Big River Magazine
Mississippi River stories and news

From January-February 2009 Big River
River News

Jumpy Carp, Jumpy Boaters

La Crosse, Wis. — Heads up! The invasive jumping carp have officially moved upriver to Wisconsin and Minnesota. In early December the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources announced that it had identified a silver carp taken from a commercial fishing net in the Mississippi near La Crosse.

Two grass carp and one or two bighead carp — also invasive Asian carp — were taken from the same net.

When spooked by the vibrations from outboard motor propellers, silver carp will leap as high as 10 feet out of the water. They sometimes leap into boats and have injured people in boats. They can grow to weigh 60 pounds, according to Minnesota DNR information.

This is the first official report of a silver carp upriver from the Quad Cities.

Grass carp have been found in the Wisconsin stretch of the Mississippi since 1987. Bighead carp were caught at the mouth of the St. Croix River in 1998, and in Lake Pepin in 2003 and 2007. This was the first caught in Pool 8.

Grass carp can grow to weigh 70 pounds, and bighead carp to 110 pounds. All three species were originally stocked in commercial ponds in the South to control plants and snails. Floodwaters carried them into Mississippi tributaries. Their spread disrupts the river ecosystem, because they consume large quantities of plants and algae, displacing native species. Once they get bigger than about 10 pounds, they have no predators.

Motivated in part by the threat of Asian carp reaching the Great Lakes, the Great Lakes Fishery Commission released a report whose title nearly says it all: “Preliminary Feasibility of Ecological Separation of the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes to Prevent the Transfer of Aquatic Invasive Species.”

The Mississippi and the Great Lakes watersheds are linked artificially by canals in the Chicago area between Lake Michigan and the Illinois River. Zebra mussels used this link to reach the Mississippi in the 1990s. Currently an electrical barrier near Romeoville, Ill., is the only barrier between the two watersheds. The report worries that eventually “human error, an accident, or a natural disaster” will allow the barrier to be breached, and it asks that serious consideration be given to physically separating the two watersheds.

Historic to History

St. Paul Park, Minn. — A closed bridge approach that was being considered as a historic site may be put on a fast track for removal after a section of the approach on the east shore sagged toward the floodplain below on Nov. 22. No injuries were reported.

Some people still hope to save the span jutting from the western bank, saying that even people with limited mobility can follow the old roadbed as far as 700 feet out onto the Mississippi.

The bridge is in poor condition overall, but the western approach is in better shape, according to preservation advocates. They claim that restoring the western approach would cost about the same as tearing it down, and it could be used as a fishing pier, scenic overlook and historic site.

After the partial collapse, the west approach was fenced off with no-trespassing signs and officials cautioned people to stay away.

Once known as the Rock Island Bridge, the swing bridge between the Minnesota communities of Inver Grove Heights, on the west end, and St. Paul Park, on the east end, dates to 1895. The 1,661-foot-long, two-level span closed to trains in 1980 and its two-lane crossing closed to autos in 1999. The U.S. Coast Guard ordered it removed in 2001 lest the dilapidated structure interfere with river traffic, but preservationists have tried to save it. Washington County had already planned to demolish the 471-foot eastern approach. The swing section remains in the middle of the river.

On the Dakota County side, however, Inver Grove Heights has planned a 60-acre park adjacent to the west end of the bridge. The Mississippi River Trail for pedestrians and bicycles passes nearby. Marina slips for hundreds of pleasure craft are just upriver.

The old bridge had long been a destination for river watchers, albeit unsanctioned. In a carefully worded statement, Mark Krebsbach, Dakota County transportation director, said that because Minnesota owns the bridge, the state will decide its fate, and the collapse “may accelerate planning for disposition of the bridge.”

The western end in Dakota County “is not in quite as poor condition as the eastern spans” and has a different structural design, Krebsbach said. Two western spans closest to shore, however, “are in the worst condition of the west approach,” he added, and finds “the entire bridge in very poor structural condition.”

