22 February 2012

Great Future Possible for LaPlatte Bottoms

Activities underway on several fronts provide key elements for the long-term conservation of bird habitat at the La Platte bottoms. Public details are sparse, but involve the Army Corps of Engineers, Back-to-the River, Papio-Missouri NRD and the Metropolitan Utilities District.

The property under consideration is currently owned by PCS and the Metropolitan Utilities District.

1) the Army Corps of Engineers is moving along in their series of steps which could lead to their purchase of 399 acres from PCS. They are currently undergoing a site appraisal. according to agency staff.

2) Back to the River has contracted with the Big Muddy Workshop to prepare a concept plan for the area around the confluence of the Missouri and Platte Rivers.

This effort has apparently included a presentation during the past two weeks to the Sarpy County Board and Bellevue City Council.

The confluence area includes additional tracts already under public ownership, including the Oreapolis mitigation site, Schilling WMA and the St. Marys Island tract on the Iowa side of the river as developed by the Corps and Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Another pertinent piece is Iske Place, a flooded out development adjacent to the Missouri River channel, where rebuilding will not be allowed following its decimation due to the flood of 2011.

This plan should be available in two-three months, according to a spokesman.

3) the Papio-Missouri NRD continues their interest in evaluating a levee realignment that would move the current riverside levee further "inland" to move portions of the bottoms to the river-side of the levee.

"There has never been a better chance to do this," said a spokesman for the NRD, and we "are doing everything we can to have it move forward."

4) A resolution of the "brownfield" study associated with the PCS is imminent, according to a NRD spokesman. The Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality has been evaluating a contaminant plume. It appears that a letter of no further action could be prepared, which apparently would require that there be no disturbance to the site landfill, nor that any groundwater wells be placed.

5) the Metropolitan Utilities District is moving ahead with efforts to construct a pipeline from their Platte South facility to the Missouri River, to avoid any discharge into the Platte River. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has required this diversion to avoid any potential impacts to water quality in the Platte River, which might influence the closely considered Pallid Sturgeon.

The discharge from this pipeline would be intermittent, and not include any hazardous items, according to a MUD spokesman. The pipeline would cost from $1-2 million.

The pipeline would be routed along LaPlatte Road and then on the south side of the Highway 34 alignment currently under construction.

Potential Future

Each of these pieces can be combined in a common effort to conserve the remaining lowland at the LaPlatte Bottoms.

It's already a great place for birds — at least in the last couple of years when water was present to one extent or another — and can become a permanent conservation haven for wild things where visitors can get some glimpse of the natural character for which the Platte confluence has been recognized for more than two centuries.

Consider that the Corps of Engineers would buy the PCS property as a Missouri River mitigation property. MUD could shorten the length of their pipeline, and rather than going into the Missouri River, it would end in a water quality wetland, that would also create an intermittent wetland. This would reduce their construction cost while adding a habitat conservation aspect to their mandated project. The NRD would then have ready access to realign the levee, increasing the riverside lowland.

Intermittent water from the pipeline might flow into a water quality wetland basin, creating shallow water habitat. Perhaps something similar to the nearby Mid-America Energy Power Plant ponds, south of Council Bluffs.

Intermittent and shallow water habitats are very much lacking in this region of the Missouri River.

Might the setting attract some breeding Least Tern and Piping Plover? Both are birds entirely in need of conservation activities in this riverine region, according to government findings. Other shorebirds could also take advantage of shallow water conditions.

Offutt Airbase military officials might be satisfied, as there would be no new hazards to their aircraft since the wetland extent would be limited and woud actually attract fewer birds than a permanent marsh. Water conditions would continue to be ephemeral, as they are currently.

Cooperative Effort

Based upon the discussions regarding this locale, there was an obvious opportunity for further cooperative discussions. One land owner was not aware of activities occurring next to their property.

It is essential that rather than looking at the effort as one piece of a pie, that there be an effort to get all the pieces together so all of the interested parties are on the same page.

During conversations on this topic, the value of a broad perspective was conveyed, and especially that those involved with the LaPlatte Bottoms meet to discuss how they can cooperate to conserve the place.

There is a great future which could obviously occur with a common vision and focus to moving ahead.