A publication of the Upper Mississippi Waterway Association.
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June 2016

Negative impacts of losing river transportation

     While the Twin Cities has added more truck traffic to its freeways by closing river locks, news media in other cities around the country are talking about the negative impacts that would come from losing river transportation. 
     WTAE Television in Pittsburgh points out that, “We take them for granted, but without the locks and dams along the three rivers, we'd be paying a lot more for electricity and drinking water. And you could forget about boating.”
     The reporter added that river shipping, “Keeps electric rates low, and it keeps trucks from chewing up roads.”
     The Charleston, West Virginia, Gazette-Mail editorialized that, “Without the locks and dams and other facilities that allow those tows, there would be hundreds of thousands more trucks on the highways and thousands more train cars along the rails.”
     “So you think the nation’s highways are congested and in disrepair now, just think how bad they’d be without a fully functioning inland waterways system,” the paper says.
     And during this year’s Infrastructure Week, the National Corn Growers Association pointed out how important river transportation is to its members and U.S. and world consumers.
     “Without these waterways, the farms’ operational capacities would diminish. Over 60 percent of U.S. grain exports are completed with barges. Farmers use the waterways to send crops throughout the worldwide marketplace. This is also the route that many crops take to local businesses that also use the waterways to transport products and raw materials.
     “National inland waterway systems have a crucial role in supporting the agricultural industry in the U.S. Without these waterways, the farms’ operational capacities would diminish. Over 60 percent of U.S. grain exports are completed with barges. Farmers use the waterways to send crops throughout the worldwide marketplace. This is also the route that many crops take to local businesses that also use the waterways to transport products and raw materials,” the Growers say.
(Above) The Upper Mississippi River and its infrastructure mean lower costs for shippers and consumers, but parts of the system are well beyond their intended service life and need upgrades and/or repairs.

From the Executive Director...

Gone, Not Forgotten
     It has been a year since the lock at Upper St. Anthony Falls was ordered closed under authority of the Water Resource Reform and Development Act of 2014 (WRRDA 2014). 
      Whereas the Act stated no reason for closure, the Corps' Information Paper explaining the Section 216 Disposition Study stated two:  concern over the spread of invasive Asian carp, and the decrease of commercial traffic at Upper St. Anthony.
     Given the supremacy of legislative language over any Congressional Report language which may have discussed this matter in depth, it logically follows that if invasive Asian carp or insufficient traffic volumes were the true reasons for ordering closure, the WRRDA legislation could have contained language allowing reopening if and when those contingencies were corrected.  Since that was not the case, it leaves open the prospect that something else may have been the root cause for the closure.  Whatever the cause, Section 216 of the Flood Control Act of 1970 allows the Corps to study completed projects or operations when found advisable due to significantly changed physical or economic conditions.  Such studies typically examine the following four alternatives:  1) Continue with minimal operation, maintenance and repair, in other words no action; 2) Transfer ownership to another Federal or non-Federal owner; 3) Reauthorize the project to include other purposes, which would involve additional non-Federal sponsors; or 4) Deauthorize the project and dispose of it. 
      And, since the operations at two downstream locks and dams (Lower St. Anthony Falls and Lock and Dam 1) have been impacted by the decrease in commercial traffic at USAF, the 216 study will address the future of those two sites as well, according to Corps documents. 
     With trepidation we now await the outcome of the Section 216 Disposition Study.
Historic Significance of USAF
     Curious as to why the three facilities were developed led us to a Google search which produced a 1973 environmental study performed by North Star Research Institute of Minneapolis, a study commissioned by the St. Paul District.
      Not surprisingly, the first issue discussed in the 277-page report was the environmental impact of Corps projects within the study area as required by 1969 federal legislation.  In contrast to some environmental discussions today, the North Star report treated the Corps with respect and openness, stating that in early 1973 the St. Paul District reached out to the Institute to prepare a report on Corps’ facilities and operations on the Mississippi River throughout the entire District plus the Minnesota and St. Croix Rivers.
Saving the Falls
     The whole of the 1973 report is replete with the importance of the facilities at USAF to topographic, economic and environmental issues.
     For example, after decades of use by businesses, principally electric power plants and flour and lumber milling interests that were instrumental in making Minneapolis the City it became, the river became constricted to a width of about 450 feet, causing an acceleration of the natural upstream recession of the falls.  At winter low water, the limestone ledge between the dam and the crest was left bare, allowing frost action to further exacerbate the recession by causing more rapid disintegration of the limestone, thereby enhancing the threat of further recession. 
     After a temporary Corps dam failed to stop uncontrollable flows, the Corps, from 1874 to 1876 built a concrete seepage wall upwards to 6.5 feet thick, extending across the entire river directly under the limestone ledge and extending 38 feet down into the sandstone.  The combination of those works finally reduced the disintegration of the Falls.  That along with additional work by the Corps in 1870 to 1878 and later by Northern States Power halted further destructive recession, saving the Falls for scores of future generations to develop, enjoy and preserve.
     Had the Falls not been stabilized, but allowed to further recede upstream, that segment of the Upper Mississippi River would probably now be no more than a set of fast moving rapids somewhere upstream of downtown and Minneapolis would not have developed into the regional economic and entertainment center it is today.
Fast Forward to MNRRA and Beyond
     What we find disturbing about the WRRDA-ordered closure of Upper St. Anthony Falls and with current Minnesota DNR rulemaking on permanent rules applying to the Mississippi River Corridor Critical area is lack of consistency.
     For example, in 1986 WRDA legislation Congress declared the Upper Mississippi River a nationally significant ecosystem and a nationally significant navigation system.  Then, in 1988 the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (MNRRA) was established as a unit of the National Park system along a 72-mile corridor through the heart of the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St Paul.  In its master plan      MNRRA recognized that the working river is important to the economy of the metropolitan area, the State, the region and to domestic and foreign markets.  Most importantly MNRRA’s master plan fosters protection of both the working river and the natural riverine system.
     More recently, in 2012 the Minneapolis Metropolitan Council found that the closure of USAF would result in a $40 million negative impact on the economy (2013-2040), and would add 4,890 weekly truck trips each barge season to Minneapolis and St. Paul roads and bridges.
      Yet, while accolades and tributes recognize the importance of inland navigation as an essential leg of the three-legged stool of environment, navigation and recreation (in alphabetical order), the legislation that closed the lock at Upper St. Anthony Falls to navigation seemingly fails to recognize that waterways have a companion element:  air.  And that air collects and stores contaminants the same as does water.  And those trucks emit 10.5 times more CO2 per ton/mile than barge, and increases traffic congestion.  But since they do so in the name of increased park space, condo development, increased tax revenue and bike trails, such contamination and traffic inconvenience get a free ride.
     Though we have not yet completed our list of comments on Minnesota DNR’s Mississippi River Corridor Critical Area (which is the same footprint as MNRRA’s 72-mile corridor) we are concerned over the overemphasis given to the term “public river corridor views” without any definition of that term, except to suggest it applies to how much of a building can be seen from a water-level kayak in the Corridor.
Disclaimer:  Thoughts and opinions expressed in this column are those of its author and not necessarily those of the Upper Mississippi Waterway Association or its members.

