By Patrick MoesJanuary 24, 2020
ST. PAUL, Minn. - The past three years have proved challenging for the St. Paul District's channels and harbors team.
As Mother Nature continues serving up records for volume of water, river flows and sediment, the team responsible for managing the Mississippi River's navigation channel from Minneapolis to Guttenberg, Iowa, is also actively seeking permanent locations along the river to place the dredged material they remove from the mighty Mississippi River.
Paul Machajewski, St. Paul District dredged material manager for the Mississippi River, said he and his team have worked extensively with many of the Corps' federal, state and local partners to find permanent solutions to the district's real estate needs while also considering costs and the impacts to the environment.
These considerations are known as the federal standard. Moreover, they are the guiding principles that help distinguish whether a locale is suitable for placing material or not. Machajewski said it's a balancing act of minimizing environmental impacts while ensuring the organization is being a good steward of tax dollars.
On average, the district removes approximately 1 million cubic yards of dredged material from the navigation channel every year. This is enough material to fill either U.S. Bank
Stadium in Minneapolis or Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Once the material is removed from the navigation channel, it is placed on a temporary holding site, or island within the Mississippi River, or moved to a transfer site where it sits until it is moved again to a permanent placement site. Handling the material more than once is costly and reduces our resources that could be used to maintain the channel, said Machajewski. In addition to the increased costs, the current sites used to temporarily store the material lack capacity.
To solve the storage problem along the Mighty Mississippi, the district is currently working on plans for Mississippi River pools 2, 4, 5 and 6. While the plans are at different stages on the timeline, the teams managing them are focused on finding solutions that can be realized at the local level, said Bob Edstrom, St. Paul District project manager responsible for the plans in Pools 4, 5 and 6. "Having the public involved early and often in the process is critical," said Edstrom. "Building those partnerships helps the communities understand what we are doing, why we are doing it and what it means to the nation."
Edstrom emphasized the importance of working with the communities and said he finds value in seeking the input of community leaders. Working with communities such as the city of Wabasha, Minnesota, and Winona, Minnesota, have helped Edstrom and his team identify options that could have been missed without the communities' input, said Edstrom.
The best example of working with the communities is the partnership the Corps has with the city of Wabasha, said Edstrom. Collectively, the Corps and city are working together to see if it's feasible to have the city manage the permanent placement of dredged material within their community rather than the Corps. Known locally as the Section 217 agreement, the plan would allow the Corps to pay the city of Wabasha a tipping fee for their work, but it would afford the city more leverage where the material is placed, said
Edstrom. He added that the agreement is still in the early stages, but he is optimistic that they can find a win-win solution for everyone involved.
The solution, if realized, would be a first for the district and one of the first in the nation. Edstrom said he was not aware of similar plan created for the management of dredged material on an inland waterway such as the
Mississippi River. The handful of locations where the agreement has been realized are all ports, said Edstrom. "We are truly revolutionizing the way we do business," he said. "This agreement would save tax dollars while ensuring commerce continues moving on the Upper Mississippi River."
In addition to saving tax dollars, Machajewski said the team has been working with its partners to find more opportunities for the beneficial use of the dredged material. The St. Paul District currently has around 10 sites located near the river where people can take the material for free. Machajewski said the material can be used for a variety of activities to include winter road maintenance, construction fill material, environmental habitat projects on the river and more. "We do our best to promote the free use of dredged material, but we often find ourselves dredging up more material than people, or communities, need," he said.
In an effort to drum up more awareness for the beneficial use of dredged material and to identify more options, district staff recently established a working group with a variety of partners within the region. Machajewski said Zach Kimmel, St. Paul District channel coordinator for the Mississippi River, is leading the district's effort to identify more options for the use of dredged material. Machajewski said it's too soon to speculate on the potential outcomes of the working group, but he did say he's excited about the possibilities.
"At the end of the day, it's all about finding solutions and building partnerships," concluded Edstrom. "We are working daily to revolutionize the way we plan and implement projects in the Upper Midwest."