Posted on November 30, 2022
The St. Paul District team responsible for developing a solution for managing Mississippi River dredged river sand, removed from the water near Wabasha, Minnesota, reached a major milestone Nov. 11.
The team reached the finish line of the plan with the signing of the environmental assessment and planning document, also known as a finding of no significant impact, or FONSI, after more than five years of planning efforts with a few major challenges and obstacles along the way.
“The final approved plan was the culmination of hard work, compromise, and a willingness to remain focused on developing a solution that worked best for most,” said Bob Edstrom, St. Paul District project manager in charge of the Pool 4 plan.
Edstrom added that the completion of the Pool 4 plan, also known as a dredged material management plan, is not the end of the team’s work in the region but a major accomplishment, nonetheless. He said additional work remains to include working with the city of Wabasha to develop a cost-share agreement to compensate the city for managing some of the material. Known as a Section 217 agreement, Edstrom said it’s one of the most important aspects of the Pool 4 plan. He added that the agreement, while non-binding, allows the Corps of Engineers to partner with the city of Wabasha to help manage river sand. “The coordination with the city in developing the revised plan may have taken longer than expected, but we believe the new version truly embodies the spirit of cooperation,” said Edstrom.
Paul Machajewski, St. Paul District dredged material manager, said the Pool 4 plan is focused on doing three things. “It ensures the required placement capacity for this part of the Mississippi River for the next 20 years; it provides a path forward for the city and the Corps of Engineers to develop solutions that effectively and safely manage river sand; and it improves the environment by reducing the carbon footprint needed by trains and semi-trucks to move the same commodities via navigation and avoids impacting adjacent wetlands or placing the material back in the river,” he said.
Machajewski said some of the obstacles encountered while developing the final plan included properties that the community didn’t want to be used to store the river sand. After listening to these concerns, the plan was changed to accommodate the community’s request. That said, Machajewski added that one of the biggest challenges the team consistently faces in finding suitable placement sites is ensuring they meet the federal standard. “The federal standard is the least costly alternative that is both environmentally acceptable and includes sound engineering practices,” he said. “Additionally, the plan must meet federal environmental requirements to include the Clean Water Act, National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act.”
While the new plan identifies solutions to managing river sand near Wabasha for the next 20 years, there are more plans to be developed for other areas along the Mississippi River within the St. Paul District boundaries. At the end of the day, Machajewski said it’s all about ensuring the Mississippi River 9-foot Navigation Channel remains open and safe for commercial navigation. “We’re committed to maintaining the navigation channel to ensure it continues providing safe, reliable transportation for bulk commodities,” Machajewski said. “As neighbors within this community, we have a vested interest as both federal employees but also citizens that want the best for our communities and the environment.”