Dakota County has no formal position on what should happen to the bridge, but it has worked with other agencies on possible reuse of the western spans on its side of the Mississippi, Krebsbach said.

In other bridge news:

• Kansas City-based HNTB Corp, the designer of the Wakota Bridge, which carries I-494 across the Mississippi between South St. Paul and Newport, Minn., will pay the Minnesota Department of Transportation a mediated $20 million settlement because of a design flaw.

The retrofitted west-bound span of the bridge opened in 2006 and currently carries traffic in both directions. Completion of the redesigned east-bound span is scheduled for 2010.

• The bridge between Savanna, Ill., and Sabula, Iowa, was closed several weeks for maintenance work last fall.

• A weight restriction of 8 tons on the bridge between Fort Madison, Iowa, and Niota, Ill., may remain in effect through the fall of 2009. The double-decker, toll, swing bridge is owned by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad. The lower level carries trains and is under no weight restrictions. The restrictions apply only to the upper deck, which carries motor vehicles.

Hot Turtles

— Global warming appears to be changing the nesting schedule of turtles on the Upper Mississippi.

“The results have been astonishing,” said Fred Janzen, a professor to ecology, evolution and organismal biology at Iowa State University. “In some cases, such as regional populations of red-eared sliders, they are now nesting three weeks earlier than they did in the early 1990s. That is the fastest response to climate change of any species that I know of.”

Janzen’s study looked at mud turtles, sliders, snapping turtles and painted turtles that live in South Carolina, Nebraska and along the Mississippi River between Iowa and Illinois.

As is the case with many reptiles, the gender of turtle offspring is affected by the temperature of the ground where the eggs are laid. Warmer ground produces more females, but Janzen found a disproportionate number of baby male turtles. This may be because the warmer air triggers females to lay their eggs when the ground is still cold. Janzen worries that the overabundance of males will stress the species.

The study also found the both younger and older turtles are laying their eggs earlier.

Outdoors Tax

Voters in Minnesota, where the Mississippi River begins, approved an amendment to the state constitution raising their own taxes to pay for clean water, wildlife habitat and natural areas.

The Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment passed with 56 percent of the vote on November 4. The measure will also fund parks and arts in the state, but about 80 percent will go for clean water, wildlife habitat and trails.

The tax boost will raise Minnesota’s sales and use tax by three-eighths of a cent per dollar, from 6.5 percent to 6.875, effective July 1, 2009. That will generate between $275 million and $300 million annually during the 25-year life of the amendment.

The Nature Conservancy, which backed the amendment, calls it “the largest conservation ballot measure in U.S. history, nearly double the nation’s previous record conservation ballot measure.” The cost for the average household will be $5 per month, according to Nature Conservancy.

Friends of the Mississippi River, the St. Paul-based river advocacy group, also worked for the amendment. Whitney Clark, FMR executive director, noted in a release that Minnesotans care about clean water and “were willing to increase their own taxes to do so.” FMR organized volunteers to urge voters to back the measure.

Forty percent of Minnesota’s waters don’t meet quality standards, and “every mile of the Mississippi River through the Twin Cities is on the state’s list of impaired waters,” according to Clark.

In mailings urging a vote for the amendment, FMR predicted that “the health of the great Mississippi River will be dramatically improved if this measure passes.”

The state’s Department of Revenue projects that 33 percent of proceeds will go to restore habitat — approximately $80 million in fiscal year 2010 and $91 million in fiscal year 2011. Another 33 percent will create a Clean Water Fund to “protect, enhance, and restore” water quality in lakes, rivers, streams and groundwater. At least 5 percent of the Clean Water Fund will go to protect drinking water sources.

About 14 percent of proceeds will fund parks and trails “of regional or statewide significance,” says the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website — about $35 million in 2010 and $39 million in 2011.

New Depot Museums

— Plans for storing the archives of the Rock Island Technical Society at Savanna Depot Park (formerly the Savanna Army Depot Activity) north of Savanna led to the opening of two museums.

