A year after a proposal for Mississippi River dredging sparked an uproar in Wabasha, Minn., the city and the Army Corps of Engineers have reached agreement on a new direction for disposing of about 10 million cubic yards of river sand and muck over the next 40 years.
The two sides earlier this month signed a memorandum of understanding, pledging to hash out a new plan that would be less intrusive to city residents and save a longtime family farm where much of the sand was originally slated to be dumped.
“We’re very appreciative of the cooperation we’ve gotten from the corps,” Mayor Rollin Hall said. “They have listened to us; they have worked with us.”
Last year, the corps unveiled a draft plan for dredging Pool No. 4 near Wabasha, part of the river’s lock system. The corps is charged with keeping the channel open to a depth of at least 9 feet to maintain barge traffic. Pool 4 includes the confluence of the Chippewa River, a fast-flowing stream that dumps a lot of sand into the Mississippi.
The plan would have sent a fully laden dump truck through an upscale river neighborhood once a minute during the peak summer dredging season, and much of the sand would have been dumped on the 300-acre Drysdale farm south of town, burying it under 15 feet of muck and sand.
Residents also worried about the potential impact of heavy truck traffic during the height of tourism season in the picturesque river town of 2,500 people about 85 miles southeast of the Twin Cities.
Hundreds of residents turned out to protest at town meetings, and the corps agreed to reconsider. The new plan — which will take at least a year to finalize — calls for the city to create a material-handling facility at the Port of Wabasha and lease it to a private entity, presumably a company that would make use of the sand and dirt.
“We committed ourselves to working with the local community,” Col. Sam Calkins, commander of the corps’ St. Paul District, told the City Council at a recent meeting. “If we lose sight of the small towns like Wabasha, we’re not doing our job.”
There’s a long way to go before the agreement is final, cautioned Daniel Marx, a St. Paul attorney who has represented the city in negotiations. But he called the latest proposal “a big first step.
“It’s an example of democracy and listening to the voices of a small town,” Marx said.