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Lock Closure Included in WRRDA Stirs Concerns

Upper St. Anthony Lock and Dam

Upper St. Anthony Lock and Dam

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

The waterways industry has been effusive in its praise of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) that was passed overwhelmingly in both houses of Congress and now awaits only President Obama’s signature to become law.

But that doesn’t mean that every provision is equally welcomed by every segment of the industry. One small provision contained in Section 2010(b) reads, “Not later than 1 year after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary shall close the Upper St. Anthony Lock and Dam” in the Twin Cities. It is the only lock closure specifically directed in the bill.

“With those 24 words, a piece of our national transportation system falls prey to the vagaries of local politics,” Greg Genz, president of the Upper Mississippi Waterways Association, told The Waterways Journal.

Claims Would Stop Carp
The measure was introduced by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). Environmentalist supporters of closing the lock present the closure as part of fighting the spread of Asian carp.

Gary Botzek, executive director of the Stop Asian Carp coalition, told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that closing the lock was “essential” to protecting the state’s $4 billion boating and fishing industry.

The Star-Tribune noted that “the lock is not heavily used by recreational boaters, which helped in gathering support to close it.”

But it is used by barge tows. According to Genz, sand and gravel are the top cargoes transiting the lock, with scrap metal second. 

More Truckloads
The Northern Metal recycling shredder mill in Minneapolis can handle two barges a day of scrap, or about 3,000 tons. If those cargoes must go by truck, said Genz, that translates to more than 100 truck trips per day, calculating at about 23 tons per semi-truckload.

Supporters of closing the lock have often characterized it as ”under-utilized,” but Genz said, “As I informed some of our state legislators, who questioned why we needed to keep an underutilized segment open, how many highways in their districts could also be categorized as underutilized and marked for closure? A transportation segment is, at first glance, only important to those who use it. But what becomes of the efficiency of the whole system without it? Minneapolis, Minnesota, and the region are about to find out.”

Genz points out that the provision’s language actually makes no mention of Asian carp. Genz believes, and has often said, that the real agenda behind the closure has to do not with fighting Asian carp, but with developing Minnesota’s waterfront with real estate and retail projects, requiring moving industry away from the waterfront.

Editor's note: This article originally appeared in our sister publication, The Waterways Journal.

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