An article appeared in today’s StarTribune concerning Southeast MN habitat work. We agree with the essential point of the article, namely, that we and DNR Fisheries need greater flexibility to use more rock to stabilize streambanks where appropriate. Unfortunately, the article contains a poorly labeled photo and several misstatements that give the false impression that there is widespread failure of projects in the southeast. Today we sent a letter to the editor to correct these errors, but it is worth pointing them out here as well:
- The photo used is NOT of a project site. It is a photo from Rush Creek, but not where any work has ever been done. It does, however, illustrate the type of challenging pre-project conditions which our habitat projects remedy.
- Millions of dollars are not being wasted. It is true that the unusual conditions experienced this year in late winter and early spring have led to more damage than usual, both in and outside project reaches. It has also revealed the need for more rock in Southeast MN designs. MNTU has been taking a critical look at recent projects, projects currently under construction, and projects on the drawing board. Designs are being revised as needed based upon lessons learned. The projects will be repaired, including with more rock, to ensure previous effort is not wasted. Rush Creek is one active project which was re-designed with assistance from practitioners with more than 60 years of habitat project experience. Besides Rush and a few other active projects, Trout Unlimited has completed 14 projects in Southeast MN in the past several years, improving 8.4 miles of stream at a cost of approximately $2.04 million. Only modest repairs have been needed on these and repairs have been covered under contract inspection and repair warranties, totaling less than $42,000 dollars.
- The Rush Creek project is not a failure. To characterize it as such when just 10% to 15% of the project site was damaged by a large flood is a disservice to the good habitat remaining. Habitat suffered substantial damage in spots and if nothing more is done here project dollars will gradually be wasted. However, MNTU re-designed the project in early April with assistance from seasoned experts. Last Monday we received the amended permit allowing us to add rock and more habitat, and our contractor began working on site Wednesday.
Several years ago MNTU added provisions in its contracts requiring contractors to make regular inspections and repairs for two full years after the year of initial construction. It typically takes two full growing seasons after the year of the initial installation work for riparian vegetation to become established. Since some erosion and settling of soil is inevitable until that time, our contracts with both the design firm and the construction contractor require they periodically inspect and repair the project site for two full years after the year of installation (for example, 2018 installation means inspection and repairs through October 2020). And because habitat work in dynamic streams involves a fair degree of “art” in addition to science, sometimes flooding reveals where a design tweak is needed. Floods typically occur every year and a half. Thus if a flood reveals a design or installation shortcoming it too will be corrected as part of the contracted repair/maintenance process.