BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
MONTROSE – The Lee County Conservation Board agreed to send a letter of support for a project that could eventually bring islands and greater wildlife back to Pool 19 of the Mississippi River.
At the regular Tuesday meeting of the conservation board, the board heard from Conservation District Director Nathan Unsworth about the program, along with Jim Noll, a wildlife advocate spearheading the program.
“Basically what we’re going to ask is to be able to send up a letter to the Army Corp of Engineers to consider our project and come in here and help us with developing a plan,” he said.
There are several programs through the Army Corps that could help move the program along, including a dredging program where material from dredging in the river could be brought down to this area to help elevate the islands that used to define the river flow and refuge.
Unsworth said if the board could qualify for the corp’s dredging program the Corp could pay for the work. He said there was another option called a system restoration, but that project would require some matching funds.
“By submitting our name, we get our name on the record for a potential project. They have interest in the project.”
Unsworth said he’s had two meetings with the Army Corp, the first of which was with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, and then the other was just with the corp.
The plan is being spearheaded by Noll, who wants to re-establish the islands with habitat restoration efforts, which at this point involves pitching the project to legislators, as well as generating local support for the project as a boon to the economy in the form of eco-tourism.
Noll says the dams built on the river have contributed to silting which has pushed the water levels up and with the wind on Pool 19 of the Mississippi River, turbidity leaves a cloudy water by keeping the silt stirred up.
That process has resulted in the elimination of most of the plant life that attracts wildlife to the area.
Noll wants to re-establish the islands in the pool, and bring that wildlife back and possibly create some calmer channels that are favorable to kayaking and canoeing and other river sports.
He said the plan either has to come from a local project where funds would need to be raised, or get the area deemed a wildlife refuge and then federal funding would pay for the projects.
Right now, the pool is not within 20 miles of another refuge, therefore legislators say it doesn’t qualify. Noll is working on a waiver of that regulation to help bring about the change.
In other action:
• the board voted 5-0 to submit the 2020-21 fiscal year budget to the county.
• the board presented outgoing board member Rodger Whitaker with a plaque for his service on the board.
• the board heard a pitch from Central Lee Future Problems Solvers students to use technology more efficiently at the conservation district.