14 July 2010

Completion of Planning Approaching for the Sandy Point Bend Project

Aerial view of the Sandy Point Bend project area. Image from the Draft Project Implementation Report for Sandy Point Bend Shallow Water Habitat.

The Sandy Point Bend aquatic habitat restoration project will soon be constructed along the Missouri River. It will feature a distinctive new chute design to provide shallow water habitat for the benefit of the endangered pallid sturgeon and other native aquatic species, and also provide a natural setting of wetlands and woods beneficial to other species of flora and fauna.

There will be a network of several riverine chutes created on the floodplain within the 251.6 acres that make up the Sandy Point Bend project area. These chutes will be connected to the Missouri River to provide shallow, slow moving, off-channel aquatic habitat beneficial to fish and wildlife, said Luke Wallace, an environmental resource specialist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The chutes will be connected to the Missouri River and provide shallow water habitat with increased channel complexity, depth diversity, and flow diversity, all of which is currently lacking in the channelized Missouri River, Wallace said. This type of habitat is more biologically productive than what is currently available in the main channel, and is thought to provide feeding and nursery areas for young pallid sturgeon.

"Tie-back" channels will connect each primary chute with the primary river channel, with three of these features directly connected to the Missouri River channel, and one connecting the two primary chutes, according to the project diagram available with the online Section 404 permit application. These channels will have a constructed bottom width of 60 feet, but they will have the ability to eventually erode to an ultimate bottom width of 150 to 200 feet, Wallace said.

The longest chute is 7,410 feet in length, according to the draft project implementation report, also available online. The other chute, closer to the current channel of the Missouri River, is 5,606 feet long. Once the four tie channels are added in, the project would result in the construction of almost three miles of chute habitat that will initially provide 25 acres of shallow water habitat with the potential of providing up to 63 acres once the channels erode to their projected ultimate widths of 150 to 200 feet.

Features of the Sandy Point Bend Project area. Image from the draft project implementation report.

To construct the project, approximately 800,000 cubic yards of material would be excavated by a hydraulic dredge. The material - basically sand - would be discharged into the Missouri River, as allowed by state and federal permits.

Water will be present in the constructed chutes during the navigation season, which typically runs from April 1 to November 30. They may or may not have water in them during the winter (non-navigation season) depending on the releases from Gavins Point Dam, Wallace said.

In addition to creating seasonal fisheries habitat, the channels are expected to be beneficial to other typical fauna which occur in this area of the Missouri River valley.

The chutes would be conducive to Bald Eagles, which prefer to forage along river channels, and with the chutes being associated with lowland cottonwood forest, it may also promote use by this species during the breeding season.

As the river water scours the channels, trees are expected to fall into the water, Wallace noted. The deadfall would be suitable for use by turtles, and roosting waterfowl, and provide substrate for macroinvertebrates which provide food for a wide variety of aquatic species. The fallen trees would also create depositional areas and scour holes, which would increase the depth and flow diversity in the chutes.

The Sandy Point Bend tract is on the west bank of the Missouri River, north of Blair, on property formerly owned by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, since it is within the boundaries of the state of Iowa, though on the current Nebraska side of the river. The Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District bought the acres from the Iowa DNR, and then subsequently sold it to the Army Corps of Engineers, which closed on the site purchase on November 18, 2009, at a cost of $263,861.

It will cost about $3.2 million to create the shallow water habitat, according to cost estimates.

This project is being constructed as part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer’s Missouri River Recovery Program which seeks to mitigate for fish and wildlife habitat lost as a result of channelization of the Missouri River, and recover three federally listed threatened and endangered species (interior least tern, piping plover, and pallid sturgeon).

Historic features of the Sandy Point Bend project area. The Sandy Point Bend Ferry Landing was on the left side of the map. Image from the 1890 Missouri River Commission Maps.

Construction is expected to start in 2011 subject to availability of funds, and be completed in approximately 12 months, Wallace said.

This project was first suggested by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, "during one of the Corps' quarterly coordination meetings" with the agency.

The Sandy Point Bend name is derived from the historic Sandy Point ferry landing, as shown on the 1890 Missouri River Commission map.

The public comment period for the Section 404 permit application closed in early July.

The site is open for public use, though this is currently limited to riverine access, as there are no roads into the place.

The Tyson Bend mitigation site is just down river, on the eastern side of the river channel, northeast of Blair.