Big River Magazine
Mississippi River stories and news

River News
From January-February 2011 Big River

New Ferry for Cassville

Cassville, Wis. — A new ferry is scheduled to arrive in Cassville next July, replacing the aging Charlie D, which has been hauling cars, trucks, cyclist, bicyclists and joy riders back and forth across the Mississippi since 1966.

Skipperliner, of La Crosse, Wis., got the contract to build the new boat and barge for the ferry service. Farrell and Norton Naval Architects, based in Newcastle, Maine, and Fairhaven, Mass., will design the ferry, which will be slightly larger and more powerful than the current one.

Cassville is more than 30 miles from the nearest bridge upriver, at Prairie du Chien, Wis., and the nearest bridge downriver, at Dubuque, Iowa. The ferry crosses to a point near Millville, Iowa. It operates every day from Memorial Day to Labor Day, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Friday through Sunday in spring and fall, when conditions permit.

The $1.8 million project was funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. (Dubuque Telegraph Herald, 12-15-10)

Plenty of Critics

Owning property along the Mississippi River in the Twin Cities area may become more complicated in coming months — but you still have an opportunity to tell the Minnesota officials what you think.

Minnesota’s Mississippi River Corridor Critical Area (MRCCA) — pronounced “murk-a,” according to those weary of mouthing the full name — has acquired new legal standing. Earlier, the scenic stretch of river worked things out under a Minnesota governor’s executive order from the 1970s.

State legislators saw fit to try to clarify matters in 2009. The new rules will serve as guidelines for development to protect water, natural features and other resources in the corridor. Local governments will eventually have to adapt to the new rules. The legislature charged the state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) with the project.

New rules cover land use, building setbacks, height of structures, lot sizes, erosion control, vegetation, runoff and the like.

Does this mean the state will, for example, mandate rain gardens to slow runoff of sediment and lawn chemicals into the river? No — at least not directly. Rain gardens well may be a solution, but under pending rules, it would be up to municipalities to require it and/or provide incentives. ”We don’t prescribe, ‘Thou shalt put in rain gardens,’” explained Jeff Berg, a DNR hydrologist who acts as public liaison for the process.

All told, the new law covers a 72-mile river corridor extending from Ramsey, upstream from Minneapolis, to southeastern Dakota County, downstream from Hastings.

The DNR has been meeting with community leaders to work out the new rules. It established four regional work groups of 15 to 20 members each — including business people, environmental activists, government representatives and just plain citizens.

“I think we picked our work groups well,” observed Berg. “Some are saying the rules are too restrictive. Others are saying the proposed rules are not restrictive enough.”

Eventually, the new state law will put enforcement in the hands of local governments — which may not have funds to pay for necessary inspections. Some cities worry that they will have to rewrite master plans, which citizen volunteers have spent months or years to create.

Officials at Newport, just downstream from St. Paul, are wary about new rules limiting what riverfront property owners can do on their land. New regulations may force Newport and other cities to change development and zoning codes. Moreover, new rules may leave existing properties outside the law. The Newport City Council sent the DNR a “‘strongly worded’ letter expressing its displeasure with proposed changes,” reported the South Washington County Bulletin on December 15.

In the next step, an administrative law judge will be appointed to oversee the process, which will allow interested parties to testify. New rules may be finalized by mid-2011, and implemented by mid-2012.

Berg said he is pleased that participants in the initial process have been candid since meetings began, in January 2010.

“They’ve certainly expressed themselves,” he said. “They are engaged. I’m happy they are, since they’re the folks where the rubber’s going to hit the road.”

Mississippi River Corridor Critical Area (MRCCA) Rulemaking Project

Delta Queen Reconsidered?

Chattanooga — The Delta Queen, decked out as a boutique hotel on the Tennessee River on Chattanooga’s riverfront, is for sale. Owner Ambassadors International is asking $4.75 million, and a broker reports that “more than a handful” of groups responded with serious offers by the late-November deadline.

Two of these groups want to preserve the historic sternwheeler, but have different plans. ”Save the Delta Queen 2010” wants to get the boat back cruising on inland rivers, perhaps with only 49 passengers staying overnight onboard, and other guests staying in local hotels where the boat docks. They would base it at New Orleans.

Leah Ann and Randy Ingram, operators of the Delta Queen Hotel, have also bid on the boat. They have formed the nonprofit ”Delta Queen Preservation Foundation.” The Ingrams plan to keep the Queen in Chattanooga, fix it up and maybe eventually get it cruising the rivers again.

Last fall’s elections have raised new possibilities for the boat’s future. As chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Minnesota’s representative James Oberstar — who lost in the elections — opposed renewing the safety exemption that would have allowed the wooden-superstructured Delta Queen to cruise with more than 50 overnight guests. On the other hand, Ohio’s Congressman John Boehner, about to become the next speaker of the House, helped with a last-ditch effort to save the Queen in 2008.

According to the Ingrams, it could cost over a million dollars to ready the sternwheeler for a return to the rivers. (Waterways Journal, 11-22-2010; Chattanooga News Channel 9, 11-19-10; Chattanooga Times, 11-20-10)

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