Big River Magazine
Mississippi River stories and news

July-August 2012

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From July-August 2012 Big River

Frac Sand Update

Burnett County, Wis. — An unknown quantity of frac sand spilled from the containment pond of a 72-acre sand mine in Burnett County into the St. Croix River and wetlands in mid-May, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The runoff into the famously-clear St. Croix, a tributary of the Mississippi River and a National Scenic Waterway, was “the color of coffee with a lot of cream in it,” said a DNR investigator. The DNR is asking the state Department of Justice to prosecute the mine-owners — Minneapolis-based Interstate Energy Partners and Maple Grove, Minn.-based Tiller Co.

Trempealeau County, Wis. — The DNR also recommended bringing charges against Preferred Sands of Minnesota for failing to have a stormwater pollution prevention plan in place when a dike embankment collapsed in Trempealeau County in early March, sending 2,100 feet of river mud into privately-owned land.

Washington, D.C. — After a National Institute for Safety and Health study concluded that “an inhalation health hazard existed for workers exposed to crystalline silica at evaluated hydraulic fracking sites,” the AFL-CIO put three federal agencies — the Occupational Safety and Health Administration; National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health; and Mine Safety and Health Administration — on alert for worker safety in a May 22 letter. Researchers determined that the magnitude of exposure to silica-containing breathable dust was so great that personal respiratory protection was not enough to protect workers. Providing energy for the nation is an important task, the letter acknowledged, but it should be done safely. They cited progress made in the coal industry. (, 5-25-12)

Fountain City, Wis. — In late May a local school district hired a lawyer to help consider legal strategies to challenge a proposed frac sand drying and shipping facility across the highway from the Cochrane-Fountain City School. Glacier Sands Co. wants to bring mined and washed sand to an enclosed 24-hour-a-day drying plant, where it would be loaded into railroad cars and shipped out twice a week from a triple-loop rail yard capable of handling 100 cars at a time. (Winona Daily News, 5-24-12)

McGregor, Iowa — Pattison Sand Company continues to haul sand from its Clayton mine to Prairie du Chien, Wis., via Highway 76, which runs down Main Street in McGregor. Highway 52-18 was resurfaced and regraded last summer, which gave the heavy sand trucks an alternate route bypassing McGregor, but trucks still run through the center of the river town. Residents complain of noise, traffic and shaking windows, and are concerned about the integrity of the town’s historic buildings and its reputation as a peaceful and scenic tourist destination.

Pattison’s public affairs manager declined to comment about why the company continued to use Main Street. Pattison’s general manager did not return phone calls.

• A “conservative estimate” released by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in January said the state is so rich in sand prized by oil and gas companies for frac drilling that it could produce more than 12 million tons of frac sand per year.

The industry has grown rapidly: two years ago, Wisconsin had five frac sand mines and five processing facilities. Now it has 63 mines and 36 processing facilities. (, 5-18-12)

Iowans Like Their Rivers

Ames, Iowa — Iowans spend over $500 million annually on river tourism, with over one-quarter of that spent at places along the Mississippi River. According to a recent study, Iowans who visited the Mississippi River in 2009 spent an estimated $145 million that supported 1,700 jobs. The two most popular river segments in Iowa were from Clinton to Muscatine ($35.9 million) and from Dubuque to Clinton ($35.6 million).

Half of the people who responded to a survey said they visited an Iowa river at least once in 2009, with the average person visiting a river or stream six times. The authors divided the state’s rivers and streams into 73 segments; six of those segments were along the Mississippi. Other popular river segments were along the Des Moines and Cedar Rivers. The most popular activities were fishing, boating and trail use (hiking, biking, etc.). Over 90 percent of the visits were day trips. Respondents said that the most important factor for picking where to go was the distance from their home, and the second most important factor was water and habitat quality.

The lead author was Daniel Otto, a professor at Iowa State University’s Department of Economics and Center for Agriculture and Rural Development. Surveys were sent to 10,000 randomly selected Iowa residents. Forty-nine percent responded. The survey was designed to understand how Iowans interact with their rivers and to estimate the economic value of clean rivers and streams. The findings could be used by policy makers as they decide how to allocate conservation dollars. The work was funded by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Iowa Rivers & River Corridors Valuation Project

New Canoes

Rock Island, Ill. — Looking for a brand new, hand-made canoe? Navarro Canoe Company, a 40-year old company previously based in Minneapolis, has moved to Rock Island. Bruce and Sue Peterson bought the company and moved to the Quad Cities because of local enthusiasm for river-related activities.

The company’s two full-time employees (including Mr. Peterson) construct the canoes by hand, a process that takes about 100 hours. Hulls are made from resin with either Fiberglass or Kevlar. The ribs are made from cherry wood and the seats of hand-laced nylon framed with wood. Canoes come in a variety of sizes from 13 to 17 feet.

They hope to open a storefront later this year. For now, they manufacture and sell out of a former motorcycle shop located between the Rock River and the Mississippi.

Paddle Day

Winona, Minn. — July 14 may be Independence Day in France, but it’s the Governor’s Canoe and Kayak Day in Minnesota. Governor Dayton is invited to come participate and paddle in the event.

The day is the first event to be sponsored by a new citizen’s committee to help with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ water trails program. The committee also plans to create and promote “Friends of Water Trails” groups near existing water trails, sponsor trail cleanups and recommend new water trails in the state.

For exploring the river by canoe or kayak, nothing beats a good water trail. The trail usually leads paddlers through a variety of environments, from Main Channel to marsh to backwater sloughs, and is clearly marked with signs so you travel a loop back to where you put in. Four water trails in the Winona District of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge have recently been added to the National Recreation Trails system: Finger Lakes and Halfmoon Canoe Trails near Kellogg, Minn.; Verchota Trail near Winona, Minn.; and Nelson-Trevino Canoe Trail near Nelson, Wis. This year, 54 new trails in 23 states joined the system of 1,150 trails. Water Trails in the Refuge

Paddle & Shoot

The Friends of the Upper Mississippi River Refuges is looking for paddlers’ eye views of the river, and they’re sponsoring a photo contest to bring together images that best “capture the spirit of paddling the Mississippi River.” The only requirements are that the photos must be taken on the Mississippi and have a canoe or kayak in them — at least a portion of one.

Photos from amateurs and professionals will be accepted through November 16, 2012, by mail or in person at the Winona offices of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, 51 E. Fourth St., Rm. 101, Winona, MN 55987. Download the Summer of Paddling Photo Contest Entry Form and rules (pdf) here.

For more information, call Cindy Samples, 507-494-6216, or visit the refuge website.

The contest is part of the Summer of Paddling 2012 celebration being sponsored by organizations in 10 states.

Exhibits: War Paint & Watercolors

St. Paul — The U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 was a violent, six-week struggle that horrified Dakota people, settlers and the nation, and ended with the hanging of 38 Dakota men at Mankato, Minn., the largest mass execution in U.S. history. On June 30, 150 years after the event, the Minnesota History Center, in downtown St. Paul, will open a new exhibit about the war.

The war, also called the “Dakota Conflict” and the “Sioux Uprising,” followed decades of deceit and broken promises made by the government to the Dakota people, and its effects are still felt today. The exhibit includes many points of view, and is part of a broader initiative called a “truth recovery” project involving Dakota people and descendants of original settlers.

The History Center will sponsor events and activities at many historical sites related to the war.

To read more Mississippi River news and stories, order this issue or find Big River at one of these retail outlets.


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