“We were looking for a climate-controlled building, and someone suggested we go up to the depot,” said Jack Carson, president of the Technical Society. The group found the perfect spot on the southern end of the park. It could not only store blueprints, train orders and other documents from the Rock Island Railroad, which went out of business in 1980, it had room for displays, including a large scale-model railroad complete with a switching yard and a small village; a glass case full of scale model engines and cars; and a railroad ticketing office complete with a railroad agent’s desk and a potbellied stove.

While the Technical Society was putting together the railroad museum, people began donating memorabilia from the Savanna Army Depot, which was de-commissioned in 2000.

“One man just showed up one day with bound copies of ‘S.O.D. Busters’ (a newspaper that was published on the depot) from 1950 and 1951,” said Alice “Mike” Neuschwanger, the museum’s curator.

Shortly after opening the railroad museum, they opened the Savanna Army Depot and Military Museum next door.

“The Savanna Army Depot Museum was an afterthought,” Carson said.

A large scale model of the depot runs about half the length of the former Army chapel where the museum is located. An army bunk bed and locker stand in one corner. Signs and photo displays occupy most of the rest of the area. Enough items are in storage to allow rotating displays, according to Neuschwanger.

In addition, Neuschwanger is collecting stories from people who once worked at the depot. “Some of these people just show up and start telling me things,” she said. “Just yesterday I learned that an igloo [an earth sheltered building where ammunition was stored] exploded in 1950 or 1951. There was the seismographic explosion in 1948, but no one had ever talked about the later one. The man told me he heard the explosion, and when he went out to look, it was raining boxes of ammunition.”

Neuschwanger keeps a tape recorder on hand to capture the stories. She hopes to make the stories available to the public, either in recorded or written form.

The depot, a 13-mile-long proving ground along the Mississippi River where the army fired and tested howitzers, began operating in 1918. Later, depot activities expanded to the manufacture, storing, shipping and recycling of ammunition. During World War II, the Department of Defense employed more than 7,000 people, mainly civilians, at the installation.

“Around here, everybody either worked here or had relatives who worked here,” Neuschwanger said.

Plant Permit Denied

— Building a coal-fired power plant in Cassville, Wis. would have cost too much and would have resulted in energy-price increases for consumers. It likely would have required that Alliant Energy eventually either retrofit the plant to meet air-quality standards or buy emission credits, according to the Wisconsin Public Service Commission.

Also, the commission was not convinced that Alliant Energy, which proposed building the plant at its Nelson Dewey facility on the Mississippi River in Cassville, would have fueled the plant with 20 percent biomass, as it claimed some time after filing for permission to build.

In a unanimous decision on Nov. 12, the three-member commission rejected Alliant’s application. It also said Alliant cannot build a coal-fired plant in Portage, Wis., which was Alliant’s second choice.

The facility would have cost nearly $1.3 billion and would have created more than $30 million in construction jobs over four years, according to Alliant estimates. The company also would have bought nearly $50 million worth of local services and biomass products each year. Local officials said the plant would provide the energy needed for business expansion in the Cassville area.

But the commission said the plant would have been too expensive for its size, and that it would cost less for Alliant to convert its facility in Neenah, Wis., to natural gas.

Furthermore, Congress is expected to pass tougher emission standards and/or a cap-and-trade carbon-emissions measure next year, which would add to Alliant’s costs. As a result, consumer-energy prices would have gone up, according to the commission.

Michael Vickerman, executive director of RENEW Wisconsin, a non-profit group that supports renewable energy, applauded the commission’s decision. “The biomass component functioned as a sideshow to obscure the central premise of this plant, which is to burn nonrenewable Wyoming coal in a Wisconsin location,” he said in the Nov. 11 edition of the group’s newsletter. “The truth is, there are far easier, more sustainable and less expensive ways to generate new sources of renewable energy in southwestern Wisconsin.”

