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A publication of the Upper Mississippi Waterway Association.
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May 2017 

Red tape slowing infrastructure

     U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao told the recent Milken Institute Conference in Los Angeles that red tape is the biggest drag on the Trump Administration’s infrastructure plans. 
     Chao says a proposal is in the works and its release is targeted for early summer, but because it involves 16 different agencies, as well as state and local governments and private sector interests it’s an extremely complex undertaking.
     She told conference attendees that part of the planned $1-trillion 10-year plan will leverage $200 million federal dollars to encourage public-private partnerships, better known as P3s.
     Earlier Secretary Chao told the American Waterways Operators Annual Meeting that the Trump administration is working now on a review of federal regulations that are slowing waterways improvements.  She also said waterways improvement projects will be included in the infrastructure package.
     Chao said inland navigation is important to the national economy and is, “energy efficient water transport” that contributes hundreds of thousands of jobs and more than $30 billion in annual economic activity.
     “As trade and exports grow, our canals, locks and other waterway systems must be able to keep pace,” Chao said. “The Department stands ready to work with you to ensure that the needs of our country’s waterways are addressed in the President’s infrastructure package.”
 
(Above)  The City of St. Paul wants to add to its photo library and has commissioned three photographers to capture images in four categories.  Now through December, the three will be photographers in residence and capture, 'the natural river', 'the working river', 'the people’s river' and 'the urban river.'



From the Executive Director . . .
 

Social Media Impact

     The May 1 issue of The Waterways Journal had a thought-provoking editorial on the “Not in my backyard” syndrome which, if successful, can stymie waterway projects.  In one example a Cincinnati farmer wanted to develop a containerized barge-loading facility to ship his specialty grains to Asia, but was opposed by a group of local home rehabbers that didn’t want commercial activity to spoil their river views.  Despite winning one court battle after another and millions of dollars in damages, the terminal developer finally gave up.
     In another, opponents of a barge-cleaning company in Louisiana which organized a sophisticated social-media and legal campaign won a judgment shutting the operation down.
     Stating that regulating agencies of government are often sued and demonized alongside industry, the editorial recalled that in the 1990s the EPA was sued by an environmental group resulting in ballast discharge rules added to by states, which our industry is now trying to have Congress replace with a national standard.
 
     The editorial included a tacit recognition that decades ago a limited amount of effort was made to obtain true feedback on community projects:  a public meeting would consist of officials on the dais telling the public what was to happen and why.  While it was good for the interested public to have a voice in the final decision (possibly not all proposed projects should be an automatic slam-dunk) if our contemporary internet-connected public is to have a say, that community has the responsibility to understand all the issues and assess them rationally.  Not surprisingly, every proposed project will have a minority of nay-sayers, but how representative will they be of “the public”?  And, queried the editorial, has the internet age tilted the playing field too far the other way allowing ill-informed viral hysteria to replace critical thinking?  That will serve no one, concluded the editorial.  We could not agree more, and would like to add another example of NIMBY albeit one that replaces “my backyard” with “I do it because I can”.
 
     In the Spring ‘17 issue of Our Mississippi the Corps’ St. Paul District announced a plan that will look forward to 40 years of potential accumulation of river sediment and where it can be stored, or better yet,  identify sites where it can be put to beneficial-use.  Heavy rain events, eroding river banks and normal river cycles results in the need to remove 15 million cubic yards of dredged material from just the St. Paul District’s Pool 4 and Pool 5 over the next four decades.  River sediments from relatively young rivers like the bank-cutting Chippewa River produces sediment that flows into the Mississippi and settles out. 
     Every year the district removes between 800,000 and 1 million cubic yards of material between Minneapolis and Guttenberg, Iowa as a way to maintain the channel at the authorized level of 9 feet;  nearly 40 percent of that material is concentrated just south of where the Chippewa River meets the Mississippi near Wabasha, Minnesota, according to Corps data.  “One of the current challenges facing the team is finding suitable land to permanently manage the dredged material that is removed from the Mississippi River” said Paul Machajewski, of the district’s operations division.  The report of the study on Mississippi River Pool 4 is due out May 12, with a 30-day public comment period.  The report of the Pool 5 study is due out this summer.
 
