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City dredges the riverfront in preparation for RAGBRAI

City dredges the riverfront in preparation for RAGBRAI

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MUSCATINE, Iowa— As Muscatine prepares for thousands of bicyclists to visit during the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, cleaning the riverfront is one of the priorities.

An extended arm excavator could be seen dredging between the Mississippi Harvest Statue and Pearl City Station on Wednesday, the site where RAGBRAI riders will dip their tires at the end of their ride.

Jon Koch, the director of the Water Pollution Control Plant for the City of Muscatine, said dredging was necessary because without it, visitors coming to dip their bike tires in the river would see large amounts of sediment.

"The river level historically could be down to the point where you wouldn’t see anything but mud for some 50 feet, it would really make our riverfront look bad," Koch said.

Brauns Excavating is operating the mechanical dredge, which Koch said will save the city time and money.

"It would take about a week to use our dredge, but this could be done in a day," he said.

Ron Lacina, the bio-solids lead worker for the city, is also in charge of dredging operations. Lacina said the extended-arm excavator is used for any kind of excavation, and is not unusual for this type of job.

"He cleans ponds out with it, anything that needs dug up that you need a longer reach," he said.

The city's dredge has a head that drives down into the mud, and arms churn the mud and suck it up into a pipe.

"It's kind of like a giant mud vacuum cleaner," Koch said.

Although the dredge works well for the boat harbor, the amount of mud being removed from the river would have filled the bags for the dredge, and the City would need to purchase new ones.

"That mud goes almost 70 feet out. We went out with a boat to measure the mud," Koch said.

The depth and amount of mud, Koch said, was caused by the water slowing as it passes the wall that juts out from the Muscatine shoreline.

"It slows down around that wall so it has a chance to settle. It happens in the harbor as well, with all the sediment," he said.

To dredge the area, permits are required, and Koch said permission was obtained from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources as well as the Army Corps of Engineers and the City of Muscatine.

He said the impact to the environment will be minimal.

"We have had impact studies for mussels and we haven't seen that it's a major spot for them," Koch said.

Once the sediment has been removed, it is taken to the dredge spoils site, where it is placed in porous bags that allow water to seep out. 

"We will fill the bags, let them dry and then cut them open and people come with earth movers and pick up the mud," Koch said.

He said the dirt is then used mainly for construction projects.

"It's very clean material, the city uses it mostly," he said.

The mud will probably be cleaned next week, after it dries. Public Works will move it to the dredge site.

"Then the Fire Department will come and hose it off, so the riverfront looks nice and clean," Koch said.

In addition to keeping boats from getting stuck in the mud, dredging can help make a good first impression, allowing the RAGBRAI visitors to dip their tires in water rather than mud.

"We want it to look nice for all the guests," Koch said.

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