He called Alliant’s plan “an example of combining a 19th century fuel with 20th century combustion technology to tackle a 21st century problem,”

Some local leaders were disappointed. Wisconsin State Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, complained to the Dubuque Telegraph Herald that the state “will be shipping more dollars out of state to buy natural gas to produce power from it.”

Cassville Mayor Mark Meyer and Grant County Economic Development Coordinator Ron Brisbois had said an insufficient energy supply in the area was keeping new businesses away.

Tracking Box Turtles

The ornate box turtle is listed as a threatened species in Illinois. Much of its habitat — sand prairie — has disappeared to development, and people have harvested the turtle to sell as pets. To learn how to protect it the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with Iowa State University to track the animal’s movements at a sand prairie near the Mississippi River in northwest Illinois.

“We have increased our burning program at the prairie, but we don’t want to burn or mow areas when the turtles are active,” said Ed Britton, manager of the Savanna District of the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Refuge.

The turtle, which has a dark brown shell etched with yellow radial stripes in each segment, is one of only two turtle species east of the Mississippi that lives on land.

Last summer, biologists attached radio transmitters to 10 turtles. By tracking their signals, scientists have made two surprising discoveries.

“We’re seeing a lot of movement,” Britton said. “Normally you think of them as hardly moving at all, but they can move an eighth to a quarter of a mile per day.” The females tend to move more, he said.

Second, a few of the turtles began to hibernate earlier than expected. One turtle actually dug in during early October, when the temperature was still 60 to 70 degrees. The turtles burrow about a foot deep, below the frost line. By the end of the month, all of them were snugged in for the season.

“That’s good to know,” Britton said. “We will do our burning and mowing after November 1.”

Next summer biologists will begin the second phase of the study — searching for the species at the Lost Mound Unit of the Upper Mississippi Wildlife Refuge. Lost Mound is a 4,000-acre sand prairie north of Savanna, Ill., within the former Savanna Army Depot. For years, the prairie was used for pasturing cattle, so the ornate box turtles probably died out, according to Britton.

If biologists do not find any of the turtles there, they will try to re-introduce the species, Britton said.

Ornate box turtles live 30 to 40 years and usually grow to 5 to 7 inches long. The largest are 8 or 9 inches.

Breitbach’s Burns Again

— Within one year of burning to the ground and being rebuilt, Breitbach’s Country Dining restaurant and bar in Balltown was again destroyed by fire.

Breitbach’s was the oldest restaurant in Iowa, having opened in 1852 at a stagecoach stop. In 1855, the Breitbach family took it over and passed down the restaurant and bar through six generations.

With tasty home cooked food, interesting antiques and a location high above the Mississippi, Breitbach’s was a favorite with locals and travelers on the Great River Road.

The first fire occurred early on Christmas Eve 2007. Within a few weeks, owners Mike and Cindy Breitbach and their family decided to rebuild. Neighbors and friends from miles around pitched in to help.

In mid June, the restaurant re-opened to the delight of the community. Although the building was new with few of the antiques from before — most had been lost in the fire — it captured some of the old ambience. Business quickly resumed, and community members congratulated the Breitbachs. The Breitbachs expressed heartfelt gratitude to the community for its help and support.

On Oct. 24, just 10 months to the day from the first fire, a second blaze broke out. The new structure could not be saved. Mike Breitbach told the Dubuque Telegraph Herald in November that he felt he was living in a “nightmare.”

As of this writing, the cause of the second blaze remains unknown, and the investigation is continuing. Breitbach said that his family would not decide whether to rebuild until the investigation is complete.

Casino to Museum

— In mid January, the Diamond Jo Casino will turn the keys to its riverside building in the Port of Dubuque over to the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium. Then the museum will seek bids for what executive director Jerry Enzler estimated will be a $40 million retrofitting project.

Enzler and his staff are hatching some big plans for the 50,000-square-foot structure, which will include educational and interactive exhibits, a digital theater and a research center.

