Cities — River Action, a local environmental
organization, is planning a four-day summer conference and celebration
to focus attention on the Quad Cities’ riverfront and river
Upper Mississippi River Conference: Weaving
Multiple Uses into Sustainable River Communities” will consider natural
habitats, environmental issues, recreational
opportunities and economic development. It is primarily for people
involved with planning, programming or river studies, and is
cosponsored by the Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service and the U.S. Coast Guard.
the author of the book, Last Child
in the Woods: Saving Our Children from
will speak about how to reconnect kids
with nature, in an age when both kids and adults seem
to spend more time in front of computer
and television screens than outside.
His Aug. 23 talk will be free and open to the public.
simultaneous river celebration, “RiverWay
designed for visitors and residents. Activities
include a night bike ride along the riverfront, a kids’ fishing
tournament, canoe and kayak lessons, cell-phone
riverfront tours, a movie projected onto a screen of water, and
a trail ride from Davenport to Muscatine and back, with an overnight
stay in Muscatine.
South St. Paul, Minn. — The
state’s Department of Transportation
(MnDOT) “must take greater care in choosing and reviewing
bridge designs,” says Rep. Joe Atkins, the Inver Grove Heights
Democrat who chairs the Minnesota House
Commerce and Labor Committee. That panel
investigated delays in construction of the Wakota Bridge over the
Mississippi River southeast of St. Paul.
I-494 across the Mississippi between South
St. Paul and Newport, Minn. It is actually
two bridges — one will
carry eastbound traffic, the other westbound.
MnDOT rebid construction of the Wakota Bridge after it found a
design flaw. Originally scheduled for completion in 2007, the $60
million do-over now is expected to be complete in 2010.
of the westbound span of the new Wakota
Bridge began in 2002. A problem was found
during construction in 2004 “when a higher
than normal frequency of hairline cracks
began appearing in the concrete bridge due to higher stresses than
designed for in some parts of the bridge,” according
to MnDOT. A retrofit added cables and anchor
blocks to redistribute the stresses.
westbound bridge opened in 2006 and now
carries three traffic lanes each way. The
scheduled completion of the redesigned eastbound bridge in 2010
will open five lanes in each direction.
Estimated cost of the entire
Wakota project, including the eastbound
river span, now is $300 million.
the design goof, MnDOT confirmed at a hearing
of Atkins’ committee
this spring that the department would supplement
its peer-review process for bridge designs “in
an effort to prevent this travesty from
occurring again,” said
What’s new about the agency’s
procedure is required peer review for major bridges designed
by outside consultants. The procedure now
is “to have the
design reviewed by a different, independent
consulting firm as opposed to having the design checked by another
engineer with the same firm that is designing the bridge,” said
MnDOT spokesperson Mary McFarland Brooks.
already requires checks of bridge designs
by a second designer. “This
practice is long standing and applies to
both in-house plans and those completed by consultants,” said
Review by an independent
design firm “adds another layer
of design review to reduce the potential
for a design error in the contract plans,” she added.
says the I-494 bridge will improve travel
and commerce in the Twin Cities’ southeastern suburbs. “The
Mississippi is a working river, and with
a main artery like the Wakota Bridge being
clogged, this has had a dire impact on businesses,” he
Aside from automotive traffic,
for Atkins the new bridge is significant because of
its bike lane. “Bicyclists
finally have a way to cross and appreciate
the Mississippi at a point between St. Paul and Hastings,” said
Atkins, who calls himself an “avid cyclist.”
Herons Here & There
Wis. — The Pump House Regional Arts Center is
sponsoring a public art exhibit this summer:
35 six-foot great blue heron sculptures,
made of fiberglass with beaks and legs of steel. All of the birds
are individually embellished and emblazoned by local artists. The
herons stand on street corners and the waterfront all over Onalaska
and La Crosse. They will be auctioned off in the fall, with proceeds
going to the Pump House.
For information or a map of the
herons, visit the Pump
House website. You can vote for your favorite online from the
site as well.
Minn. — Meanwhile,
30 miles upriver, in Winona, Minn., the
Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife
and Fish Refuge closed a 57-acre backwater
area to boats until July 7 to protect an
active heron rookery. Trees in the Mertes
Slough rookery support nests of more than
800 great blue herons and egrets, as well
as uncounted cormorants. About 700 young
birds fledged from the rookery in 2007.
high water levels in May made the rookery
a popular and accessible destination for
canoeists and kayakers, whose visits threatened to disrupt the
nesting birds. Even if water levels stay high enough to
allow passage through the floodplain forest,
young birds should have fledged by July
Weighing the Pros & Cons
Wis. — A proposed coal-fired electric generating
facility at Cassville would not emit enough
pollutants to violate national air quality
standards, wastewater from the plant would have little impact on
the Mississippi, but air quality would decline, and plant and animal
life could suffer, according to a draft environmental impact statement
on the project issued in May by the Wisconsin Department of Natural
Resources and the staff of the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin.
Power and Light Company, a subsidiary of
Alliant Energy, said it needs to build
the new power plant either at Cassville, on the Mississippi, or
near Portage, northeast of Madison. With costs estimated at $850
to $950 million, depending on where it is built, the new plant
would help keep energy costs down, according to the company. Without
a new plant, Wisconsin Power and Light would have to buy more power,
which costs more than generating its own.
But a number of threatened
and endangered mussel species near Cassville,
including the Higgins’ eye
pearly mussel, which is listed as a federally-endangered
species, would be disturbed because of
construction of a barge unloader and increased barge traffic at
Likewise, trees used by bald eagles
during the winter would be removed during
construction. Whether enough trees would remain to support the
eagles remains unknown, according to the report.
In addition, the
construction of new railroad tracks to
store coal cars, as well as increased train
traffic, could affect the breeding of prothonotary warblers, a
species of “special
concern” to the state and a conservation priority for the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Rare plant
species and a rare snake species also could
feel the impact of the tracks.
The public can read the draft
environmental impact statement at the Public
Service Commission’s website.
The public comment period is set to close
June 30. Once the commission staff issues
a final report, it will hold public hearings
near each of the proposed sites. In December,
the three-member commission will decide
whether to approve construction of a new
facility either at Cassville or Portage.