Historic agreement creates river sand management partnership

Members from the city of Wabasha, Minnesota, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Paul District, gathered at the National Eagle Center in Wabasha to sign a historic partnership agreement July 24.

Wabasha Mayor Emily Durand and St. Paul District Commander Col. Eric Swenson signed a pact for the management of dredged river sand removed from the Mississippi River. The agreement, also known as a Section 217 partnership, was years in the making and is a non-binding effort allowing the Corps of Engineers to partner with the city of Wabasha to help manage the river sand removed from the 9-foot navigation channel within the greater Wabasha area.

Bob Edstrom, St. Paul District project manager in charge developing plans for the placement of river sand removed from the navigation channel, said the plan is the first of its kind for inland waters within the United States and represents a unique solution for the both the community and the Corps of Engineers. He said approximately 25 percent of the nearly 1 million cubic yards of sand that the St. Paul District removes from the Mississippi River annually is generated within the Wabasha community. “Having a partner in the city of Wabasha significantly helps us ensure a safe, reliable navigation system,” said Edstrom. “The agreement will help the community determine what is best for their needs, while providing us more time to focus on maintaining nearly 90-year-old navigation infrastructure.”

Caroline Gregerson, city of Wabasha city administrator, said the partnership is a huge step forward for the community. “This is a historic agreement for the city of Wabasha,” said Gregerson. “I think it demonstrates how a small town can capitalize on its river resources to come up with creative solutions to local challenges.”

John Friedmeyer, Wabasha City Council, 1st Ward Representative and Wabasha Port Authority president, echoed Gregerson’s comments and praised the hard work of so many to reach this historic milestone. “The agreement signed between the city and USACE provides the city the ability to manage dredged river sand in manner that ensures the health, safety and wellbeing of our community,” he said.  “That’s been the city’s goal from the onset. This agreement allows our community the opportunity to not have to worry about how the sand is moved off the river. It allows for constructive use of the product both publicly and privately. Rather than a threat to the community, it’s become an opportunity.”

The partnership originated after the initial release of a draft plan for the management of river sand in 2017. Edstrom said he vividly remembers hearing from many citizens about the need to have a stronger voice in deciding what would work best for their community. The initial plan was rescinded after more than 100 days of public comment. City and Corps officials began working collaboratively together to see what could be done to meet the needs of everyone involved.

Gregerson commended the efforts and desire to find a win-win solution. “I was so impressed with the staff we’ve worked with at the Corps,” she said. “They were professional, made meetings fun, and they always remained open and honest with us. We tried to do the same. A lot of trust was built during the process.”

Friedmeyer also commended the process and said, “I think when the city realized we had a voice at the table with the Corps and they were willing to consider alternative solutions, we really began to feel that collaboration, a willingness to find the best outcome, and I’ve felt that through this whole process,” he said.

Looking ahead, the Corps of Engineers will pay the city a nominal fee, known as a tipping fee or user fee, to manage the river sand from temporary placement sites scatted along the Mississippi River within the greater Wabasha area to permanent locations where it can be used for a variety of activities to include mine reclamation, general construction fill material and several other beneficial use purposes. Edstrom said the primary benefit of the agreement is the fact that it allows the city to have more control over where the material is placed based on their priorities while affording Corps of Engineers staff more time to focus on maintaining the navigation channel.

“The agreement may have taken longer than we originally expected, but we wanted to ensure we got it right and that it worked for everyone involved,” said Edstrom. “This partnership is a perfect example of what can be done when everyone is willing to role up their sleeves and focus on what is most important for the community.

Submitted story by US Army Corps of Engineers (Patrick Moes)