The St. Paul District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is starting a disposition study this fall to review options for the three Mississippi River locks in Minneapolis.
The $1.2 million study will examine several options for the Upper and Lower St. Anthony Falls locks and dams, and Lock and Dam 1. Options include continuing operations as they are now; turning the facilities over to other federal, state or local entities; or removing the locks permanently.
Officials say the study will take less than two years to complete, and any change from the project’s authorized purpose would require congressional action.
The study follows the June 2015 closure of the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam due to the passage of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014. At the time, reports noted that this was the first time a navigable waterway was closed to stem the tide of an invasive species. Although no Asian carp have made their way north, some lawmakers believe the system needed to be closed to slow the spread of Asian carp north of St. Anthony Falls.
Engineers say the lock chamber at Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam is still authorized to operate for flood risk management purposes.
Paul Freeman, a member of the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association board of directors from Starbuck and current chairman of the Upper Mississippi Waterway Association, says reliable, safe and efficient movement of agricultural products is very important.
“When over half our soybeans and much of our distillers grain move into foreign market, our well-developed waterway transportation system is our competitive advantage,” Freeman says. “If we lose this advantage, it is not just a matter of charging more — it means losing markets.”
Closure of the locks has had a small impact on agriculture, he adds. Tonnage shifted off the river has added another 75 trucks per day to highways.
Freeman says the study will help determine the best plan in which to proceed.
“The dams will need to be maintained in some fashion for flood control and water management. Maintaining a 9-foot-deep navigation channel is a top priority for UMWA, with sediment movement being the major issue,” he says. “We would like to see these three dams utilized as sediment-settling areas, where a higher-quality sand could be dredged before it mixes with lower-quality sediment from the geologically younger Minnesota River watershed.”
As a representative of Minnesota Soybean plus serving as UMWA chairman, Freeman offers a unique perspective on issues impacting waterway transportation.
“As chairman of this group [UMWA], I am well aware of the reach of the river,” he says. “Since I farm in west-central Minnesota, my products usually move west. However, this year, with a poor local basis, I did truck half my soybean crop to the river. Farmers are price takers, and having options to more markets helps us take a better price, even if we never personally utilize that market. Competition is good to have.”