Déjà vu

     In 1987, the St. Paul District was involved in a similar four decade mission: Phase one of the Weaver Bottoms project was an experimental venture designed to reduce channel maintenance requirements over the next 40 years by improving the efficiency of the main channel to carry sediment.  The project also would provide dredge material placement sites for use in future dredging operations.
 
     Using operations and maintenance (O&M) funding, this project had three goals:  provide long-term material disposal sites; reduce dredging needs; and habitat rehabilitation – generally the same objectives guiding the missions of today’s channel maintenance projects.
 
     To reduce dredging, Phase one of the two phase plan called for building two islands and closing several side channels from the Mississippi to Weaver Bottoms to increase the flow in the main channel, keeping sediment moving through the area at a high velocity. 
Sand used to fill the side channels and create two new islands was taken from two nearby disposal sites.  According to the 1987 project update, an estimated 1.3 million cubic yards of material was removed from the two sites during the project, thereby opening those sites back up for future dredge disposal.
     According to Corps data, before the locks and dams were built, Weaver Bottoms was dry hay meadows and bottomland woods.  When the area was flooded by the construction of L&D 5, it became a 4,000-acre marshy backwater that developed into an important fish and wildlife habitat.  In fact, it was one of the most heavily used waterfowl hunting areas on the Upper Mississippi River.  Unfortunately by 2007 the area deteriorated as strong water flows from the main channels entered the Bottoms from several side channels, depositing sand and sediment, slowly filling in this important fish and wildlife area.  Adding to this threat, marsh vegetation that fed fish and wildlife decreased due to two major floods in the 1960s.        Once gone, strong winds created turbulent waters that prevented the re-establishment of critical marsh vegetation, now covering only about a third of the area.  If nothing was done, wildlife experts warned that within 60 years the area would fill in turning the marsh area into bottomlands and meadows that prevailed prior to construction of L&D 5.
 
Lessons learned

     Phase two of the Weaver Bottoms project consisted of an assessment of channel closing and island building projects accomplished under Phase one; lessons learned from channel closures and island building can be applied to other projects or to modify changes made to the Bottoms.  Of the proposed six islands, only two, Mallard and Swan islands, were constructed to act as wind-breakers while 10 side channels were closed to reduce flow and sediment deposit.  All in all, due to these changes, the water clarity within the project area has improved even as marsh vegetation has decreased to only a third of the area.
 
     Corps officials maintain the Weaver Bottoms project is unique because it is a combination of habitat improvement with channel maintenance.  The Fish and Wildlife Service has a national wildlife refuge in the area and the Corps manages the Congressionally-authorized navigation project, making it easier for the two agencies to work together to the benefit of both resources.  It’s kind of a win-win situation, said the Corps. Other supportive agencies include The Nature Conservancy, Minnesota DNR, Wisconsin DNR, Fish and Wildlife Service and several NGOs.  
 
     It is our understanding that the upcoming reports on the Corps’ current 40-year dredge material announcements will contain recommendations on the Weaver Bottoms area as well.  Hopefully, public comments on the Pool 4 and Pool 5 reports over the next several months will reflect critical thinking and not ill-informed viral hysteria.
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Other Items of Interest...     


*   A bill to let the Delta Queen steamboat once again ply the Mississippi and other rivers has passed the U.S. Senate and at last word was being, “held at the desk” in the House.  S-89 passed the Senate last month 85 to 12 and supporters says it’s likely to also get House approval. 

*     The huge container vessel COSCO Development got a lot of attention this past week as it visited American ports after passing through the new sections of the Panama Canal on its way to the Gulf and East Coasts.  The ship can hold over 13,000 18-foot cargo containers and is longer than America’s aircraft carriers.
     And it appears that the Panama Canal will not be getting competition from a Nicaraguan Canal.  Reports indicate that after four years there’s been no investment and no start to the project. Wang Jing, the Hong Kong businessman who initially proposed the idea says he has no plans to visit Nicaragua and has been told that government officials are forbidden to see him unless he has money.

*     Cairo, Illinois Mayor Tyrone Coleman says a proposed port terminal in that Mississippi River town is giving people hope and is gaining support.  The city, the Cairo Public Utility Company, and some lawmakers have proposed a new port in an empty field along the town’s levee.  Lawmakers says it’s a perfect location because it adjoins both the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.


 
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