Big River Magazine
Mississippi River stories and news

September-October 2015

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From September-October 2015 Big River

Serious Mismanagement at Effigy Mounds

Recent actions of the National Park Service (NPS) have provoked the ire of a watchdog group that works with and defends government employees who become whistleblowers.

The 15-page “Serious Mismanagement Report, Effigy Mounds National Monument” is dated April 2014 and authored by four NPS employees, including David Barland-Liles, special agent; Jim Nepstad, Effigy Mounds National Monument (EFMO) superintendent; and Bob Palmer, EFMO chief ranger. The report chronicles mismanagement and numerous violations of laws and procedures enacted to protect archaeological sites and burial sites during the tenure, from 1999 to 2010, of EFMO superintendent Phyllis Ewing, who is identified in the report only as “the Principal.”

The 2,526-acre monument borders the Mississippi River between Harpers Ferry and Marquette, Iowa. The property protects 206 visible Indian mounds, 31 of which are in the shape of animals — mostly bears and birds. There are countless protected archaeological features, including burials, on the property that are not visible. The monument also has a small museum.

The Serious Mismanagement Report’s overview says that during Ewing’s tenure “… park staff failed to comply with the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and/or the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) on at least 78 projects using $3,368,704 in federal funds.” These projects may have disturbed, damaged or destroyed many archaeological features, including burials. The report describes many of the incidents, a hostile work environment that led to key employees leaving EFMO and many times when NPS higher ups were made aware of the situation but did not act.

The report was circulated at some meetings, but was not shared with the public. On July 30, 2015, Tim Mason, a former NPS employee at Effigy Mounds National Monument and an activist working to protect American Indian sites, sent an email to Patty Trap, NPS deputy ­regional director, asking “… does there exist an internal report on the ­previous impacts at EFMO dated April, 2014?”

Trap replied, “Simply put, there is no such agency report.”

When Big River Magazine tried to contact Trap, she did not respond. When we contacted the Effigy Mounds National Monument superintendent, Nepstad, he said that he was told to refer inquiries to Linda Friar, an NPS public affairs officer in Washington D.C. She explained that the April 2014 Serious Mismanagement Report is not an “official report” because it had not gone through certain agency procedures.

The process to create an official report is already underway. When complete, it will be made available to the public, according to Friar.

The email exchange between Mason and Trap provoked ­Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) to issue a press release titled “Park Service Snoozes through Effigy Mounds ‘Wake Up Call,’” which calls the events from 1999 to 2010 at the monument “the largest official mass desecration of Indian ­pre-historic burial sites in the annals of the National Park Service” and accuses the NPS of suppressing the report.

The press release also includes links to the report and other documentation of investigations of the EFMO.

Where the Buoys Are

East Alton, Ill. — A network of water quality monitoring buoys is being launched on the Mississippi and other rivers by the National Great Rivers Research and Education Center (NGRREC) of East Alton. NGRREC is an organization of scholars and scientists dedicated to studying the ecology of the world’s great river systems.

Buoys were placed this spring in the Mississippi River near Alton, Ill.; Cape Girardeau, Mo.; and La Crosse, Wis. Buoys were previously placed near Stoddard, Wis., and in the Sangamon River. The effort supports the Great Lakes to Gulf Virtual Observatory, a downloadable web app that gives users access to water quality information. Users can select, view and compare information by river reach, by source and by watershed. The project will help set priorities about what data should be gathered to optimize large-scale conservation programs and to facilitate collaborations.

Visit the Great Lakes to Gulf website for more information and to download the app.

NGRREC is a partnership of Lewis and Clark Community College and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne.


From July-August News:

Classroom on the River

Minneapolis — In September, Augsburg College will send 20 students, faculty and staff downriver from Lake Itasca headed to the Gulf of Mexico in four voyageur canoes. The group will study environmental, biological and political subjects, and delve into individual research projects along the way. Students will also attend town hall meetings and meet with environmental organizations.
For more information check the college website. (Augsburg, 5-17-15)

Old Lead in the Water

Dubuque, Iowa — A University of Dubuque student’s research confirms that Dubuque’s waterways continue to be affected by historic lead mining.

“The effects of mining are still existing, and they will forever be existing,” according to Kyle Leytem, a senior environmental science major who spent the summer of 2014 exploring Dubuque-area waterways measuring lead content. His research showed higher levels of lead in the Mississippi between Dubuque and Bellevue, Iowa, than in other sections of the river.

Lead mining in Dubuque began on a small scale with the Native Americans and was a major source of income for settlers in the early and mid 1800s. At one time, an estimated 80 percent of Dubuque’s population mined lead. Early lead miner and historian Lucius H. Langworthy reported that between 40 and 60 million pounds of lead from Dubuque area mines were exported annually from 1833 to 1856.

Over time, lead mining and the after effects of abandoned mines caused dangerous metals to leach into nearby waterways. Leytem’s study of lead concentrations in Mississippi River pools 11 and 12, upriver and downriver from Lock and Dam 11, found higher lead concentrations in pool 12. Concentrations were especially high throughout and at the mouth of Catfish Creek, which feeds into the Mississippi south of Dubuque in the Mines of Spain State Recreation Area, an area noted for lead mining.

