Largest Debris Field Ever Seen Fills Iowa Big Slough
As a result of the August and September, 2016 record flooding in the drainage basin of the Upper Iowa River the Mississippi River has received unprecedented levels of trash. The Upper Iowa River empties into Minnesota Slough and the Mississippi River corridor a few hundred feet above the opening to Iowa Big Slough. Trash and debris flows downstream from the Upper Iowa, along the west shoreline of the navigation channel and immediately enters Big Slough. Once a deep and fast flowing conduit that pumped fresh water into the backwater 8 miles north of Lansing, it is now clogged with many 1,500 pound round bales, numerous camper fragments, propane tanks, and household items of all sorts and sizes. Animal residue and debris of all types fill the 200 foot wide slough for well over a half a mile.
Originally there were many questions regarding who had jurisdiction over the area and who would be responsible to remove the man made trash embedded in the debris field. The size and scope of the project is beyond the capabilities of volunteers from FOP9. Corey Snitker, Allamakee County Emergency Management (ACEM) called a meeting of federal and state agencies, county officials, and FOP9 members at the Kerndt Brothers Community Center in Lansing on September 30, 2016. The intent of the meeting was to determine ownership of the impacted area and devise a plan for a clean up of the debris field. Sabrina Chandler, Refuge Manager of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge (Refuge) stated that the area is jointly owned by the US Fish and Wildlife Service as part of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, and the US Army Corps of Engineers. It was the feeling of the group that the area should be included as part of the Presidential Emergency Disaster Declaration (as in other parts of Allamakee County) and have FEMA funds available to clean up of the area.
Several avenues for debris clean up were discussed by the group, from complete restoration and removal of all debris to removing only the man-made items considered pollutants in the natural environment. A team was established to seek FEMA inclusion and subsequent funds for restoration. The US Fish & Wildlife Service also committed at least $25k dollars to help fund the cleanup effort. Funding from the other government agencies listed above stated that any type of funding from them would be limited in scope ($2,000 - $3,000 per agency). Living Lands and Waters (a non-profit that has worked with FOP9 on other river clean up events) and Chad Pregracke were also contacted in regards to their possible involvement if FEMA inclusion was not attainable. Members from Allamakee County and the State collaborated to complete a FEMA application for the process. Later, both the State and County determined that they had no jurisdiction to pursue FEMA funding. The Refuge continues to pursue an alternative that could provide direct federal assistance without a requirement for a local or state cost share. The Refuge has also requested contaminant funding from FWS Headquarters.
On October 28, 2016 a group of FOP9 members and Cory Snitker (ACEM) along with John Bostrom (representative from Living Lands and Waters) went to the debris field for a review of the challenge before us. The Living Lands and Waters team has since had time to review the results of the eye witness account and came back to us as questioning their decision to help with the situation. They have informed Corey Snitker they will not be available to help with the Big Slough issue at this time.
At the November 7, 2016 FOP9 Board of Directors meeting it was determined that at this time there is not a lot that can be done without an organized plan and FOP9 finding several funding sources to undertake this project. On December 20, 2016 Friends of Pool 9, Iowa DNR, Allamakee County Emergency Management, Iowa Homeland Security, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and others will reconvene in Lansing to update the plan of action. By next spring 2017, hopefully some plans will come together to solve the dilemma. In the meantime FOP9 asks that you use caution in the area of the debris field. No one should try to collect debris by walking across the debris field. The Board will continue to work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on this project and as decisions are made and plans finalized FOP9 will keep you informed.