Inspectors find dead mussels on 6 of 8 watercraft trucked to staging site
by Avery Cropp and Erik Sandin
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is trying to determine how six of eight barges were delivered by truck to a staging site for the St. Croix River Crossing bridge project with dead zebra mussels on them.
In addition, the DNR, state Department of Transportation and contractor Kraemer & Sons, are reviewing decontamination steps to ensure no watercraft enters the St. Croix River with an invasive species on it.
“We are going to work with the company and the DNR to work on decontamination procedures,” said MnDOT spokesman Kevin Gutknecht. “We’ve got a lot of safeguards in the project and clearly they worked.”
The discovery Thursday of the dead zebra mussels on the Kraemer & Sons barges prevented the company from floating the crafts in the St. Croix River to begin the first phase of bridge pier foundation work. As of this morning, DNR officials said their investigation must be completed in order to continue the project.
Of the eight barges brought to the staging area at Xcel Energy’s Allen S. King plant, six had dead zebra mussels on them. Four of the barges came from Oshkosh, Wis., while the other four came from Milwaukee.
“One of the barges was inspected and deemed clean. Then as they put the second one in, MnDOT and Kraemer & Sons realized that some of the other barges had zebra mussels on them, which they immediately reported to us,” said Chris Niskanen, DNR communications director.
There are very specific protocols that Kraemer & Sons must meet regarding the barges, according to Niskanen and Gutknecht. The DNR requires spraying watercraft with high-pressure hot water and scraping hulls to ensure that zebra mussels are not transferred between bodies of water. It is a misdemeanor to transport invasive species, according to the DNR.
Gutknecht said the barges were sprayed with hot water, but the second step was not done before the barges were delivered to the staging area.
“Apparently the scraping piece did not happen,” he said.
A National Parks Service report last month said the St. Croix River zebra mussel population has plummeted in recent years, giving the river a second chance. When the DNR inspectors arrived at the barge launch site they discovered the dead zebra mussels, which would not pose a threat to the river. But the process was stopped until an investigation could be completed.
“We’ve had our invasive species specialist working with the company, and they’ve been very cooperative,” Niskanen said. “And as I mentioned, inspectors from both MnDOT and Kraemer & Sons called in the issue. I believe it was simply an oversight on their part and they want to do the right thing going forward.”
The barges remain at the landing. When the investigation finishes, likely early next week, the DNR will determine if there are any fines to be levied and Niskanen said the fines are fairly nominal.
Meanwhile, both Gutknecht and Mary MacFarland Brooks said other work continues on other aspects of the bridge project.
“We are working on the project,” Gutknecht said.
Howevever, MacFarland Brooks admits the unseasonable cold and wet start to spring has delayed some work, including construction of a parking lot on the east side of Phil’s Tara Hideaway that’s expected to now start later this month. Also slated to start is a two-year project on the Minnesota approach to the new bridge along Minnesota 36, the intersections at South Greeley Street-Oakgreen Avenue and Osgood Avenue and frontage roads in Oak Park Heights.
“I’m sure it has not helped any,” she said about the poor weather. “Let’s just say the weather has not been anybody’s friend.”