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Corps of Engineers seeking comment for Sand Hill River project

BELTRAMI, Minn.--The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is seeking comments on a project to install 16 rock riffle structures designed to reduce erosion in the Sand Hill River near Beltrami.

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BELTRAMI, Minn.-The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is seeking comments on a project to install 16 rock riffle structures designed to reduce erosion in the Sand Hill River near Beltrami.

The project is proposed by the Sand Hill Watershed District as an addition to a planned $1.6 million fish passage project that should be completed by 2017.

The rock riffles would be placed near existing concrete drop structures and associated fish passage features, according to a news release from the Corps' St. Paul District office.

The fish passage project is designed to restore recreational fishing in the Sand Hill River and involves the construction of rock arch rapids roughly 120 to 180 feet downstream of three control structures, also known as drop structures, on the river. It also consists of reshaping portions of the concrete structures.

The Sand Hill River watershed covers more than 708,000 acres, stretching from near Fosston, Minn., and including the Minnesota cities of Winger, Fertile, Beltrami and Climax, to the Red River of the North.


The Sand Hill has not been fished since a drought in the late 1980s, when the river flow dropped so low the local fish population died from a lack of oxygen.

The watershed's fish passage problem actually dates back to the mid-1950s, when the Corps built a flood control project that involved straightening the river and constructing four drop structures in an effort to improve drainage for local agriculture.

Overall, more than 18 miles of the Sand Hill River were straightened or abandoned, according to the Corps.

The straightened channel decreased the channel length, increased the channel grade and flow, and reduced flooding in the lower Sand Hill River watershed.

However, the grade control structures left the river impassable for spawning fish.

The current project is designed to correct that problem.

The federal government is paying for 75 percent of the project. The remaining portion is being funded by the watershed district through a grant from the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, which makes state Outdoor Heritage Fund financing requests to the Minnesota Legislature.

The habitat project requires approval from the Corps of Engineers, and is subject to the National Environmental Policy Act. As such, a draft Environmental Assessment has been prepared describing the project and associated environmental effects. It can be viewed and downloaded from the St. Paul District’s website at: http://www.mvp.usace.army.mil/Home/PublicNotices.aspx .


A public review and comment period on the draft environmental assessment ends March 16. Questions and comments concerning project should be directed to Elliott Stefanik, Corps biologist, at (651) 290-5260 or Elliott.L.Stefanik@usace.army.mil . Please address all correspondence on this project to the St. Paul District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Attention: Regional Planning and Environment Division North, 180 Fifth St. E., Suite 700, St. Paul, MN 55101-1678.

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