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Restoration complete

Rice river project aims to stop erosion

BY NATASHA BARBER | STAFF WRITER

    SAUK RAPIDS – Prior to the conclusion of the six week drawdown of Little Rock Lake, Harris Channel and Sartell Pool, two Rice families completed a project that has been discussed for more than five years.
    “This project wouldn’t have been possible if it wasn’t for the drawdown,” said Nathan Sanoski, technician at Benton Soil and Water Conservation District. “There is just no way we would have been able to get down along the shoreline with the equipment and have semi-dry feet.”
    In late August, an excavator from Minnesota Native Landscapes could be seen along the Mississippi River shorelines of Ferry Point. The heavy equipment moved 10-12 foot tree trunks and boulders in hopes of restoring a bank which had become an over 20 foot vertical bluff.
    Property owners Ron and Barb McKeever and Wayne and Joan Schmitz worked with Benton SWCD and the Department of Natural Resources to reestablish 400 feet of shoreline while waters were receded. The project was a shared investment.
    “It’s going to be a big benefit for not losing any more shoreline and we’re hoping to increase fish habitat, too,” Ron said. “Part of the reason the DNR is helping with the funding is fish habitat and river restoration. Those were the two key elements of the project and we were on board with both.”
    The project has an added benefit for the property owners as well.
    The McKeevers have lived at the property for 42 years. Prior to project completion, a stairway led directly to their dock.
    “We have access now,” Barb said. “We didn’t ever have access to the river. We could get down to our dock and to the boat, but we didn’t have access because it was straight down and was eroding.”
    The winding Mississippi’s flow and boat traffic have contributed to the land’s base breakdown.
    “With the wave and the flow, it was taking the sediment and washing the sand away,” said engineer Ross Reiffenberger of West Central Technical Service Area. “That would undermine the bank, causing it to sluff down and the slope would keep falling in. There is not a lot of surface erosion that is happening here; it’s more of a slope stability problem.”
    Reiffenberger designed the project which uses a large amount of organic material to stabilize the shore. He has designed a dozen similar projects across his 12-county territory including a 2018 installation at Mississippi River Park upstream from the project area.  
    “We’re trying to reestablish the toe of the slope and protect that with toewood and rock combination so the river doesn’t keep washing away the sediment and causing the slope to fail even more than it is,” Reiffenberger said.
    Contractors began by excavating a road to access the river and then worked inward from the furthest point as to not disturb finished areas. They created a so-called bench of land 2 feet above the ordinary water line using tree trunks, rootwads, brush and soil. Native seed, as well as oats, were scattered beneath a coconut fiber erosion control blanket. Willow and dogwood livestakes, trees and shrubs were planted in the bench, and rock vanes were added and extend upstream into the current.
    “The rock vanes are essentially going to redirect the flow,” Sanoski said. “That way, the current is not eroding the bank. The rock vanes will push the water toward the middle of the river and relieve this bank.”
    In five years, the shoreline should have a different look.
    “This should grow up to a lot of vegetation, native plants, trees, shrubs, willows things like that,” Reiffenberger said. “Overtime, once those get established, we hope to capture some of the sediment during those high flows. … We’re looking to establish a flood plain so the stresses on this part of the bank are a lot less because it’s spread out so far.”