For more information, watch Leytem discuss his findings on a YouTube video “Concentration of Sedimentation: Effects of Mining within Streams.” (Dubuque Telegraph Herald, 4-29-15)

Going the Length

Itasca, Minn. — Navy combat veteran Chris Ring stepped into the headwaters of the Mississippi River on June 6, with plans to swim its length. He began his 2,552-mile swim on the 71st anniversary of D-Day and expects to finish at the Gulf of Mexico on Veterans’ Day, November 11. Ring’s swim is part of a project called “Legacy Challenge: Swim for Their Sacrifice,” to bring together and honor the sacrifice of people who have lost family members to war. For more information visit the Legacies website.

Swimming the length of the river is uncommon — many more people paddle a canoe or kayak — but Ring is not the first to do it. Professional marathon swimmer Martin Strel completed the swim in 2002 and performance artist Billy Curmano, a veteran of the war in Vietnam, swam it for two months every summer for ten years to spotlight ecological damage to the river. (St. Paul Pioneer Press, 6-8-15)

Meanwhile, 80-year-old Dale Sanders of Bartlett, Tenn., started on his own Headwaters-to-Gulf paddling trip on June 4. He’s paddling with a purpose — to bring awareness to and raise money for juvenile diabetes. Sanders’ grandniece has the disease. Two cameramen and a 70-year-old friend are accompanying him.

Sanders said he was a competitive spear fisherman back in the 1960s and hasn’t done anything significant since. He aims to paddle the river in 80 days and capture the record for oldest person to paddle the whole river. (Fargo Valley News, 5-21-15)

New River Trail

Hastings, Minn. — A new section of recreational trail in Spring Lake Park Preserve is under construction. The 4.3-mile, $8.9-million Spring Lake Regional Trail from eastern Rosemount through Nininger Township will include two bridges over ravines, scenic overlooks and prairie restorations. It will connect with the popular Schaar’s Bluff gathering center. The new section, which is scheduled to be finished in the fall of 2016, is part of the Mississippi River Regional Trail linking St. Paul to Hastings, mostly along the river. Spring Lake is a Mississippi River backwater lake upstream of Lock and Dam 2 and Hastings.

“There’s a lot happening along the Mississippi River,” said John Mertens, senior planner with Dakota County. “We just finished the Swing Bridge trailhead and are just beginning the trail from Harriet Island to South St. Paul. By 2018 the whole trail from Harriet Island, in St. Paul, to Hastings will be complete. Meanwhile the city of Prescott [Wis.] will build a trail linking to Hastings.”
For more information and a map, see the Dakota County website.


River News from May-June 2015

Faulty Wheel Derails Train

Galena, Ill. — A fiery oil-train derailment near the Mississippi River on March 5 was caused by a faulty wheel, according to Matt Rose, the CEO of Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad.
The derailment took place about three and a half miles outside of the historic city of Galena. En route to Chicago, 21 train cars derailed and five caught fire. About 230,000 gallons of crude oil were removed from the damaged cars; 19,000 gallons of an oil-water mix were recovered and recycled; and about 8,000 gallons of water and other liquids used for firefighting and decontamination were recovered.
The Galena derailment was the latest in a series of national disasters involving the supposedly safer model of tank, called the CPC-1232, which the rail industry adopted in 2011.
Residents said they were surprised at how fast the 120 responders arrived on the scene. (La Crosse Tribune, 3-9-15; KWQC, 3-7-15; Dubuque Telegraph Herald, 3-9-15 & 3-20-15)

Prepare to Evacuate

Canadian Pacific (CP) and Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railroads are making major investments to upgrade their tracks and connections in the Upper Mississippi River valley, in anticipation of a continued oil boom.
According to documents filed with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, BNSF has 12 rail expansion projects planned between St. Paul and the Illinois border, including four miles of new track in La Crosse, Wis. CP has four major projects this year, including an upgrade of its switch yard in La Crescent, Minn., a bridge replacement and new sidings to allow trains to pass on the line that runs south out of La Crescent through Iowa and west to Kansas City. CP anticipates its crude oil shipments will nearly double in 2015.
Meanwhile, people in ­Minneapolis and the northwest suburbs are worried about plans to build a ­connector that would double train traffic through densely populated areas that include Theodore Wirth Park, Bassett Creek and the Target Center downtown. In fact, the Hennepin County Board voted with record speed to approve the county’s purchase of some land the railroads wanted to buy to make the connection.
The Minnesota Emergency Management and Homeland Security director has advised all people who live near tracks used by oil trains to be prepared, be aware and have plans in place to evacuate the area. (Camden Community News, April 2015)

Subsidized Carp

Paducah, Ky. — Commercial fishermen in Kentucky will be paid at least 15 cents a pound for Asian carp, thanks to a new subsidy from the state. Until now, some fish processors have paid just eight to 10 cents, not enough for fishermen to break even. The state will give tax incentives to at least three fisheries to process and market the carp to worldwide consumers.
The state announced the subsidy as a way to reduce numbers of the fish in the Ohio River. They have pushed past Louisville and are crowding out native fish, such as bass, bluegill and crappie. The state also acknowledges a growing market for the fish, especially in Asia.
Owners of Fin Gourmet, a Paducah manufacturer of Asian carp food products, plan to invest $1.3 million to open another facility and hire people for 66 new jobs in TriCity, Ky. The state has promised $1 million in tax incentives. (Courier-Journal, 3-16-15; Bowling Green Daily News, 3-18-15)


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