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A publication of the Upper Mississippi Waterway Association.
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January 2018
 
Infrastructure Plan release delayed

     The talking continues, but a release date for the Trump Administration’s $1-Trillion infrastructure plan has apparently been pushed back again. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and a bipartisan group of lawmakers met with high ranking White House people last week and President Donald Trump talked infrastructure when he met with Congressional leaders at Camp David recently.  However Secretary Chao and others have indicated that plan release probably will not come till after the January 30 State of the State address.
     So, a list of 50 high priority projects released to Governors a year ago remains the most definitive indication of what might be included in a proposal.  That list had no projects in UMWA states, but did highlight needs at Locks 20-25 on the Mississippi (For a review see Executive Directors Column, Feb 2017 Waterways)

      Another take on priorities comes in a report from the bi-partisan Congressional Problem Solvers Caucus. Suggestions include increasing expenditures from the Harbor Maintenance Tax by 29% and a, “stable long-term sustainable funding for infrastructure.”
     Members say that could include an increase in the federal gasoline tax, expanding tax-advantaged infrastructure financing options of municipal and private activity bonds, and incentivizing public-private partnerships and private-sector solutions for infrastructure development.
     The group also wants a “rural liaison” to federal agencies and a “Buy American” policy. 
     And, at a hearing of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee last week, lawmakers were pushed to reauthorize the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) in 2018 to make sure that water infrastructure is in the Trump plan.


 
(Above)  A typical early winter scene somewhere on the Upper Mississippi 


How Cold Was It?

     To people who thought this New Year’s cold was unprecedented in the New Orleans and St. Louis areas, historians have said in essence, “this ain’t nothin’.”  In February 1899, according to NOLA.com, New Orleans had about 3 and a half inches of snow on Valentine’s Day. 
     St. Louis Today told its readers about, “10 times the Mississippi River froze over in St. Louis.” And ABC News commented that although Minnehaha Falls in Minneapolis was frozen solid, that’s normal. 
     Corps of Engineers ice measurements on Lake Pepin, a closely watched indicator of season open on the Upper Mississippi, usually begin in February.


From the Executive Director . . .
 
New Year awaits answers to old issues
      As we start 2018, the commercial navigation industry awaits the outcome of the Corps’ Disposition Study on the Upper and Lower St. Anthony Falls, and Lock and Dam 1.  In late summer the Corps discussed a choice of whether to terminate the [disposition] study or proceed with a full study; it was decided in favor of the latter.        
     According to a Corps September update, the likely outcome will be a recommendation to deauthorize and dispose of the projects.  On the other hand, if disposal of the properties is not confirmed by the disposition study, additional studies to repurpose the project by a potential non-federal sponsor will be conducted to be authorized under as a new- start feasibility study.     
     UMWA and others have urged the Corps to create a sediment trap in Pool 1 to hold outflows.  Over time, the trap would prevent the flow of roughly 35,000 cubic yards annually to upper Pool 2 which is already facing a paucity of disposal sites.  In addition to reducing downstream sediment flow, the trap would protect the beneficial-use quality of Pool 1 sediment from the unusable fine silt common in the Lower Minnesota River.
$75,000 was provided for the study through September 2017; additional funding is anticipated.
 
Minnesota counties fight Corps’ plans
     Another open issue of concern is the ongoing Pool 4 Dredged Material Management Plan.  In commenting on the Corps’ May draft, UMWA called attention to an obvious irony: eco-friendly barge transportation is heavily dependent upon not too eco-friendly truck transport to keep barges moving.
     The Corps’ Traffic Management Plan’s primary goal is to determine how to move 226,000 cubic yards of sand per year through a designated transfer site. In their draft, the Corps minimized the plan’s impact on local traffic.  But Wabasha lawmakers didn’t agree, stating that seasonal dredging and transfer operations during a 75-day period would put an additional 200 trucks per day on local streets and roads.  That would be a 20 percent increase in daily traffic in predominantly residential areas creating safety, social and congestion problems.
 
