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Corps aims to minimize projects impact on recreation

Dan Wilcox explains the Lock & Dam No. 3 renovation project that will take place next year. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will oversee the $70 million project six miles north of downtown Red Wing.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says it has a plan to minimize the impact the two-year $70 million renovation of Lock & Dam No. 3 will have on recreational activities.

Corps officials were on hand Wednesday at the Red Wing Public Library to explain the project and answer questions. Sixteen people showed up for the meeting.

Some asked if construction would affect recreational boating activities, specifically fishing tournaments.

The Corps has determined scheduling rules for construction that should minimize inconveniences, St. Paul District project engineer David Saddoris said.

The lock will only be closed 96 hours a month and will be open 24 hours between closures during the navigation season. There will be no closures on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays or on holidays.

Saddoris said these measures were made with recreation in mind.

The Corps' St. Paul District will use federal stimulus dollars to finance the renovation aimed at making the lock safer.

"There's two long standing problems with Lock & Dam No. 3 that have yet to be resolved," said Dan Wilcox, St. Paul District project manager.

Some improvements will attempt to make the lock easier to navigate, including extending the lock's guide wall 800 feet.

"Lock & Dam No. 3 is known as one of the most difficult places to navigate on the Upper Mississippi River," Wilcox said.

Because the lock sits on a bend in the river, currents often push boats and barges toward the gated part of the dam and away from the lock. This has caused numerous minor accidents, and barges have hit the dam 11 times since 1968.

Wilcox said it's fortunate there have been no deaths or major injuries from these incidents.

Other improvements will strengthen embankments and spot-dykes near the lock, Wilcox said. Embankment failure could cause an accidental drawdown of Pool 3 on the upstream side of the dam. That would shut down navigation and affect the nearby Prairie Island nuclear plant's operations, as well as damage the river environment.

@Sub head:Fish-ways

@Normal1: One thing the improvements won't do is provide a fish-way -- a channel that would serve as an alternate route for fish to swim up river at all times.

There are times when the lock prevents some species of fish from swimming upstream.

Because the corps is already making improvements to the lock, now is the right time to build a fish-way, said Gretchen Benjamin, an official from The Nature Conservancy, an international conservation organization.

She provided the Corps with a letter signed by four conservation groups advocating construction of a fish-way.

Wilcox said building a fish-way would require an additional $15 million and approval from the Corps' higher-ups, but added the St. Paul District Office favors the measure.

"If we could gain the authority and money to put that fish-way in, we would," he said.