Two locks and dams on the Mississippi River in the heart of the Twin Cities are under federal review to determine whether they could be closed, sold — or even removed entirely.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers this month launched research into the Lower St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam, in addition to No. 1 Lock and Dam, also known as Ford Dam, because the hydroelectric power generated there once powered the Ford. factory in Saint-Paul.
The study will examine whether the Corps still has an interest in operating the structures, which see little commercial traffic after the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam closed in 2015. In a similar study, the Corps has decided to relinquish ownership at Upper St. Anthony, and a campaign is underway to redevelop the site to showcase Aboriginal history and ecological restoration.
The Upper St. Anthony Dam must remain in place in part to stop the spread of invasive carp and maintain water levels for the Minneapolis Drinking Water Intake upstream. But the Corps is required by Congress to study the possibility of removing the next two locks and dams downstream.
“It’s kind of an exciting study, [to look at] these large structures in such an important area, in the heart of an urban area,” said Clay Tallman, Corps Project Manager.
In addition to the withdrawal, the Corps could conclude that another state or federal agency should take over the locks and dams, or it could decide to sell them to a private entity.
Kidnapping would be extremely rare for the highly-controlled Mississippi, where locks and dams essentially create lift for watercraft. Olivia Dorothy, Upper Mississippi Manager for the American Rivers advocacy group, said the only other dam removal in recent memory was near St. Louis, at Lock and Dam 26. It was demolished in 1990 after major structural problems, and replaced.
As part of its study in the cities, the Corps is holding public meetings and accepting comments until November 25.
While attending an open house at Lock and Dam 1 on Friday, Nancy Ford, owner of used outdoor goods store Repair Lair in Minneapolis, said this section of Mississippi was “underutilized and under estimated”.
Ford said she had visited and paddled the stretch for most of her life. She feared that removing the structures would release the silt that had built up behind them over the years. She said if they closed and stayed put it would create a long portage for paddlers.
“If you rip it off, is it going to be more accessible? Less accessible? I don’t know,” she said.
All the dirt that has accumulated over a century behind the dams, and all the toxic substances it may contain, is one of the reasons why some environmental groups refrain from endorsing their removal. But the National Parks Conservation Association recently commissioned renderings of what the river might look like if the locks and dams were ripped out.
Christine Goepfert, associate director of the NPCA, said the images show how the retreat could shape the cities’ relationship with the river. Rapids could emerge and allow uses like tubing, and the increased shoreline could help more people get to the river to fish.
While there may be hidden damage in accumulated sediment, there are significant environmental benefits to removing it, said Colleen O’Connor Toberman of Friends of the Mississippi River. The group also does not officially endorse the removal of locks and dams.
The dams create elongated lakes in the waterway, rather than a free-flowing river with a natural slope, significantly altering the ecosystem, O’Connor Toberman said. Mussels and some fish could benefit from the removal of dams.
“We’ve only been stemming it and trying to control it that way for less than 200 years,” she said. “What we accept as the only way the river is, the only way the river can be, is actually just a blip of history.”
Removal of the structures would eliminate the step effect of the dams and cause lower water levels in some sections. This could lead to an extension of the banks around the river and potentially new islands – which also creates a question of who would own and manage this land, Goepfert said.
Dorothy said the effects on bridges and other infrastructure around dams also need to be studied.
Her group, American Rivers, advocates for the removal of dams nationwide to help wildlife habitat, but she said: “Sometimes it’s just not doable, there are complications.”
The two dams also produce enough hydroelectricity for a total of 12,100 homes a year, said Nanette Bischoff, the Corps’ retired project manager.
The Corps’ final decision will take years to make. Tallman, the project leader, said a draft of the study will be available for another round of public comment in late 2024, and a final study and recommendation will be sent to Congress in mid-2025. .
“For the first time since the Twin Cities were established, we have a chance to redefine what the river in the heart of the Twin Cities means to us,” said John Anfinson, former Corps historian and former superintendent of Mississippi National River and Recreation. . Area.
The Corps is now accepting public comments on issues it should consider at the start of the investigation. The public can submit comments by emailing MplsLocksDisposition@usace.army.mil, or attend a public meeting at Dowling Elementary School in Minneapolis from 6-8 p.m. on Oct. 25. More information is available at mvp.usace.army.mil/MplsLocksDisposition.