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Dubuque to dredge ‘challenging’ waterway

Years of silting have created obstructions in the Peosta Channel near Dubuque Marina and the Hawthorne Street boat ramp, resulting in significant business challenges for Dubuque Marina.

Posted on December 4, 2023

For years, the northern entrance of the Peosta Channel has caused headaches for both boaters and a nearby marina.

A series of impactful flooding events in recent years caused significant silting at the mouth of the channel, forming a massive underwater mound of sediment that pelicans idly stood on and boaters would cautiously avoid.

For Dubuque Marina, the silting took a significant toll on the business as it blocked boat access to its gas dock and dozens of rental slips.

“We have multiple docks that are out of commission,” said Steve Launspach, co-owner of Dubuque Marina. “It affects our whole property, our boaters and our fuel sales.”

In spring, though, the marina and the city of Dubuque will partner to try to clear out the channel through a significant dredging project currently expected to cost close to $600,000.

Planning for the project started when Dubuque Marina applied in 2022 for funding from the Iowa Department of Natural Resource’s Boating Infrastructure Tier 1 grant program to dredge a portion of the channel and create better waterway access to the marina.

In February 2023, the company was awarded $200,000 for the project, but to successfully meet state and federal guidelines, the marina moved to have the city receive the money instead and conduct the dredging project on its behalf.

“It became apparent that it could be challenging for Dubuque Marina to comply with the federal dollars,” Dubuque Assistant City Engineer Bob Schiesl said. “Because we deal with these projects all the time, we’re better equipped to administer it.”

The city has already dredged some of Peosta Channel near Dubuque Marina this fall as well as near Catfish Charlie’s.

For this newest project, city officials intend to dredge out two major sections of the channel. Work in one of the channel’s sections is funded through a combination of the $200,000 in state funds from Iowa DNR and a local match by Dubuque Marina of $117,500.

The second planned dredging currently remains unfunded. The city has applied for an additional $170,271 grant from the Boating Infrastructure Tier 1 grant program for 2024, which would require an additional $100,000 match from Dubuque Marina.

“We started evaluating the dredging needs of the area,” Schiesl said. “We applied for another cycle of funding to dredge that area further and make a bigger area for boaters to navigate through.”

Currently, the city plans to dredge both sections of the Peosta Channel in April and May of 2024, if the state approves the city’s grant application on time.

Schiesl said the city might have to push some of that dredging back to a later date, but it would not occur while boating season is in full swing.

“We wouldn’t want to interfere (with) or hinder the boating public,” he said. “We’ll just try to find a more ideal time to do it.”

Even if the dredging operation is successful, Launspach said Dubuque Marina has already paid to dredge out the Peosta Channel four additional times over the past eight years.

In all of those previous cases, the channel filled up again amidst flooding of the Mississippi River.

“The Peosta Channel has been the No. 1 challenge of our business,” Launspach said. “Silting from flooding is something that is affecting all of the marinas up and down the river.”

While future silting of the channel will largely depend on the impacts of future floods, Schiesl said the city officials hope the dredging projects can open up enough water depth to prevent the channel from filling in quickly again.

“If we can keep water flowing and circulating through that area, it should hopefully help reduce the sediment build,” Schiesl said. “Our goal is a long-term benefit.”


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