducing the number of trips into and out of the St. Paul harbor; and the Coast Guard would see cost savings in the form of reduced maintenance of navigation aids.

     Unfortunately, relocation of the channel would also be expensive: the average annual cost for the Boulanger Cut-off, has an amortized 40-year cost of $1.5 million per year, whereas keeping the channel in its current location with the addition of training structures has an annual 40-year cost of only $399,000.  In our comments to the Corps, UMWA proposes that whether the navigation channel is relocated or stays where it is, the long term challenge to policy makers is to provide the Corps with authorized programs and resources that will support whatever option is finally selected to allow the Corps to fulfill the project's primary objective of a safe, reliable and efficient navigation system over the 40-year time span of the Pool2 project and beyond.

Pool 4
     The Pool 4 study is a horse of a different color entirely in that its primary goal is to determine how to move 226,000 CY of sand per year through a designated transfer site.  Depending on the time of year and amount of material transferred, this could vary from 17 to 75 days.  Paraphrased, the conclusion and recommendations states that as long as a currently non-existent road is ultimately built and un-safe intersections are addressed, the existing infrastructure in and around Wabasha is sufficient.  If those improvements are not made, however, routing will have to proceed along the normal inadequate routes.
As expected, Wabasha officials are not happy with an additional 200 trucks per day on local roads, which would increase traffic upwards to 20 percent of daily traffic along the city's residential properties during that 75-day period, creating safety, social and congestion problems.
     Owners of river-side properties that are being consider for dredged material storage sites are upset and angry.  Wabasha officials are not too happy either as the loss of valuable farmland would have a negative impact on the county's tax base.
     In short, officials state that apparently, the Corps gave little thought to the impact the Pool 4 project would have on the county, its cities or the citizens of the area.

     This calls into question charges that the Corps needs to think about using dredge material to fill available gravel pits and other reclamation projects rather than using productive farmland for temporary or permanent storage site.  This issue also caused some producer groups to question if the Corps has ever explored the option of leasing land or considering other mechanisms that would allow landowners to repurchase their property during the 40-year period.  In our comments to the Corps, UMWA stated that while this may not be low-hanging fruit on the Corps' tree of options, it would reflect positively on that agency's consideration of intrinsic value of productive farmland to its owners.  The Corps, we said in our statement, already has a stable full of detractors; they don't need more.
     Our comments also stated that a major shortcoming of the Pool 4 study is that it does not consider disposal sites or beneficial need for dredge material beyond the Pool 4 area, such as needed in the Gulf Coast.  However a ban, backed by the U.S. dredging industry on spending federal dollars on beach projects that use foreign sand (from the Bahamas for example) threatens communities that can ill afford to forgo federal money for their beaches.  

      According to the Insurance Journal, the Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) is authorized to undertake a study of the economic costs, benefits and impacts of acquiring sediment from domestic and other sources for shoreline protection, hopefully in WRDA 2018.  In response to that issue, we commented that the Lower Pool 4 study states the need to find sites for an estimated 11 million cubic yards of material over the 40-year period, but the Corps has found sites to handle only one-tenth of that amount.  Gulf coast sites may offer some relief to this shortage of disposal sites even without special dispensation which might be offered in WRDA legislation.

     In our conclusion to the Pool 4 study, we stated that the Corps' study stops short of addressing the nagging, ages-old problem of bank erosion, urban development and increased non-porous surfaces that continually add to the volume of water in the Mississippi River tributaries such as the Lower Minnesota and Chippewa Rivers.  While the above issues are not a direct responsibility, the Corps, charged with maintaining a congressionally-mandated navigational channel, is forced to deal with the consequences of lapses in upstream water management with an uncertain and, at times, inadequate level of O&M funding.  Until these issues are dealt with, the Corps will face increases to its already Herculean challenge of developing a 40-year program of dredged material management.
Other Items of Interest...

 *  Callaway and Cole Counties, along with Jefferson City and the city’s Chamber of Commerce are funding a study to determine the need, feasibility and possible location for a multi-modal port on the Missouri River.

*   The Upper Mississippi River Basin Association (UMRBA), which represents 5 states, is asking for input from all river stakeholders on current and possible future sediment management and flood risk reduction activities.

*   The end is finally in sight for the ‘new’ Olmsted Lock and Dam on the Ohio River.  The Corps estimates the project will open in the fall of 2018 OR perhaps sooner.  Even when the new structures are operating, work will continue to take out old locks 52 and 53 on the Ohio.

*   Once again there is talk of using the Mississippi River for hydro power generated at locks and dams. A day-long conference this week at Western Illinois University will look at two locations that have sufficient drop to make generation feasible: Lock 19 at Keokuk, Iowa, and Lock and Dam 2 at Hasting, Minn.

*   The public is invited to an open house to view future plans for reuse of the Stillwater lift bridge that will soon be closed to traffic when the St. Croix Crossing Interstate bridge opens. The event will be from 4 to 7 at Stillwater City Hall on July 20.

*   The expanded Panama Canal recently marked one-year of operation.  Although no official event happened, five neoPanamax vessels went through the bigger locks on June 26.
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