The feature exhibit, called “River WAYS” will tell the story of America “as told through rivers,” Enzler said. It will not only tell tales of the Mississippi, but also from the Chicago River, Colorado River and the Catskill watersheds. Another exhibit will explore river formation, water quality and the effect of the Mississippi on the Gulf of Mexico.

The theater will have a 40-foot screen and the capacity to show 3-D films with 4-D effects, such as moisture and smells.

Part of the $40 million will also fund efforts to preserve other properties owned by the Dubuque County Historical Society: the William M. Black dredge steamboat, the Mathias Ham House and the Old Jail.

The organization is well on its way to raising the $40 million needed to redo the casino building. The Diamond Jo has committed $3 million to the project, including the building. One million dollars will come form a former Dubuque couple, and John Deere Dubuque Works is adding $500,000. Public funding includes $8 million from the Vision Iowa program and grants from several federal agencies.

In addition the City of Dubuque is spending $29.5 million on a parking ramp that will serve the museum, the casino and the river plaza.

Enzler said the new facility will open sometime in 2010.

Stabilizing the Banks

— Picturesque Minnehaha Creek is getting a $5.8 million restoration this winter to stabilize stream banks and bluffs, remove invasive plants, build trails and upgrade stormwater management.

The work is underway just below Minnehaha Falls, a landmark 53-foot tumble of water and a must-see for the 850,000 visitors who come to the 193-acre Minnehaha Park each year. About a half-mile below the falls, Minnehaha Creek joins the Mississippi River near Fort Snelling.

Restoration work started in November and will be mostly finished by June. During the restoration this winter and spring, visitors can view the falls from above. The area below the falls will be closed for the winter and probably most of the spring.

Following heavy rain in 2005, the creek flooded, and a surge of runoff damaged limestone walls built to buttress banks in the 1930s under the federal Works Progress Administration.

Project funds come from the Army Corps of Engineers, state of Minnesota, the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board, the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District and the nearby Minnesota Veterans Home. At the VA site, the project will fix erosion problems and direct stormwater into a new rain garden.

Deadly Houseboat

— An electrical generator that leaked exhaust and a carbon monoxide detector with no batteries caused the death of four people on a weekend houseboat trip last October.

Four family members had taken the boat out for the first time all season to celebrate the birthday of Jody Ryan of Elsberry, Ill., who would have been 39 years old the Tuesday after the accident. Her husband Dale, her brother William Boehm and his wife Ruth all died.

The group moored on an island on the Illinois side of the river, where they entertained guests on Saturday night. One of the guests noticed that a generator was powering the boat’s refrigerator. Friends who went out to visit on Sunday found the bodies. All had apparently been overcome quickly by the gas.

The coroner said it appeared that everyone had felt tired at the same time and had fallen asleep on the spot, according to an Associated Press story (10-07-08).

More than 600 carbon monoxide poisonings have occurred on boats since 2000, killing more than 100 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Generator exhaust caused four out of five incidents on houseboats.

Flood of Sweetness

— A steel storage tank burst and sent a tsunami of 200,000 gallons of corn-sugar water over the railroad tracks and into a ditch to the Mississippi River on October 13, 2008. The sweet liquid pushed over a wall and knocked railroad cars off the tracks near the Roquette America processing plant. No one was injured. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources inspected the spill and found no immediate impact on plants or animals in the river.

Corn-sugar water is a by-product of processing corn.

Big Wheel on the River

— Apparently the 630-foot Gateway Arch on the St. Louis riverfront isn’t enough anymore.

A couple of years ago, the city explored the idea of building floating islands in the river with casinos, hotels and restaurants to attract boaters and other traffic. The plan came to naught.

Now that a condo development has fallen victim to the downturn in the housing market, the latest idea is to build a giant Ferris wheel on the landing. The Ferris wheel would be 175 feet tall with 42 enclosed, climate-controlled gondolas equipped with video screens. Visitors would ride for 15 minutes in air-conditioned comfort while enjoying big views of downtown, the Arch and the Eads Bridge.

