Every year, the United States Army Corps of Engineers dredges sand from the Mississippi River. Removing that sand maintains a nine foot deep channel to accommodate boat and barge traffic; however, they are running out of space to store the sand.
The United States Army Corps of Engineers estimates dredging nearly 11-million cubic yards of sand in the next 40 years. They say acquiring land from five family-owned farms along the Mississippi River will open up the space they need to store that sand.
"On May 9, it was a Friday afternoon, we got a booklet in the mail that was FedExed," said Jason Weisenbeck, co-owner of Weisenbeck Bros. and Burnside Dairy. "I at first ignored it when I got to the office."
Four other family farms in the area got the same package, containing a Dredged Material Management Plan from the United States Army Corps of Engineers.
"I opened it up, and my jaw just hit the floor," Weisenbeck said. "I couldn't believe it when I started reading. I just didn't understand it really fully."
Weisenbeck and other farmers were pre-selected to lose farmland for the development of permanent sand storage.
"When we bought this in 2012, we bought it to have it forever," Weisenbeck said. "We never had any intentions of ever selling it. We put a lot of improvements into this 80 acres out here, because we take pride in what we do."
Drysdale Farms, a fourth-generation farm, would lose 298 acres of land--the most out of any landowner in this plan.
"We need it to survive," said Willard Drysdale, co-owner of Drysdale Farms. "We need it to exist. We need it to provide for our livelihood."
The United States Army Corps of Engineers chose the land for specific reasons.
"These parcels are the places we can go with the material that will cost the federal government the least and will comply to the environmental regulations we have to comply with," said Craig Evans with the United States Army Corps of Engineers.
The federal agency is open to alternative suggestions.
"Any suggestions that help us find a plan that's better than what we proposed, would give us a lower cost to the federal government, we're listening," Evans said.
The plan is in review stages. If finalized, the United States Army Corps of Engineers could acquire the land through eminent domain.
"Eminent domain is the power of the government to take private property for public use as long as they provide just compensation," said Cheryl Gill, shareholder with Johns, Flaherty & Collins.
Senators Al Franken (D) and Tammy Baldwin (D) urge the United States Army Corps of Engineers to find an alternative to invoking the constitutional privilege. They released a joint statement stating, "These farms have been family-owned for generations, and we urge you to consider the impact eminent domain will have on their livelihood and the economies of surrounding communities." Read the entire letter below.
As the plan continues to progress, those involved believe it is not just about a handful of farmers. The impact of this decision could have a wide reach.
"We realize that the nine foot channel has to be there," Drysdale said. "And, we understand that it has to be maintained. To develop one resource, which would be keeping the river under navigation, and then taking that material and bringing it out here is destroying another valuable resource."
The United States Army Corps of Engineers held the second of two public meetings discussing the plan last night.
Evans said they have heard alternatives from barging the sand to another location to using other unproductive land for the storage. Though they appreciate the suggestions, Evans said a number have been ruled out because of high costs.
The United States Army Corps of Engineers will continue to accept written suggestions through midnight of Friday, June 23. You can mail those comments to : Department of Army, St. Paul District, Corps of Engineers, 180 Fifth Street East, Suite 700, St. Paul, MN 55101-1678.