Missouri River traffic makes a comeback

     USNews reports that commodity shipments on the Missouri River are increasing.  The story says that the industry is fighting, “a perception that the river is not reliable enough to be profitable.”
Not true, says Michael Collins, president of the Port of Kansas City. "The idea that the Missouri River is not navigable is simply just incorrect. The negative perception is changing but we still have a lot of work to do."
     USNews adds, “While Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa currently have no public ports on the Missouri River, the advantages of barge shipping — including job creation and private investment — got the Missouri Legislature's attention. The state has increased allocations for capital improvements at ports from $3 million in fiscal year 2014 to $12.4 million for fiscal year 2017, said Cheryl Ball, waterways infreight administrator for the Missouri Department of Transportation.”

Other items of interest...

*   Past UMWA Chairman and President Lee Nelson is the new President of the Towing Vessel Inspection Bureau (TVIB).   Nelson is president of Upper River Services in the Twin Cities and was the early leader in working with the Coast Guard on towboat inspection programs.  TVIB certifies auditors to conduct audits under the American Waterways Operators Responsible Carrier Program (RCP).

*   Gates in the auxiliary chambers at Locks 3 through 10 on the upper Mississippi are in bad shape.  To prevent pool loss or other problems should the old gates fail, the St. Paul District, Corps of Engineers wants to replace the miter gates with a new damming surface.  The Corps is seeking public comments on the draft Environmental Assessment by June 25.

*    The expanded Panama Canal has done trial runs through its new, expanded locks and has scheduled the first ‘neo-Panamax’ vessel for a June 26 passage.  However, it’s likely that ship will have its draft restricted because drought has limited water levels.  Maritime Executive says that leaves operators with a choice of sending a partially laden vessel through the Canal or sending fully loaded ships around the Cape of Good Hope powered by low priced fuel.

*    Island creation and restoration work continues in the Harper’s Slough area of the Upper Mississippi.  Four islands are being created this year, adding to three from last season.  Backwater habitat is also being crafted as part of the work.

*    Wisconsin Central Railroad has contractors working to restore its St. Croix high bridge.  The bridge is over a hundred years old and needs fresh cement to sheath its footings.  Many UMWA members, who are also boaters, know the bridge as a landmark.   

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