Giant Ferris wheels are gaining popularity around the world. The 443-foot tall London Eye, across the River Thames from Westminster, has become one of the most popular tourist attractions in England. The 540-foot tall Singapore Flyer carries private gondolas with up to 28 people.

Watch Your Tows

— In a program called Operation Big Tow the Coast Guard is cracking down on towboat crews. They are checking boats for strict compliance with licensing and safety requirements, while working on a more elaborate program of regular inspections.

Big Tow was a reaction to the largest oil spill to date on the Mississippi, when on July 23, 2008, a fuel barge pushed by the Mel Oliver was hit by another boat and spilled 280,000 gallons of fuel oil into the river at New Orleans, according to The Times-Picayune (11-12-2008).

John Bavaret, who was piloting the Mel Oliver, was not licensed to pilot a towboat without supervision. The captain of the boat had abandoned it several days earlier to deal with problems with his girlfriend.

Meanwhile, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality says that leaky barges may be a major source of ozone-causing volatile organic compounds, according to the Associated Press (11-24-2008). Ozone is valuable in the upper atmosphere, but damages health, crops and buildings in the lower atmosphere.

The DEQ study began when infrared cameras detected numerous leaks of volatile organic compounds from barges. Barges may be releasing as much as 500 tons of the pollutants into the air daily.

Mussel Monitors

— Freshwater mussels will soon be used to check water quality in the Mississippi River upstream from the Quad Cities. They normally filter nutrients from the water, but if they detect pollutants they clam up, Bill Franz of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency explained at a meeting of the Upper Mississippi River Basin Association in Davenport.

Next spring the EPA plans to set up a large fish tank with mussels in it above Lock and Dam 14. River water will be pumped into the tank and the mussels will be watched. If the experiment is successful, the Quad Cities may take over operation of the station, according to the Quad-City Times (11-18-2008).

Lee on the Block

— It was a buyer’s market for riverboats in 2008. In addition to the three Queens being for sale, the Lt. Robert E. Lee was scheduled to go on the auction block December 19 in Festus, Mo.

Someone may have gotten a real deal. The auction was open to the public and registration to bid was also free. There was no reserve and no minimum bid, according to Richie Bros. Auctioneers, which was conducting the auction.

The 19th century steamboat replica was built in 1969 and served as a restaurant and nightspot on the St. Louis riverfront. The boat is 213 feet long and 54 feet wide. The restaurant could seat 500 diners.

Meanwhile, in St. Elmo, Ill., folks are getting ready for the arrival of the President. Since the 300-foot riverboat was built in 1923, it has played many roles, including a casino on the Davenport, Iowa, riverfront in the 1990s.

Its next, and perhaps last, role is to be taken apart and moved to a 20-acre lake, where it will be converted into an 80-room hotel, convention center, restaurant and museum by the end of 2009 or early 2010, according to the Decatur Herald & Review.

Where’s the River?

— The promenade outside the St. Cloud Civic Center offers a sweeping view of the Mississippi — but it’s one of the few places downtown where you would notice that St. Cloud even has a river.

As in many other towns, local river advocates in St. Cloud want to improve access to the Mississippi. Here it’s a pretty stream coursing through this college town of 65,000 about 80 miles northwest of Minneapolis.

St. Cloud’s challenge is a steep bank and existing structures with their backs to the waterway. Two factors that give them hope: replacement of the Minnesota 23 highway bridge is under way and a $30 million expansion of the Civic Center is starting.

The new bridge will include river overlooks and wider walkways on both sides of the crossing. An existing paved walkway on the west bank will remain.

Moreover, with the new bridge comes renovation of Highway 23 through downtown St. Cloud.

