Navigation on the Upper Mississippi River this year has been anything but normal.
Historic flooding plagued the region for much of the spring and early summer. The floods brought historic high water and a significant increase in the amount of sediment. The high water has since receded leaving sediment as the sole souvenir of the 2019 flood.
Removing this sediment, also known as dredged material, is the responsibility of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Paul District. The district manages the Mississippi River 9-foot Navigation Channel from Minneapolis to the district’s southern boundary at Lock and Dam 10 in Guttenberg, Iowa.
To ensure the channel remains open for navigation much like a highway department maintains a road, the district incorporates a team of dredging vessels and excavators to carve out the dredged material from the bottom of the river. In doing so, the district ensures there is at least nine feet of channel depth for commercial navigation, said Paul Machajewski, St. Paul District channel coordinator.
On average, the district removes approximately 1 million cubic yards of dredged material from the Mississippi River every year. This is enough material to roughly fill Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Being a steward of tax dollars, Machajewski said the St. Paul District tries to keep costs down for the tax payer by looking for placement sites that are in close proximity to where they are dredging to save on transportation costs, as well as sites that are environmentally suitable.
Machajewski said one of these temporary placement sites is an island in the middle of the Mississippi River directly upstream of Lock and Dam 3, near Red Wing, Minnesota. Corps Island is currently over its design capacity of more than 500,000 cubic yards of material. As a result, Machajewski said the Corps of Engineers is forced to find alternative placement solutions.
To ensure the use of Corps Island continues to serve as a temporary placement site for dredged material, the St. Paul District awarded a contract to Newt Marine, out of Dubuque, Iowa, in 2018. Kim Warshaw, St. Paul District project manager responsible for managing the dredged material removal from the island, said the contractor is currently developing a detailed plan to identify how they plan to remove the dredged material from the island and place it on land owned by the Prairie Island Indian Community.
To that end, Warshaw said the contractor plans to host a public meeting Aug. 21, in Red Wing to discuss their plan. The meeting will be held at the Holiday Inn Express at 1919 Old W Main St., from 6 - 8 p.m. Comments and questions concerning the dredged material unload project may also be submitted via email at CorpsIslandUnload@usace.army.mil.