Wabasha Eyes Barge Terminal

The small city of Wabasha, Minn., held a public meeting October 19 to invite public comment on a draft environmental impact statement for a planned barge terminal it wants to build along the Mississippi River.

The 8.2-acre Wabasha Barge Facility would be built on a vacant, 59-acre parcel. The city would own the project site and contract out the port operations and transportation of materials. Tyler Grabau, the city’s finance director, told The Waterways Journal that the city is in discussions with a private entity to operate the terminal.

The project is expected to cost just under $3 million.

“Financing is the key,” said John Friedmeyer, president of the Wabasha City Council and of the Wabasha Port Authority.

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The city hopes to begin construction in 2024, depending on when financing is in place. The city has gotten some financing from the state legislature and is applying for more from both state and federal sources.

The project will require the dredging of an area to accommodate barge maneuvering and docking. Among the structures that will need to be built are a barge terminal pad and access road; a sheet pile dock face; upstream/downstream piling clusters for barge mooring and maneuvering; footings for conveyors as well as hoppers for material handling and load-out; and a scale house/field office building. Some of the dredged material is planned to be used as fill material on the barge terminal site to raise the storage area above the 100-year flood elevation.

In July, the St. Paul Engineer District and city officials signed a river sand management agreement that enables the city (and its Port Authority) to manage the Corps’ dredged river sand within the Mississippi River Lower Pool 4 area. The Corps will pay the city a tipping fee to help manage river sand. The agreement provided the “impetus” for the barge facility project, Friedmeyer told local media.

Unique Agreement

According to the Corps, the agreement, under development for several years, is the first of its kind for inland waters within the United States. It gives the city more control of where the sand goes and in the development of beneficial reuse opportunities, officials said.

It’s the latest chapter in a story of sand and land that began with conflict between the city and the Corps. The story began in 2017, when an unexpected announcement by the Corps that it was going to seize some local riverside land using eminent domain raised a furious local reaction—and laid the groundwork for closer cooperation and consultation between the city and the Corps.

The issue originally arose because the Corps was running out of disposal sites for its dredged material. Each year, the Corps removes about 270,000 cubic yards of sand within a 6-mile stretch of the river, centered on the city, to maintain a 9-foot navigable channel.

The Corps apologized and held a series of local meetings that led to a memorandum of understanding between the two—and to a clause in the 2018 Water Resources Development Act requiring closer local consultation in the future on Corps projects.

The public comment period ends November 1. Written comments should be submitted to Caroline Gergerson, City Administrator, 900 Hiawatha Drive E, Wabasha, MN 55981, or to