Luther and Winneshiek County collaborate on wetland project

June 21, 2010

Luther College and Winneshiek County are collaborating to develop a wetland area on college property along the west bank of the Upper Iowa River near the intersection of Valley View Drive and U.S. Highway 52.

Now under construction, the earthwork for the wetland project will be completed during the summer of 2010, and the enhancement of the area with native wetland plant species will be an ongoing project of the college.

Lee Bjerke, Winneshiek County engineer, said the wetland project at Luther is intended to mitigate the adverse affect of two county bridge projects on other existing wetlands in the Winneshiek County. A bridge project near the Madison Church in Madison Township and the Spillville North Bridge project on the Turkey River, both under construction, are expected to reduce the area of adjacent wetlands.

Bjerke said wetland mitigation is required by law.

The Army Corps of Engineers is the regulatory agency that oversees navigable waters and wetlands of the U.S. Under the terms of the permit obtained by Winneshiek County from the Corp of Engineers, the county must mitigate the wetland loss on a 1:1 ratio and maintain the integrity of the new wetland for a period of no less than five years. 

The wetland on the Luther property is being built at a 2:1 ratio of mitigation for the Madison and Spillville bridge projects. Bjerke said it is wise to build at the 2:1 ratio to avoid the cost and labor of a reconstructing the wetland area if it is reduced or deteriorated by natural forces.

Luther maintains ownership of the property being converted to wetland and does not have any financial obligation in the development of the site. Terms of the project prohibit the college from any use or development of the area that would adversely affect the wetland. 

Dan Bellrichard, director of the Luther xustainability program, and Rich Tenneson, director of Luther facilities, said the wetland project is consistent with college’s land stewardship plan and the college expects to permanently preserve the area as a native wetland.

Bjerke said the county approached Luther with the wetland development proposal because of the college’s history of support for environmental sustainability, its willingness to dedicate a piece of property as a wetland for an indefinite period, and the potential for the college is use the wetland as an educational resource.

Other factors were the potential for expansion of the new wetland area to mitigate wetland impacts of future county projects, and the accessibility of the site near the Upper Iowa River which allows relatively easy to public access.

To assist with the development of the project, the county hired Earthview Environmental, a consulting firm that specializes in wetland delineation and construction. Bjerke said it is the county’s intent that the wetland created on Luther property will flourish for many years.