     Producer groups were particularly disturbed as they were not notified of the plan until just days prior to the first public hearing.  News accounts report that cities located in Wabasha County are concerned about loss of valuable farmland and the effect it would have 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 in available gravel pits and other reclamation projects rather than using productive farmland for temporary or permanent storage sites.
     We are aware that some land owners and others have questioned if the Corps has ever explored the option of leasing land for dredged material storage, or considered mechanism that would allow landowners to repurchase their property during the 40-year period.  While this may not be low-hanging fruit on the Corps’ tree of options, it would reflect positively on that agency’s consideration of the intrinsic value of productive farmland to its owners.  The Corps already has a stable full of detractors; they don’t need more.

     A major shortcoming of this plan is that it does not consider disposal sites or the need of dredged material beyond the Pool 4 area, such as the troublesome shortage of sand off Southeast Florida.  For example, the Insurance Journal publication reminded us that the 2016 Water Resources Development Act authorizes the Corps of Engineers to study the potential of using foreign sand, such as from the Bahamas, to widen shorelines and protect coast from hurricanes such as the ones that hit the Big Bend of northeastern Florida in 2016.  In its “Shrinking Shores” investigation, the Naples Daily News reported that the Miami area had exhausted their deposits of available offshore sand, leaving only sand that is too far offshore to retrieve or is nestled among  protected reefs or other underwater marine features. 
  
     Unfortunately, a ban, backed by the U.S. dredging industry, on spending federal dollars on beach projects that use foreign sand stands in the way, and coastal communities can ill afford to forgo federal money for their beaches.
     Providing authority and funding for the Corps to barge excess U.S. domestic dredged material from Lower Pool 4, for example, to be used by Florida and gulf coast sites might be a fruitful alternative.  According to the Insurance Journal, the Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) is authorized to undertake a study of the economic and noneconomic costs, benefits and impacts of acquiring sediment from domestic and other sources for shoreline protection, hopefully in WRDA 2018.
 
WRDA 2018 needed
     As a practical matter would WRDA 2018 legislation be necessary to permit the Corps to barge domestic dredged sediment from the St. Paul District to the Corps’ New Orleans District for distribution to gulf coast sites?  The Lower Pool 4 study states the need to find sites for an estimated 11 million cubic yards of material over the 40-year study 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.
     If there are not enough willing sellers, the Corps can acquire property by paying unwilling sellers fair market value as required by the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  UMWA is not arguing that the Corps should be prohibited from using eminent domain, but shouldn’t that process be delayed until all alternatives have been considered, including some that are “outside the box”?
     We understand further discussions with Wabasha are planned to discuss future road maintenance plans, hopefully including some that are candidates for WIIN legislation which sidesteps Federal Standards.  As this is a 40-year plan requiring support from yet-uncommitted critical partner(s) and finding new dredge sites, the Corps’ recommendation in Traffic Management Plan is, at best, problematic.  
 
Disclaimer:  Thoughts and opinions expressed in this column are those of its author and not necessarily those of the Upper Mississippi Waterway Association or its members
 
Other Items of Interest...

*   The St. Paul Port Authority’s project on top of the old Macy’s Department Store is now open.  Treasure Island Center is expected to draw up to 700,000 users and spectators to the new indoor ice arena.  In addition to the Minnesota Wild,  City Capital Properties is offering Equity on Ice, a program to make TRIA Rink available to all area kids.

*   A new Minnesota Department of Transportation time lapse video on YouTube demonstrates the importance of barges during construction of the St. Croix Bridge.  It’s an amazing two minutes.

*    Winona harbor was busy in 2017.  The Winona Port Authority says it had the most traffic there since 2003, and 1,386 barges were moved in and out.  2016 was the second best season for Winona in a decade.

*    Shipping season on the St. Lawrence Seaway closed January 9 after a ship was freed from ice near Snell Lock and the last five ships cleared through it.

*   Work has started on a lock wall rebuild at Lock and Dam 15, near Davenport, Iowa.  The old wall was found to be structurally deficient and was tilting.  As much work as possible will be done during this off-season. Contractors say the visible work probably won’t start until Fall.
 
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