Mississippi River Challenge update

Posted by Nate in Day to Day, Work.
Thursday, August 2nd, 2007 at 6:42 pm

bridge_wide.jpgThe news helicopters got to the bridge site pretty quickly last night and all the stations were running as many live shots as they could before they cleared the airspace for rescue helicopters.  It was in one of these live shots, finally a wide perspective from above, that I realized how much of the bridge had gone into the river.  I asked Karen, "what’s that going to do to your event this weekend??"  She just shook her head – clearly, there would be no canoes and kayaks going through that stretch of the Mississippi.

mississippi.jpgThe Coast Guard has closed the river from mile 848 to 857 (mile 0 is the gulf).  I think 857 is right about at the end of the channel that the Corps of Engineers keeps clear to a 9 feet depth for barge traffic, so the northern closure is essentially at the end of the navigable river.  The south side (see map at right) is just two miles north of Fort Snelling — the intended overnight halfway point for the Challenge — near the Ford Lock and Dam.

This afternoon the Corps of Engineers worked to lower the river at the bridge collapse site by opening some of the roller gates at the Ford Dam.  This sped the flow upstream and dropped the water level 2 feet for recovery workers trying to get access to the debris, and I imagine it means the downstream side of the dam will see a similar rise in level.  Apparently that section of the Mississippi is only at 15% flow right now anyway due to drought, and this would put it closer to non-drought conditions.

So FMR was faced with a decision: cancel the entire thing, change the route, or do a partial event — and then wait for the Coast Guard to approve whatever new plan they came up with.  From their site this afternoon:

"We are sensitive to the range of emotions that follow tragedies like this — we are feeling them with you. We understand that some of you may no longer have the desire to participate in the Mississippi River Challenge this year, but we are also hearing from many paddlers and volunteers who do want to continue with the event this weekend — and that we understand as well."

Their website is yet to be updated, but I just heard from Karen that they have heard back from the Coast Guard and decided to go forward with the second half of the paddle as planned, putting in at Fort Snelling on Sunday morning.  There will be more details forthcoming, but I feel like this is the right decision — for a number of reasons, but primarily because of their transparent, sensitive, and very deliberate considerations during the decision making process.  It’s going to be an emotional journey down the river, but I think it’s important to go forward — albeit respectfully and carefully.

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