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Restoration project on Lake Pepin begins next year to bolster wildlife habitats

The $7.7 million project is expected to take three years to complete.

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Lake Pepin on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022, in Lake City, Minnesota.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
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RED WING — A habitat restoration project at the head of Lake Pepin is slated to begin in 2023 after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers secured a contractor for the three-year project.

Last week, the Corps awarded a $7.7 million contract to Inver Grove Heights-based LS Marine, Inc to use dredged sand from the Mississippi River to shape new islands in Upper Pool 4 at the junction of the Mississippi River and Lake Pepin near Bay City, Wisconsin.

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"This contractor has also done this type of work, which is always a plus," said Tom Novak, assistant project manager with the Corps' St. Paul District.

The project will involve creating new islands out of roughly 200,000 cubic yards of sand and placing rock structures to protect existing islands in Catherine Pass. Novak said this work will create bathymetric diversity — different depths on the water body's floor — to support marine life.

"We will excavate some areas. We call them overwintering areas," Novak said. "And what that does is a few things for us. It provides the fine material topsoil, if you will, to put on top of that sand, that dredge material that creates the island. ... Then, these overwintering holes are a bit deeper — six, seven, eight feet, and that allows some fish species to overwinter there."

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Initial excavations on the river bed will allow the contractor's barges to enter the shallow area.

Another aspect of the project: creating a dike near Bay City that the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources will use to control water levels for waterfowl management.

"They drop the water during the summer, and you get that vegetation growth," Novak said. "Then the water gets back in there in the fall, and when the birds come, they've got some vegetation for protections and for food."

Novak estimates the project will start in April or May 2023, once ice has cleared off of the river. It will likely take three construction seasons to complete the project.

UpperPool4_ProjectFeatures_20220527-1.png
An outline of the Upper Pool 4 restoration project, which will begin in 2023.
Contributed / U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

"2025 is probably doable," Novak said. "That's what we'd be looking at."

Once construction begins, fishers and mariners between Red Wing and Bay City will notice some noise from construction equipment and see barges and tows traversing the river. However, Novak said the real changes on the river and lake will be seen after the project wraps up.

"You're going to see these new islands, eventually, as they come out of the water and trees get established," he said. "The other thing would be is, over time, just sort of the difference in sediment coming in and creating these deltas or these sandbars — you won't see that as much."

It will take a few years more to see how the restoration efforts impact Lake Pepin's fish populations.

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"You have to come back three, four or five years later and talk to the mayor or some other folks at public meetings and say, 'Hey, have you noticed anything different as far as water quality or the type of fish you're catching or not catching?'" said Novak.

In the meantime, Novak said the Corps is looking to secure funding to expand the project beyond its current $7.7 million base bid in order to build another island and other features in Upper Pool 4.

Dené K. Dryden is the Post Bulletin's region reporter, covering the greater Rochester area. Before joining the Post Bulletin in 2022, she attended Kansas State University and served as an editor for the student newspaper, the Kansas State Collegian, and news director for Wildcat 91.9, K-State's student radio station. Readers can reach Dené at ddryden@postbulletin.com.
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