Semo Port


Protection and Enhancement

Marquette Island. As part of its plans for harbor construction, Semo Port purchased and improved habitat on Marquette Island, located in the Mississippi River across from the new harbor and industrial park. The 1985 plans, approved by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Missouri Department of Conservation, provided the following improvements:

1. Purchase at least 31 acres of land on Marquette Island.
2. Create 5 acres of canopy openings (0.5 to 1.0 acres each) by falling trees.
3. Blast 15 potholes, approximately three per opening.
4. Plant 1,000 pin oak and red oak trees around the openings.
5. Disperse buttonseed bush around the potholes.
6. Mark the boundary.
7. Port to maintain ownership for at least 25 years.

A total of 50 acres were purchased, with 35 acres were set aside as wildlife habitat mitigation and the improvements completed as planned. The Port’s land is near the center of the island, with the north half of the island (approximately 300 acres) owned by Lone Star Industries and the south half (about 280 acres) owned by Westvaco. The island has been logged several times in the past for its timber.

Spring Cavefish. The development of Semo Port has been planned to avoid and minimize any impact on the spring cavefish. The Corps of Engineers’ Section 107 study, Detailed Project Report and Environmental Impact Statement for Southeast Missouri Port (1985), served as the original plans for the construction of the harbor and adjacent industrial development. It included extensive discussion of the spring cavefish habitat and measures to protect it. (Click here for detailed information)

When plans were made for the one-mile long railroad line into the harbor area, its alignment was relocated to avoid the cavefish sites. Originally, it was proposed to notch the rail line into the bluffs at an elevation above 500-year flood (roughly 360 elevation, compared to 335 for the lowland and 450 for the top of the bluff). The upper side of the bluff would have been cut and the material used as fill beneath the track grade. While most efficient in engineering terms, this route would have covered the springs and pools which are home to the cavefish.

Three alternative routes were examined. One followed the bluffs route, but was set 50 to 100 feet away from the bluffs in the lowlands. It would have been a level alignment, with no grades, but would have required roughly 20 feet of fill to elevate the track above floods. On a 3-to-1 slope, the bottom of the fill would have been 140 feet wide. Extensive dirt hauling and borrow areas would have been needed.

A second route, with fairly level grades, was mapped through property about 1800 feet south of the bluff, but the property owner would not sell because of valuable limestone deposits which are planned for a future quarry.

A third route, the existing alignment of the Semo Port Railroad’s Harbor Lead Track, was a straight line but has a steep 1.5% grade up and down over the hill south of the bluff. It was expensive to grade, with large cuts into the hill on both sides of the track involving dirt and rock. It also is more expensive to operate, with train movements requiring more power and fuel to handle the grades, and more attention needed for safety.

Before the current railroad track’s route was approved, additional studies were made by Missouri Department of Conservation personnel to ascertain that the railroad grading and cut would not adversely affect the water sources feeding the springs and pools inhabited by the spring cavefish. To further protect the habitat, Semo Port imposed restrictions on the construction contractors which graded the roadbed and built the track. Designs were modified, including the construction of a berm (along the west bank of the ditch, at the east end of the bluff) to keep water from the hills to the south from washing silt into the area at the bottom of the bluff. These efforts were made by Semo Port in conjunction with the primary funding agency, the U. S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration.

Similarly, consideration was given when proposals were made to extend Missouri Route AB from Interstate 55 eastward four miles to the Port’s harbor industrial area. The alignment was located roughly 300 feet south of the railroad track, farther away from the bluffs, and on grades which required less cut into the hill. Concerns were noted in the Preliminary Environmental Assessment, and additional research was performed by James E. Vandike, Geologist, of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. It was recommended that protective measures be implemented, similar to those used during the railroad construction: control right-of-way runoff, sediment control, and avoidance of storage of hazardous materials within the drainage area. These were imposed by MODOT as part of its contracts for the grading and paving projects.

Cave Springs Mitigation Area. When the harbor was constructed by the Corps of Engineers, a lowland area of 6.2 acres was set aside as additional habitat. It is located about 2500 feet west of the harbor, 2000 feet south of the Mississippi River, and north of the bluff. It is south of Dredge Disposal Basin Number 1.

Construction funds were used to plant 1,000 native trees and 450 shrubs at the site, located on land purchased by the Port. This work was done to provide enhanced habitat and protection for the spring cavefish sites (even though the sites themselves are west of this tract, on property owned by Marshall Pobst, a local farmer).

