Community leaders in Grey Cloud Island Township celebrated a groundbreaking Wednesday afternoon, Aug. 9, to begin work on a new channel that will allow the free flow of water in the Mississippi River backwaters between St. Paul Park and Grey Cloud Island Township.
Celebrating the groundbreaking were South Washington County Watershed District member Jack Lavold, Matt Moore, administrator for the watershed district, South Washington County Watershed District member Brian Johnson, Nathan Arnold, Washington County project manager, South Washington County Watershed District member and Newport City Councilmember Kevin Chapdelaine, Grey Cloud Island Township Clerk Elizabeth Bell, Washington County Commissioner Karla Bigham, District 4, Grey Cloud Island Township Board Chair Richard Adams, Grey Cloud Island Township Supervisor Paul Schoenecker, and Grant Wyffels, project engineer.
The river channel is within the National Park Service's Mississippi National River Recreation Area corridor and Minnesota's Mississippi River Critical Area, and is a designated state water trail.
A bridge once connected Grey Cloud Island to the mainland, but the bridge was later replaced with an earthen dam with County Road 75 constructed on top. A culvert crossing was also installed through the dam to let water from the Mississippi River move through the backwater. Over time, the water flow diminished as the culvert was either filled in or collapsed, effectively cutting off the flow through the river meander. Today, the slough has stagnate water with poor water quality, and severely degraded backwater aquatic habitat.
The project will restore the water flow under a roadway, along with pedestrian paths. The flow restoration should improve water quality to match that of the main channel, allow wildlife and boaters to pass through, and improve roadway safety along County Road 75.
Those at the groundbreaking praised the tenacity of state and local leaders through the years who have worked to receive funding for the project, and the partnership between the watershed district, the township, the county, and the state that made the project possible.