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RIVER LIFE

Beyond “Either/Or” to “Both/And”

One of my grad students posted an essential question via Twitter a few days ago:

Is the Mississippi River a “taxpayer-funded shipping canal” or home to diverse water stories?

Her tweet, from @waterbugsUMN, included a link to a recent blog post by the travel writer Dean Klinkenberg.  Klinkenberg summarizes just a few of the interesting, varied, some would even say “essential” stories that he came across in a recent trip through the Upper Mississippi River corridor. I’ll write another time about why I think “essential” belongs in this discussion, but on to the main point today.

Klinkenberg only makes passing reference to the river as a barge canal, but that sense of things was heavily reinforced with the news last week that the Upper Mississippi would be designated the “M-35 Marine Highway Corridor.”

There are many reasons why I personally think this is an appalling development.  The name is reductive, even ugly.  It reduces the river of mystery and mythology, the “spine of the nation” to an anonymous, numbered, static transect down the middle of the country.  The name was apparently chosen to match the Interstate 35 corridor, which runs from Texas to Minnesota.  What better way to make clear that the sole purpose of the river is moving goods.

Someone please write and tell me that I’m wrong, that this new corridor isn’t a signal that the river as highway is taking the upper hand over the river as a globally significant ecological corridor.  But when you do, I really want to know how that dominance won’t happen.  In other words, don’t just write and say I’m wrong (I hear that a lot).  Tell me how this corridor designation won’t tip the balance away from ecological preservation and enhancement, how this won’t pave the way (pun intended) for expanded locks, hardened river edges to tie big barges up, and all the rest of the Pandoras Box that happens when we decide one use of the river will take absolute primacy over the others (despite federal law, as I understand it).

I hope to hear from you and I hope to be reassured.

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One Comment

  1. Greg GenzSeptember 2, 2014 at 11:07 am

    Well Patrick, you are probably wrong. As you are well aware and participated in one, Initiatives and corresponding fanfare are part of Washington. It seems anyone can come up with an initiative for a pet project, but rarely does it include money to achieve it. See the National Blueways Initiative:
    http://www.doi.gov/news/pressreleases/AMERICAS-GREAT-OUTDOORS-RIVERS-Secretary-Salazar-Creates-National-Blueways-System-Designates-Connecticut-River-and-Its-Watershed-as-First-National-Blueway.cfm
    A lot of people on the MN River spent a lot of time on it and it went down the road like other well intentioned initiatives.
    http://www.doi.gov/americasgreatoutdoors/whatwedo/rivers/national-blueways-system.cfm

    I can tell you that your concerns of losing the River as you know it, will not happen with the Marine Highway designation. The River will probably never see, on this end, its practical capacity. If it did, I doubt you would notice it. What you will notice is increased rail and truck traffic as our population grows. A lot of what the Marine Highway designation is, is for visibility in the transportation field to raise the awareness of the availability and efficiency of water transportation.
    Paul Roberts, the author of “The End of Oil”, during an interview with the “Economist”, said that we would need to start putting everything, we could, on the water, as it was the most efficient form of transportation.
    Look at supporting the Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP), passed in the 2007 WRDA bill. If funded, the problem since 2007, it offers money for funding ecosystem restoration on a large scale for our Rivers.
    http://umrba.org/commercialnav/umrba-jointgov-nesp-presiden8-20-2014.pdf

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