BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
LEE COUNTY – An agreement is in the works between the Lee County Conservation District and Climax Molybdenum to put a new discharge pipe in the Mississippi River.
The Lee County Conservation Board unanimously approved moving forward to finalize a non-disturbance agreement Tuesday to put the new pipe into the Mississippi River channel.
The move is a step up from the current discharge pipe that dumps treated waste water from the plant into an unnamed creek that dumps into river back waters.
Officials with the company met with the board during their monthly meeting Tuesday afternoon. Climax and LCCD Director Nathan Unsworth have been working on the agreement for more than a year.
Stricter Iowa Department of Natural Resources limitations on waste water discharge are fueling the change, but Climax officials said the move accomplishes meeting those restrictions and even tighter restrictions moving forward.
The board unanimously approved a Letter of Intent to move forward with the project. In return the district gets $5,000, and then an additional $45,000 when the formal non-disturbance agreement is approved.
The final agreement will protect the new discharge pipeline from being disturbed by any county projects including dredging. Climax said plans have the new line in place by 2023 when new DNR restrictions go in place. But the project could be completed sooner.
The new pipeline would be installed via horizontal boring techniques and would run along Devils Creek and dump into an area out in the channel owned by the Army Corps of Engineers. All the other land around the ACE property is owned by the county.
“First off, it’s important to note that the fact that Lee County Conservation has to have this discussion is totally unique. No other conservation district owns property along the river like we do and most of these deals are made with the Army Corps of Engineers,” Unsworth said.
He said the parcels involved are not property purchased with habitat money, and more to the point, hunting and fishing would not be restricted in the area.
The property impacted by the new discharge pipeline would be 57.85 acres.
Unsworth said board members Tom Pollpeter and Liza Alton have also been in on the meetings.
“We thought about a purchase agreement or an easement with Climax, but we kinda settled on a non-disturbance agreement,” Unsworth said. “It does put up some restrictions.
“Basically, we cannot jeopardize the functionality of the outlet pipe. There can be no disturbance that would impact the flow, but it does not restrict public access. You can boat and hunt over it.”
Unsworth said it is unknown the impact the new pipe will have on the islands project that Lee County resident Jim Noll has been working on. Noll has been working to get Pool 19 declared a wildlife refuge so federal funding could be used to turn it back into the habitat it was before the river was changed through damming.
“If we get to that point, the Army Corps will come in and help us find a way to work around these challenges. It’s not the only outflow pipe on our property. I just want to point that out,” Unsworth said.
“It’s something were going to have think about with this project over the long term. We repeatedly shared with Climax our long-term vision for the river properties and Climax is working hard to improve habitat wildlife in their territory as well.”
Climax is looking for formal 25-year agreement with the board, with an additional $50,000 in 25 years if the agreement is rolled over.
David Caskey, Manager of the Environmental Plant at Climax said the company just put in a $5 million upgrade to its internal waste water treatment facility. He said the new discharge pipe will actually put cleaner water into the river, as well as putting it in a part of the river with active circulation.
Currently the backwaters are stagnant, Caskey said, and the discharge takes a while to dissipate and get out into the river. The new outlet will be out in the channel and will move quicker, in addition to being a cleaner discharge.
Caskey said it’s the long-term goal of the plant to use press filtering to remove more of the usable gypsum from the waste water and eventually close the retention ponds on the north side of the facility and turn them back into wildlife habitat.
In other action, the board heard about a backpacks program under way where residents can rent backpacks at the conservation center and take self guided tours while in-person programming is still on hold.
There are three different backpacks. One focuses on bugs and butterflies, one focuses on pond environments and the last is a bird focus.