Big River Magazine
Mississippi River stories and news

March-April 2015

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A Sampling of River News
From March-April 2015 Big River

Ethanol Train Derailed

Balltown, Iowa — Fourteen cars and two train engines derailed on a remote stretch of Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) tracks upriver of Dubuque on Wednesday, February 4. No one was injured.
The train derailed at rail mile post 61.3 on tracks that run along the Mississippi River. Three cars caught fire and three cars tumbled into the river, leaking about 30,000 to 55,000 gallons of ethanol. Some pooled on the ice of the river and some on the riverbank. CP had to build a temporary road into the site to assess and clean up ethanol that had spilled on land. The company opened the line again on Saturday after removing the derailed cars.
Testing by state and federal environmental agencies at 40 sites near and downriver of the spill found little ethanol. Air pumps were used to evaporate some of the ethanol in the water. The area includes beds of Higgins eye and sheepnose mussels, but it was not immediately known whether any were affected by the spill.
Ethanol mixes easily with water. In high enough concentrations it will kill fish and plants, and deplete oxygen, but because it dilutes easily in water, it was likely to be less a threat to downstream cities, such as Davenport, ­Burlington and Keokuk, which draw drinking water from the river.
Local agencies, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; the Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin departments of natural resources; U.S. Coast Guard; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; and the Department of the Interior coordinated response efforts. (EPA On-Scene Coordinator, 2-6-14; Dubuque Telegraph Herald, 2-5-15)

Changing Business Climate

St. Paul — In the next 25 years climate change is likely to reduce Midwest corn and wheat production by 11 to 69 percent and create problems getting crops to market. Flooding and drought on the Mississippi River, caused by erratic precipitation patterns, may make it unnavigable.
These and other possible ­consequences of climate change were discussed by 500 Minnesota businesspeople at a January meeting of the Economic Club of Minnesota.
Former Cargill CEO Greg Page led the discussion of a report titled, “Heat in the Heartland: Climate Change and Economic Risk in the Midwest,” published by the Risky Business Project, which was launched in 2013 to study the effects of climate change on business. The authors cited government and private sources as well their own research. Risky Business is headed by former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Page encouraged the audience to be innovative, solve problems and reduce business’ carbon footprint. He cited St. Paul-based Ecolab for its work developing detergents effective at lower water temperatures, to reduce the energy required for washing.
You can read the report at the Risky Business website.

Boat Ballet

St. Paul — Some hot summer days you might wish someone would choreograph the movements of cruisers, fishing boats, jetskis, paddleboards and kayaks on the river, just for relief from the chaos. Patrick Scully is taking it one step further. He is planning a boat ballet on the river for next summer, with 100 watercraft weaving about and zipping back and forth in geometric shapes on the Mississippi River.
Scully, a dancer and choreographer who heads Patrick’s Cabaret in Minneapolis, is currently recruiting boaters and pulling together the permissions needed to perform on the river. He has a few new ideas since he produced a boat ballet in Potsdam, Germany, five years ago. The one-hour performance required two months of rehearsals, with him standing on the shore with a megaphone.
He said he learned a lot from the Potsdam boat ballet — for example, that not all kayaks move at the same speed, no matter how rhythmically the paddlers paddle. He will need to learn more: the Mississippi River has a lot more current than the lake-like Havel River in Germany.
Watch the German performance, speeded up, online. (St Paul Pioneer Press, 1-16-15)

Risky Crossings

Minnesota — It will cost the state of Minnesota $244 million to improve railroad safety at places where trains loaded with Bakken crude oil cross roads, according to a report prepared by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT).
The Minnesota Legislature approved $2 million in 2014 to improve crossings that are at the same level as the trains, by installing extended gate arms, raised medians and other traffic control measures. The new report recommends building overpasses or underpasses, at a cost of $10 milllion to $40 million each, at 11 other locations across the state.
Current Minnesota law allows overpasses and underpasses to be built only on four-lane roads with traffic counts of several thousand a day. There must also have been a serious vehicle-train accident.
Two cities along the Mississippi River ranked as “High Priority” for a grade separation: St. Paul and Winona. Several others ranked as “Priority”: Red Wing, Coon Rapids and Anoka.
The report foresees a long-term demand for crude oil and expects that rail traffic may continue at current levels — five to seven loaded trains per day crossing the state — or may double in the next ten years. There are 683 at-grade crossings in the state.
The report is available on the MnDOT website. (St. Paul Pioneer Press, 12-31-15)


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