by CHRIS ROGERS
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) announced a tweak to its plan for disposing of the hundreds of cubic yards of dredge sand it pulls out of the Mississippi River at Winona every year. The corps will still pile sand at a riverside property in Homer, but to keep the stockpile from growing excessively high and blocking more views of the Mississippi River, each winter USACE contractors will haul some of that sand four miles up a steep valley to a ridgetop quarry for permanent storage.
Under the corps’ plan, this winter and next winter trucks would haul up to 50,000 cubic yards of sand from the Homer storage site to the quarry, called the Yaedtke Pit. That would free up space at the Homer site for more dredged sand to be place without creating an excessively high pile — something neighbors and the Winona County Board said they oppose. The trucking operation would last two to three weeks and run during normal business hours. The operation could generate, at most, 500 trucks per day, county officials reported.
This move is meant to soothe one set of neighbors — those with riverside houses in Homer — but it also irked a new set of residents — those that live on County Road 15, the narrow, curvy hill road that trucks will take to reach the quarry. “The biggest issue is safety,” County Road 15 resident Judy Davis said, pointing out that many residents have driveways with limited visibility on the twisting, steep road. “You can’t tell me that 500 trucks a day coming up the road and 500 trucks a day coming down the road isn’t going to affect my ability to lease my property,” neighboring property owner Kevin McConville said during a public hearing. While the plan only cover 100,000 cubic yards of sand over the next two years, McConville suspected the trucking operation would continue for many years to come. Corps’ documents note the quarry could hold close to a half-million cubic yards in total. “It’s going to change the value of our property and it’s going to change our valley,” he stated.
Nevertheless, the Winona County Planning Commission recommended the corps’ proposal to the County Board for final approval. A final vote by the County Board will likely be held next month.
“We’ll take all of the concerns that were mentioned at the Planning Commission meeting into consideration when we are preparing the trucking contract,” Machajewski said. Is there anything the USACE or its contractor can do to address those concerns? “There’s always possibilities that are out there, but we’ll have to see what the [County] Board ultimately recommends to us,” Machajewski responded. “We take safety very seriously and we’ll consider anything. If safety is questioned, we’ll make sure we have that addressed as best we can.”
County officials noted that the trucking operation would be subject to the same rules as other traffic. The county doesn’t plan to charge the USACE for potential damage from the heavy hauling to County Road 15, but asked the corps’ contractor to stay clear of another, less-sturdy road.
The Yaedtke Pit doesn’t completely solve the corps’ sand-disposal problem. Long term, the USACE is still seeking more placement sites close to the river. “This is a short-term solution until we can see where our discussions go with the city of Winona for a long-term plan,” USACE St. Paul District Dredged Material Manager Paul Machajewski said. Following pushback from Winona residents and the Winona City Council, USACE officials scrapped an initial plan to expand sand storage at Latsch Island. Corps leaders planned private talks with city officials to identify alternative sites, but those discussions have been on hold since the pandemic began, Machajewski reported.