An unusual logjam on the Mississippi River near downtown St. Paul of storm-swept trees and branches, some as big as telephone poles, is awaiting resolution of a different sort of logjam on who exactly should pay to break it up.
“We’re trying to reach an agreement with the St. Paul Yacht Club to get a contractor in there to move material out,” Rick Larkin, St. Paul’s emergency management director, said Tuesday. “It needs to be a shared solution for a shared problem.”
The Yacht Club begs to differ.
“I’m just very surprised because we know it needs to be done, and we’ve never been responsible for it before,” said Roger Anderson, the Yacht Club’s manager.
Larkin said officials have decided that the logjam should be broken to protect the safety of those using Harriet Island Regional Park, which includes Raspberry Island. There is no danger to the bridge itself, engineers say.
“We’re coming up on the July 4th weekend with some pretty nice weather, so people will be out and about on the waterways,” he said. “What we don’t want to see happen is folks not used to dealing with the seriously fast current get into trouble with all that debris in the water.”
$15,000 to $25,000 cost
Larkin estimated that the cost to break the logjam might range from $15,000 to $25,000, and he said city officials think that the expense ought to be shared by the Yacht Club and the Minnesota Boat Club — both private entities that he said reap the benefits of city services.
Anderson said he thinks that estimate is low because the pile continues to grow daily and possibly reaches several feet into the river.
“It’s a ridiculous eyesore in the middle of one of the nicest parks in St. Paul,” he said.
According to the National Weather Service, the Mississippi crested Tuesday at 14.4 feet in downtown St. Paul, about half a foot over flood stage. That makes it St. Paul’s 18th-highest flood, Larkin said.
Meanwhile, the tangle of tree debris pushed against the Raspberry Island bridge continues to grow, drawing spectators pulled outside by the sun-splashed weather.
Trees also were piling up on the western tip of Raspberry Island, home of the Minnesota Boat Club, and along the railroad bridge downstream where local barge company Upper River Services was seen Tuesday unclogging the mess.
“I haven’t seen anything like this since the ’60s, when there was a flood in ’65 and ’69,” said Dave Bartell, a carpenter and lifelong East Sider who spotted the snarl from the Lafayette Bridge and stopped to take a closer look with his son Adam. “I’m curious how they’re going to break it up.”
Barge with excavator needed
What they would do, Larkin said, is bring in a barge equipped with an excavator claw to pull as much of the debris out of the river as possible. Inevitably some would escape downstream, he said, which is why he has asked the Yacht Club to move its members’ boats moored to slips on the east side of the bridge.
But Anderson said there’s nowhere for the boats to go, what with the logjam on one side and high water making it unsafe to pass under the railroad bridge on the other. Instead, he said, they would position workers on the slips to push debris away.
Anderson, who has been with the Yacht Club since 2000, said he noticed the logjam last Wednesday and reported it to the city on Thursday. On Sunday, he said, the city called to offer to split the cost with the Yacht Club.
Larkin said that the Mississippi, a national waterway that enjoys federal protection and flows through numerous jurisdictions, makes a project such as this complicated. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers oversees the navigable channel; there’s the regional park and a nearby public dock maintained by St. Paul; the harbor is leased by the city to the Yacht Club and considered private property, and the U.S. Coast Guard is responsible for river traffic and safety.
“We are trying to reach an agreement that helps everybody,” he said.