Mis­sis­sippi River gets re­lief from new bridge

The up­dated cross­ing in Wash­ing­ton County will help clear clogged por­tion.

Star Tribune - - AROUND THE METRO - By KEVIN GILES kgiles@star­tri­bune.com Staff writer Jim An­der­son con­trib­uted to this re­port. Kevin Giles • 651-925-5037

It took decades and a lot of head-scratch­ing, but a long­stand­ing Mis­sis­sippi River back­wa­ter in Wash­ing­ton County is now his­tory.

Sev­eral gov­ern­ment agen­cies teamed up to re­place a de­te­ri­o­rat­ing earthen dam lead­ing to Grey Cloud Is­land Town­ship with a bridge that re­stored the river’s free flow. The new bridge, now “sub­stan­tially com­plete,” will elim­i­nate floods that some­times trapped res­i­dents and will al­low the river to flush an un­sightly slough of stag­nant wa­ter, said Nathan Arnold, a Wash­ing­ton County project en­gi­neer who worked on the $1.6 mil­lion project.

“Be­fore we opened it up there was no move­ment in the chan­nel,” Arnold said Mon­day.

The new bridge also leaves am­ple room for boats to pass un­der­neath, he said.

Grey Cloud Is­land, near Cot­tage Grove, is among the small­est town­ships in Min­nesota and falls within the Mis­sis­sippi Na­tional River and Re­cre­ation Area, a unit of the Na­tional Park Ser­vice.

The Mis­sis­sippi River bor­ders it on the west, while the back chan­nel loops around on the north and east, widen­ing on the south into two small back­wa­ter lakes be­fore re­con­nect­ing with the river.

The chan­nel cross­ing dates to the early 1900s, when a wooden bridge spanned the chan­nel. In 1923 the bridge was re­placed with cul­verts and filled over, then paved as part of County Road 75.

Un­til a mas­sive flood in 1965 and an­other in 1969, the cul­vert worked well. To keep res­i­dents from be­ing iso­lated by flood­wa­ters, emer­gency work was done to raise the road. As a re­sult, cul­verts be­came blocked and mil­foil and other in­va­sive plants in­fested the chan­nel, which is a lit­tle more than 2 miles long.

Re­sem­bling a swamp, the chan­nel was so choked with weeds that boaters couldn’t use it, said Matt Moore, di­rec­tor of the South Wash­ing­ton Wa­ter­shed District.

“We lit­er­ally did see some changes overnight by chang­ing the flow,” Moore said.

The chan­nel’s restora­tion was a crit­i­cal im­prove­ment for the Mis­sis­sippi be­cause “in those back­wa­ter ar­eas, that’s where all the habi­tat is,” he said. “They’re re­ally vi­tal pieces of the river ecol­ogy.”

Wash­ing­ton County Com­mis­sioner Karla Bigham, whose district in­cludes Grey Cloud Is­land Town­ship, said the bridge project en­sures that emer­gency ve­hi­cles can cross onto the is­land dur­ing high wa­ter.

Project fund­ing was shared by the wa­ter­shed district, Wash­ing­ton County and a state clean wa­ter grant.

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