Wabasha, Corps Sign MOU On Dredge Disposal

A year after communications missteps aroused opposition and hostility to its plan to dispose of dredged materials from a sector of Lake Pepin, the Corps of Engineers signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) June 5 with the city of Wabasha, Minn., and the Wabasha Port Authority pledging to give local officials a say in any plans to dispose of the materials.

The previous 40-Year Dredged Material Management Plan drafted by the Corps was announced without prior consultation with local officials. The plan would have involved seizing the riverside Drysdale farm using eminent domain. The farm owners and their supporters, including the city of Wabasha, created an uproar over the plan. Riverside communities were also concerned about dump trucks full of sand going their neighborhoods.

The dredged material will come from Upper Mississippi River Pool No. 4 near the confluence of the Chippewa River, which deposits a lot of silt into the Mississippi. The Corps had said that it was running out of space to dispose of the material.

After the strong reactions, the Corps did an about-face and apologized, launching a series of meeting with local officials. “We committed ourselves to working with the local community,” Col. Sam Calkins, commander of the St. Paul Engineer District, told the Wabasha City Council at a recent meeting, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “If we lose sight of the small towns like Wabasha, we’re not doing our job.”

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Flexibility Praised
Rep. Jason Lewis (R-Minn.), whose district includes Wabasha, praised the MOU. In a statement on his website, he said, “The MOU signed … by the Corps and the city of Wabasha describes a process by which the Corps can use existing authorities to collaborate with a non-federal entity in order to allow for greater flexibility of material placement. It is also environmentally friendly as it could allow the dredged material to be used in a manner that benefits society rather than taking up space on pristine farmland or along the shores of the Mississippi River.”

The controversy led Lewis to introduce an amendment into the House’s current Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), now being reconciled with the Senate version, that requires more local input into decisions like this.

“I was also pleased my amendment was included in this bill. As someone whose family business was taken due to eminent domain, I know the importance of having local input in plans that would significantly affect communities…. My amendment will help ensure this plan is fully considered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.”