21 March 2013

Planning Underway for Missouri Backwaters Renovation

Planning is currently underway for two projects that will renovate backwater habitat along the Missouri River. One site is on the Nebraska-side of the river at Desoto National Wildlife Refuge. The other is at Wilson Island State Recreation Area.

Partners with the Army Corps of Engineers on these projects are the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

About 25 people attended the first public scoping meeting — held at the refuge visitor center the evening of March 19 — where information on the project was explained, and officials were present to answer any questions, said David Crane, an environmental resources specialist with the Corps. There was an opportunity for attendees to provide any comments.

The Wilson Island site is associated with an existing backwater along the eastern boundary of the area. The Desoto Bend area is a relict backwater area.

There are numerous expected benefits, Crane said:

"The purpose of site-specific Missouri River Recovery Program Shallow Water Habitat (SWH) projects such as those at Wilson Island State Recreation Area and Desoto National Wildlife Refuge is to restore habitat for and population sustainability to federally endangered pallid sturgeon and to mitigate the loss of fish and wildlife habitat that occurred due to construction of the Missouri River Bank Stabilization and Navigation Project. SWH also provide nursery and refuge environments for young fish and foraging areas for other native fish, conditions in SWH environments are able to produce high amounts of macroinvertebrates and plankton which feed pallid sturgeon and other native fish and wildlife. As native wildlife communities are established in these restored environments recreational benefits are also derived by people who enjoy fishing, hunting, hiking, taking insect photographs, etc.

Final design for the two projects is still being evaluated, Crane said. Once a final plan is prepared, it will be available for public review.

"Final plans and specification are expected to be ready to be advertised by the end of August 2013, with construction beginning after the contract is awarded. Once construction begins the contractor will be given 12-24 months to complete the project. The anticipated construction cost of the different alternatives currently ranges between $3.0 million and $4.9 million, though these figures are based on order of magnitude estimates and final construction costs will be based on final project design which public and agency input can help shape."

The Corps of Engineers will pay all project costs, since it is a Missouri River Recovery Program habitat creation effort (shallow water habitat and emergent sandbar habitat).

Comments on the project may be mailed to U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, Omaha District, ATTN: CENWO-PM-AC (David Crane), 1616 Capitol Avenue, Omaha, NE 68102-4901; or via email to david.j.crane [@] usace.army.mil

"We are taking comments between now and about the end of May- the end of the public comment period depends on when the draft environmental assessment. A public notice will announce the timeframe of the assessment comment period, but comments are welcome before that announcement. If there is an optimal time it would probably be after the draft environmental assessment goes out - that way folks have some substantive content to comment on."

Images courtesy of the Army Corps of Engineers.