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Lock 3 poised for $70 million upgrade

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Federal stimulus money will fund $70 million in safety improvements to U.S. Lock & Dam No. 3 at Red Wing over the next two years.

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The two-pronged project involves the guide wall on the Minnesota side of the Mississippi River and three earthen embankments on the Wisconsin side.

The project as designed faces opposition from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Wisconsin officials would like to see a fish passage included, said Tom Crump, chief of the project management branch of the St. Paul District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

However, he said, "That feature is not funded now," so it is not included in the current plan.

Two project managers will meet this week with Wisconsin officials to discuss a fish "ladder" or passage that would let sturgeon, paddlefish and other species to get by the dam.

The Corps wants to move forward with safety improvements because Lock 3 has been the site of more than 100 barge accidents.

Work on the Minnesota side is designed to "improve safety for the barges coming down the river," Crump said.

The project consists mostly of extending the guide wall by several hundred feet.

Before barges go into the lock, Crump explained, they must get up against the wall, which guides them into the lock before the current starts to push the barges into the center of the river and into the gates of the dam.

The concrete dam is "very stable" in the main channel of the river, he said.

The project on the Wisconsin side involves a series of earthen embankments, or containments, which connect the dam to the Wisconsin bluffs and keep the water in the river channel.

"Those embankments will be raised and strengthened," Crump said.

One is upstream from the dam, one is in the middle of the dam, and one is downstream. They are placed like stair steps and help keep water in the pools.

Meetings with Wisconsin officials involve coordinating to identify the most environmentally friendly method that serves the Corps' engineering purposes with minimal impact on the environment, the wetland and the forest, Crump stressed.

The Wisconsin DNR reportedly feels that now is an appropriate time to include the proposed passage to enable fish to migrate up and down the river more easily. Opportunities for fish to do so now are limited.

However, Crump said, the fish passage would require about $12 million, and that money is not available. The Corps has been directed to spend the money on the designated safety improvements.

The proposed raising and strengthening of the Wisconsin embankments will not cause the fish any additional difficulties, he noted. It'll be "status quo" in terms of migration.

The project will create about 500 jobs. Corps officials expect to complete most of the work during the winter to avoid the shipping season. Lock 3 is typically the busiest lock on the Upper Mississippi River.

Crump said more details about the project, including studies, can be found on the Corps' Web site, www.mvp.usace.army.mil.

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