Restrictive Covenants for
Conservation Areas.
  To provide permanent protection to the mitigation area at the base of the bluff, the Port established restrictive covenants on two adjoining tracts of land of 6.8 acres and 4.2 acres, respectively. The covenants protect lowlands, wetlands, and wooded rock bluff. The restrictions in these covenants prohibit development of the two tracts unless approval is given by the Missouri Department of Conservation, U. S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration, and Semo Port.

Indiana Bat Protection. In June 1994, Semo Port applied to the U. S. Army’s Corps of Engineers for a permit to construct a river loadout serving the grain elevator. In its comments on the Corps permit, the U. S. Department of Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service requested that “tree clearing not take place between May 1 and August 31 to avoid impacting the Indiana bats.” This was included as a provision of the permit, which was issued in March 1995, with the agreement of Semo Port.

About the same time, the “Final Environmental Assessment: Nash Road Extension” for the new highway (Missouri Route AB) was completed by the Southeast Missouri Regional Planning and Economic Development Commission, June 1994. It noted that “there were no caves within the Semo Port area inhabited by Indiana bats.”

After the grain elevator application was made, the Port and MODOT applied for a Corps permit for the construction of the new highway from I-55 into the Port (Missouri Route AB). USF&W’s southern Illinois office, which had USF&W jurisdiction over that portion of the Mississippi River by Semo Port, made a similar request regarding tree cutting restrictins on the highway permit. MODOT referred to an existing agreement between MODOT and USF&W regarding Indiana bat habitat throughout Missouri. The agreement had been approved by USF&W’s mid-Missouri office, and in deference the southern Illinois office dropped its request for clearing restrictions.

Under the MODOT-USF&W agreement, four pages in length with three additional color pages of habitat examples, the agencies agreed that all counties north of the Missouri River contain potential Indiana bat summer habitat. The agreement described the types of trees which serve as habitat, and contained provisions as to whether a specific tree may be cut or not. Counties south of the Missouri River are not considered summer habitat.

While the tree clearing restriction was eliminated from the Corps’ permit for the highway construction, it remained in their permit for the grain elevator construction. Minimal clearing was done, outside the restricted season and in compliance with the permit. Moreover, the grain elevator left most of the trees in place along the riverbank, where they continue to serve as habitat.

Pallid Sturgeon. With regard to the grain elevator loadout application, USF&W recommended that placement of rock fill be restricted between June and August to avoid impacting the spawning activities of the pallid sturgeon. In order to make a more detailed determination on this item, the Missouri Department of Conservation was asked to examine the location of the grain elevator loadout’s construction. Jennifer Frazier, a fisheries biologist from the Long Term River Monitoring station, reviewed the plans and made on-site observations of the riverbank, dike, and existing facilities. It was determined that the area was not habitat for the pallid sturgeon, and the fill restriction was not included in the final permit.

The biologist questioned the need to fill the small area immediately downstream from the dike (Mile 47.9). The water area is relatively deep and allowed barges to be placed between the dike and the Port’s Old Dock facility. It was noted that the whirlpool at the end of the dike creates a deep area, which both eliminates the need to dredge the Old Dock and provides deep water habitat. A review of the proposed project determined that (1) the grain elevator could revise its plans and not fill the dike-to-Old Dock area; (2) doing so would save deep water habitat behind the dike; (3) the project would be reduced in cost; and (4) the Port could retain use of the Old Dock for occasional customers. The design modification improved the project in many respects, environmental and economic.

Route AB Wetlands Mitigation. During the design of the new Route AB highway, it was determined that six acres of statutory wetlands would be converted. The wetlands consisted of four small tracts, one to two acres each.

To mitigate the wetlands lost, Semo Port allowed twelve acres of bottomland soybean fields (prior converted) to revert to wetlands habitat. Low berms of 12-to-24 inches in height, six feet wide with 6:1 slopes were constructed around three cells or ponds. These provided a net wetlands area of nine acres, or a mitigation of 1.5-to-1 for the wetlands lost during construction. The new mitigation area was subject to a permanent conservation easement in favor of the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers. The value of the land, engineering, and construction was in excess of $33,000.

The mitigation area is located between Marquette Lakes South and new Route AB, and can be viewed easily while driving on Route AB. The highway’s 20-foot fill provides a good vantage point for observing the sites. Marquette Lake South is operated as a private fishing and recreation area. It was originally an area where clay was mined by steam shovels for use at the cement plant, and former railroad spur roadbeds provide fingers into the lake. The mitigation area’s location adjacent to the lake provides a good combination of habitats.