The business community backs the effort to open St. Cloud to the river, says Marian Bender, executive director with Minnesota Waters, a St. Cloud-based nonprofit that promotes “responsible stewardship of our water resources,” according to its web site.

For St. Cloud, Bender’s group envisions an urban river corridor, with the Civic Center anchoring river-focused commercial development and trails as well as “on-river community recreation and river-focused events.”

“The steep banks are a challenge, but there are enough low-elevation points throughout the city to provide access,” Bender said. Tougher challenges, Bender added, will be working with private land owners in “key areas.”

In any case, the where’s-the-river movement is rolling. More than 60 people attended a half-day workshop Oct. 25 to discuss turning the town toward the Mississippi. Those attendees now are engaged in committee work, Bender said.

The meeting that day was in a room at the St. Cloud Civic Center with a great view of the river — the likes of which Bender and others hope will soon be more widely available in St. Cloud.

River Home Companion

— Will this outlying Minneapolis suburb be the next hot river destination?

Where the Rum River joins the Mississippi in central Minnesota, this town of 18,000 holds an annual river fest at which local boaters gave 1,200 pontoon rides last year. A bass-fishing tournament draws 100 anglers.

“We have this beautiful resource and amenity right there in our own back yard,” said Tim Cruikshank, Anoka city manager. “The river is a big deal.”

Anoka is setting out to draw more people to its riverbanks. Dredging and a new park along the Rum have been priorities for city leaders. In autumn 2008, the city spent $160,000 to deepen the Rum channel to four feet, so pleasure boaters can tie up at a dock near City Hall. The park-to-be, about half a city block of vacant land, is awaiting improvement.

The Rum, however, won’t be easy. “It’s shallow and tricky,” concedes Cruikshank.

Moreover, the Coon Rapids Dam, about 5 miles downriver, has no locks, so it’s a barrier to boats downriver in the Twin Cities.

Even so, Anoka can dream. The 130-year-old town is considering more dock space, including new docks above the dam on the Rum in hopes of drawing boaters from upstream on that tributary.

Forty-five buildings in Anoka’s five-block historic district were built in the 1880s after a fire destroyed earlier structures. Rottlund Homes Inc. of Minneapolis is erecting a $7 million, 40-unit condo near Main Street and the Rum and may add a four-story loft and retail building near the riverfront and City Hall. Three restaurants and a sports bar opened recently. Plans for a 12,000-square-foot retail building and 3,000-square-foot plaza are ready for 2009 — the plaza with a fountain and plaque will mark the spot where Minnesota’s first volunteers signed up for the Union Army in the Civil War.

Where will it all lead? Anoka “could be the next Stillwater,” developer Dean Clossey trumpeted to the Star Tribune of Minneapolis on Nov. 15, referring to the city 20 miles northeast of downtown St. Paul. Stillwater, Minn., population 16,000, draws thousands of tourists to its scenic location on the St. Croix River, another Mississippi tributary.

What does Anoka have that Stillwater doesn’t? Radio personality, humorist and author Garrison Keillor was born and raised in the central Minnesota town. Keillor himself isn’t prominent in Anoka promotions, but that may not be significant. After all, Hannibal, Mo., makes much of its heritage as the childhood home of renowned humorist and author Mark Twain. Could Anoka become the upstream bookend to Hannibal, Mo., and Sam Clemens?

Wet Windmills

— The first dam-free hydro facility to crank electricity into a grid was put in place and online in December, after it received final approval from federal regulators. Hydro Green Energy LLC of Houston, Texas, planned to install a pair of barge-mounted turbines just below Lock and Dam 2 at Hastings.

Hydro Green’s equipment is designed to generate just 250 kilowatts, adding only 5 percent to the existing capacity at Hastings’ conventional four-megawatt dam-based power plant. The city will run the equipment and sell power to Xcel Energy Inc., a regional utility. Hydro Green will test its turbines and get a share of the proceeds.

Hydro Green asked Hastings in 2006 for permission to piggyback the firm’s new technology on its existing hydro license. F