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Upper St. Anthony Lock Closes: a Momentous Occasion

June 12, 2015Patrick NunnallyRiversComments Off on Upper St. Anthony Lock Closes: a Momentous Occasion

Since 1963 industrial and recreational river traffic has been able to bypass St. Anthony Falls, passing through a lock managed by the Corps of Engineers and opening the river stretch above the falls to commercial navigation.  The area, already heavily industrial in its land use since the mid 19th century, adapted development patterns to a variety of uses that took advantage of the river’s navigation capacity.

The lock never really carried as much traffic as anticipated, though, and the looming threat of invasive carp coming from downriver and potentially infecting northern Minnesota waters led to the formal closing of the lock this week.  As of midnight, Wednesday June 10, the lock will no longer open for regular traffic.

No one really knows what’s next, although as usual opinions are many and varied.  Representatives of the navigation industry point out that the material they carry has to get above the falls somehow, and predict thousands of extra trucks on Twin Cities roadways.  Advocates for environmental restoration applaud the closing as an important step in the continued revitalization of the urban river.  Staff at several local, state, and federal agencies are planning the future use of at least part of the facility.  A state commission has funded a study (which includes participation from River Life) into the ecological and hydrological impacts of the closure.

While the closing itself is significant–any action that “undoes” a 50 year pattern has to be seen as such–we don’t yet know if it is historic.  To me, if the lock closes and nothing much else happens, then this won’t turn out to be a very historic shift.  Time will tell.

In the meantime, there are two essential sources of information to be consulted.

This map and flyer from the MN Department of Natural Resources advises recreational boaters (i.e. canoes and kayaks) on how to get around the falls.  Vital safety tips.

Minnesota Public Radio continues to demonstrate the great potential of digital journalism with this very rich piece about the lock, how it works, its history, and why invasive carp are a sufficient threat to warrant closing.  This piece is an essential first step for people wanting to learn about the issue.

Stay tuned: I’m sure we’ll have more to say in the weeks and months ahead.

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