Dredging possible near Cape boat ramp

Wednesday, August 9, 2006
Jo Ann Emerson left, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers toured the Cape Girardeau floodwall to examine its structural integrity on Tuesday. (Diane L. Wilson)

The Red Star access point now has a depth of about 2 feet.

Rep. Jo Ann Emerson toured Cape Girardeau's downtown floodwall with city leaders, representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and concerned citizens Tuesday. But many boating enthusiasts attending the tour were not interested in the floodwall.

Instead, they came to voice concerns over sediment accumulation at Red Star Public Fishing Access Point boat ramp north of the wall. Some believe the problem could eventually threaten the entire Missouri bank.

"I want you all to understand this is a much bigger problem than just the boat ramp. If you guys don't try to divert that current and eat this sand away, this whole side of the river isn't going to be here anymore," said Steve Foeste, president of Honkers Boat Club. Foeste estimated that in five years time the silt accumulation could rise high enough to prevent riverboats from docking downtown.

Some boaters would like to see the river dredged.

Joe Kellett, corps deputy district engineer, said dredging is a possibility if the corps is granted authority under the law and is funded by Congress. Dredging even a small area would likely cost more than $100,000 and may only be a short-term fix, he said.

Emerson said that if dredging is possible, she'll see that it gets done. "You need to do something, even if it is a Band-Aid fix. So I'm absolutely determined that we'll investigate that option," she said.

Any dredging would happen this fall at the earliest, Kellett said.

A simpler and cheaper fix is out of the corps' control.

"We've got a situation here where a good rain would wash away a lot of these problems," Kellett said. "We're in a heck of a drought right now."

Honkers members trace the problem to 1992, when the corps installed underwater dikes on the Missouri side of the river to push the deep-water channel to the Illinois side. Previously, the channel migrated back and forth.

The dikes permanently made Missouri the side where sediment and sand collects. This summer, say longtime residents, is the first in memory when sandbars have been visible around Red Star. The access point now has a depth of about 2 feet and only the smallest of vessels can launch there.

Kellett laid out what he believes is a permanent solution to the accumulation problem. Within one year the corps will produce a scale model of the section of river and test it in a "micro-model laboratory." The model will allow engineers to determine the best way to divert the channel back toward the Missouri bank.

The actual work would take place the following year, and Kellett said the project should "reasonably" be complete two years from today.

If the project is deemed to be environmentally friendly, it would be eligible for complete funding by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Kellett said. He declined to speculate on the total cost of the project, but another engineer with the corps said last week that similar-sized projects have cost upward of $700,000.

Mayor Jay Knudtson agrees that action is urgently needed. He said the growing sandbar affects Cape Girardeau's ability to respond to an emergency on the river. "We couldn't put an emergency boat in the water today. We would have to go to Thebes," he said.

The Cape Girardeau Fire Department has four rescue vessels. Fire chief Rick Ennis said only the departments smaller, inflatable crafts could be safely put on the river. "It's safe to say the boat ramp situation has impeded our ability to respond to emergencies," Ennis said.

Emerson's tour of the floodwall was to look at cracks in the wall, which are most apparent near Independence Street. Corps experts say there is no immediate threat to safety. Emerson said repair work should be completed by 2009 and will have an estimated price tag of more than $9 million.

tgreaney@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 245

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