Paddleboat cruises to stop using Mpls. lock in effort to keep Asian carp at bay

  • Article by: ERIC ROPER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 5, 2012 - 11:14 PM

Company owner said he would not fight Mayor Rybak's decision to deny access: "We're stepping to the plate because it's river first."

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The Minneapolis Queen headed upriver towards Boom Island at the end of a Friday night dinner cruise.

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

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In the name of stopping an invasive fish, the 78-foot paddleboat called the Minneapolis Queen will stop offering passengers the thrill of passing through a Mississippi River lock.

The Queen and the Paradise Lady, a sleek 96-foot yacht also operated by Paradise Cruises, will stay out of the lock beside the Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis as part of an effort to keep Asian carp at bay. The detour is meant reduce traffic in the lock, which might eventually close altogether to stop the carp from reaching northern Minnesota.

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board came to an agreement with Paradise this week while renewing its permit. The board originally voted to allow the company to continue using the lock until the state or federal governments intervened, but Mayor R.T. Rybak took the rare step of vetoing the resolution.

"It is clear we cannot wait for congressional action," Rybak said in his veto letter. He noted that a number of nonprofit organizations have already voluntarily stopped using the lock.

Paradise Cruises' 961 trips through the Upper St. Anthony Falls lock represented about 40 percent of all lockages there last year, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which operates the lock.

Barges from two businesses upriver also use the lock, and canoes and other recreational craft accounted for 850 of the 2,400 lockages in 2011, the Corps said.

"We're stepping to the plate because it's river first," said Dave Lawrance, owner of Paradise Cruises. "This is something that's bad for everybody that's coming up the river and we don't want it to get any larger."

Paradise's offerings include sightseeing, happy hour pizza, Friday night dinner and Sunday brunch treks through the locks with unique views of the city. The cruises will continue, but the vessels will stay upstream of the lock.

The company currently docks at Boom Island, but may eventually move to Bohemian Flats, north of the University of Minnesota's West Bank campus.

The Park Board action also does not preclude them from using the Lower Saint Anthony Falls Lock, which could become a future cruise attraction.

"It's a big move for us," Lawrance said.

John Erwin, president of the Park Board, praised Paradise for agreeing to stop using the lock.

"They are going to experience a hardship by doing this," Erwin said. "It's something that they are doing voluntarily, that they could have argued against and disagreed with us on."

Absent federal or state action, the next local step will likely be closure of the city's terminal near 38th Avenue N. Peter Wagenius, Rybak's policy aide, said city staffers will soon report to the City Council about the costs and consequences of eliminating the aging facility.

Closing the locks altogether would require an act of Congress. Minnesota's congressional delegation has introduced legislation to authorize closure if Asian carp are found north of Hastings.

Eric Roper • 612-673-1732 Twitter: @StribRoper

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