Klobuchar, Franken, Peterson, McCollum, Ellison, Walz, Nolan Call on Army Corps of Engineers to Protect Water Quality in Voyageurs National Park

Oct 1, 2015 Issues: Congressional Issues

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, along with U.S. Representatives Collin Peterson, Betty McCollum, Keith Ellison, Tim Walz, and Rick Nolan, sent a letter today urging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to protect water quality in Voyageurs National Park. In a letter, the lawmakers urged the USACE to include funding for the Voyageurs National Park Clean Water Project in the FY 2016 Civil Works Plan. The project aims to increase water quality and long-term wastewater treatment solutions in the park while creating jobs and boosting economic growth. The federal assistance will help support progress in the current efforts to protect Voyageurs National Park, which is enjoyed by thousands of visitors a year.

“As elected officials representing Minnesota, we are rightly concerned about protecting the water quality of our nation’s premier water-based Park,” the legislators wrote. “This project is critical for residents in the rural areas of Koochiching and St. Louis Counties. In addition to the jobs and regional economic impact accompanying this project, it would bring the environmental benefits of increased water quality and long-term wastewater treatment solutions.”

Voyageurs National Park is located in Saint Louis County and Koochiching County and was authorized by Congress in 1971. It covers 84,000 acres of water and 134,000 acres of land, and is enjoyed annually by thousands of visitors from across the world.

The full text of the letter is available below:

Dear Assistant Secretary Darcy:

We write to urge the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to include the Voyageurs National Park Clean Water Project in the FY 2016 Civil Works Plan for the Mississippi Valley Division, St. Paul District Office.

This project is critical for residents in the rural areas of Koochiching and St. Louis Counties. In addition to the jobs and regional economic impact accompanying this project, it would bring the environmental benefits of increased water quality and long-term wastewater treatment solutions.

As you may know, Voyageurs National Park was authorized by Congress in 1971 and formally established in 1975. It is a national treasure, with 84,000 acres of water and 134,000 acres of land enjoyed annually by thousands of visitors from across the United States, Canada and many other countries. The interconnected waterways of the Park provide an unparalleled opportunity to explore the Northwoods lake country. 

As elected officials representing Minnesota, we are rightly concerned about protecting the water quality of our nation’s premier water-based Park. Unfortunately, these waters can be contaminated by wastewater from existing developments. The water quality degradation threatens the long-term health of the ecosystem and the economic health of the tourism industry, upon which a considerable share of the local economy is based.

Recognizing the importance of clean water, local community leaders joined with St. Louis and Koochiching Counties to create the Voyageurs National Park Clean Water Joint Powers Board (VNPCWJPB). To date, the VNPCWJPB has secured well over $15 million from state and local sources to implement a comprehensive wastewater plan. 

However, we are concerned that without approximately $4 million of federal assistance from the Corps, progress made to protect the Park, especially near the Island View area on Rainy Lake, will be slow. Previous analysis found that the majority of sewage-generating parcels within the project area do not have proper wastewater treatment facilities. Additionally, many of the parcels that do are nearing the end of their lifespan or are out of compliance.

These manmade problems are complicated by the geography of the area, including the remoteness of the Park, adjacent developments, and fragile soil conditions of the region caused by numerous rock outcroppings and bluffs. These issues have been raised to the Corps’ St. Paul District, who share our concerns and join the National Park Service, multiple local governments, state leaders and agencies in support of this request for federal assistance.

Additionally, given that the project meets the majority of the criteria as outlined in the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015 (P.L. 113-235) and the accompanying report language specific to the Corps’ priorities for Environmental Infrastructure projects, we believe the moment is right to move forward. For example, this region is expecting an aging population with fixed incomes and increased uncertainty surrounding its core timber and paper products industry.

The timing for interagency cooperation and assistance would be especially fitting as the National Park Service celebrates its Centennial in 2016, demonstrating a coordinated national effort to protect not only Voyageurs but all our National Parks so they continue to provide quality outdoor opportunities for future generations.

Given these factors, and the numerous statewide benefits to our environment and economy, we again urge you to include the Voyageurs National Park Clean Water Project in the FY 2016 Civil Works Plan for the Mississippi Valley Division, St. Paul District Office.

Thank you for your strong consideration of this request. We look forward to your response and working with you to move this project forward.