July 23, 2008

New Islands to Improve Quality of Mississippi River

By Ryan Stotts, La Crosse Tribune, Wis.

Jul. 23--BROWNSVILLE, Minn. -- The idea is a Mississippi River more like what it was before the locks and dams.

That's how Judy Mader of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency sees the creation of new islands in Pool 8 near Brownsville this summer. "The main reason for building the islands is for bird and fisheries habitat," Mader said, "but there is the side benefit of water quality."

Water quality has been seriously inhibited, she said, after the river was significantly altered by the series of locks and dams installed in the 1930s and 1940s.

Before the lock system was in place, the area near Brownsville was dotted with islands. Most eroded away in when the dams deepened the river.

The islands being installed this summer aim to recreate some of what was lost, she said.

A total of five islands -- one on the Wisconsin side, four on the Minnesota side -- have been added in the river, said Jim Nissen, La Crosse district manager of the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Refuge.

"This is a very large island," Nissen said, pointing to bulldozers working on a Minnesota side island labeled W2. "It's over a mile long. It's a 24-hour, six days-a-week project."

Crews already have pumped between 120,000 to 150,000 cubic yards of sand from nearby Crater Island that had been deposited from dredging, and a total of 210,000 cubic yards are expected to be used by the time the islands are completed in late September, he said.

This island building costs about $10 million, Nissen said, and two crews are working to add some special features, such as mud and sand flats and sand tips.

All of it is aimed at improving the quality of river habitat, he said.

It takes two crews, the help of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota Departments of Natural Resources and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to make it happen.

It also takes a lot of equipment, such as bulldozers, barge buggies and excavators -- and one really long pipe to blow the sand.

Because of safety hazards, Crater Island is closed to the public, Nissen said, and the new islands are inaccessible while under construction.

"They're pumping sand 5 miles to build the islands," he said. "There's a lot of equipment, and it's dangerous, but folks have been very good about it."

Ryan Stotts can be reached at (608) 791-8446 or [email protected]


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