By Amy Kent
Herald Staff Writer
For more than 15 years, the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Refuge has discussed a plan for a fish restoration project in Clinton and now, that plan is becoming a reality.
At a public meeting on March 26, Upper Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Refuge Savanna district manager Ed Britton will unveil the project, the first of its kind in pool 14, known as the Beaver Island project.
“This is the first big project for fishery that we’ve ever done in pool 14 so we’re very excited for it,” Britton said.
Essentially the plan is designed to deepen the backwater channel of the Mississippi River that flows through Beaver Island by removing sediment that has settled over the years, and increasing the fish population in the area.
While the multimillion dollar project is still in its infant stages, Britton explained that it will be similar in nature to the Potter’s Marsh habitat rehabilitation and restoration project in Thomson, Ill.
That project, completed in 1996, included dredging more than 24,000 lineal feet of sediment for fishery enhancement and the creation of 18 potholes for waterfowl use, among many other things.
“Typically fish restoration projects mean deepening the backwater areas,” Britton said. “So, what we’re going to do at Beaver Island is go through and dredge out portions of that channel to increase the fishery.”
Dredging out those portions of the channel provide over-wintering habitat to fish critical to their survival, Britton wrote in a recent column.
In the column, Britton writes that bluegill, crappie and bass typically move to off-channel areas and backwaters when water temperatures cool below 50 degrees, prior to the water freezing. Those areas offer good oxygen levels and provide an ideal habitat to those particular fish during the winter’s freezing period.
However, as more and more of those ideal habitats are threatened by gathering sediment that make the pools shallower, it becomes more difficult for the fish to survive the harsh winters and increases the urgency for the Beaver Island project.
The March 26 meeting will be spearheaded by the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, but once the information is put out to the public, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will take the lead on the Beaver Island Project.
According to Beaver Island study manager Monique Savage of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the meeting is aimed to not only tell people about the project, but more importantly, to get their input and suggestions about the features of Beaver Island.
“We don’t know what our features are going to be yet so this is the scoping meeting, asking the public do you have any information on this?” Savage said. “We have all of our data but the day-to-day connection with the river is what the public has that we don’t have and that’s a valuable resource. It’s just interesting to get the public’s input prior to having the project laid out.”
Savage encourages people who attend the meeting to share their stories of Beaver Island and bring photographs and other mementos to display to the project leaders as well as others in attendance.
It’s the memories from area residents, who have seen Beaver Island in all its forms over the years, that will play a key role in developing the project and determine what the final outcome will be, Savage said.
“We want to know what they know, what they want and what used to be there,” Savage said. “We want to understand Beaver Island as best we can so that this project is what we want, what the people want and what is best for Beaver Island.”