Update: City may close river terminal early in effort to reduce barge traffic

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October 18, 2012 by Sarah M

By Nick Halter

The city of Minneapolis is considering closing the Upper Harbor Terminal and reducing barge traffic in Minneapolis as early as next spring in an effort to prevent the spread of Asian carp and open up the North Minneapolis land to redevelopment.

Closing the terminal early would cost the city between $2.1 million and $3.7 million. The sooner the closure, the more expensive, according to a staff report.

The Upper Harbor Terminal receives fertilizer, coal, steel and twine from downriver. The site operator, River Services Inc., would have to eliminate all 13 employees at the site, said President Tim Pribil.

Mayor R.T. Rybak said the 43-acre site presents a unique redevelopment opportunity to connect North Minneapolis with the river.

“(To) anybody who says we are moving to fast on this, I say we’re a decade too slow,” Rybak said. “Barging is not a long-term industry in this city.”

Pribil said the declining barge traffic coming into Minneapolis is partially due to a stipulation in the city’s contract with RSI that allows the city to terminate the contract with a six-month warning. Because of that, RSI has had difficulty getting contracts because companies are unsure of the long-term future of the site.

The city’s staff report says the closing of the terminal would help stop the spread of Asian carp. Many see the St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam as the last resort to keeping the carp out of northern Minnesota fisheries. The city has asked the U.S. Congress to shut the lock down, but a bill to do so hasn’t moved forward.

The Upper Harbor Terminal is responsible for only a fraction of lock usage at St. Anthony Falls. The lock is also used by Aggregate Industries for gravel transportation and by Northern Metal. The lock is also heavily used by recreational boaters.

Pribil estimated that the lock is only opened about 60 times per year for materials coming to the Upper Harbor Terminal. That’s down from the late 1990s, when 300 barges offloaded at the terminal, Pribil said.

Earlier this year, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board refused to give Paradise Charters a permit to operate its excursion boats out of Boom Island unless it agreed not to take the company’s boats through the lock.

Pribil said talk of closing the lock soon is premature. He said the state should be using a $16 million appropriation to improve the Coon Rapids Dam in order to prevent the spread of carp.

City staff, in documents submitted to the city’s Community Planning and Economic Development Committee, estimated that closing the terminal in April of 2013 would cost the city $3.7 million over the next three years.

Another option, presented in those documents, would end the city’s contract with River Services Inc. to operate the terminal, but allow for a one-year period to five the industries on the riverfront time to wind down their operations. That plan would cost $2.1 to $2.9 million.

The current city plan is to wait until 2014, when its contract with operator River Services Inc. ends, to close the terminal. That plan would cost the city only $1.3 million.

The city’s Community Planning and Economic Development Committee plans to discuss the options in November, after getting more details from staff.

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