Low water didn’t prevent the American Duchess from docking July 18, 2021, at the new Levee Park wall. She departed the next afternoon, making history as the first riverboat to come and go under the new Eisenhower Bridge of Valor and the first to dock at the improved Levee Park wall.
She's scheduled to return early Sunday, July 25.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers maintains the Upper Mississippi River’s 9-foot navigation lane through dredging. The official readings at U.S. Lock & Dam. No. 3 this week had the measurable river depth hovering just about 2 feet.
For perspective, the river level was 4.61 feet on June 1 and had dropped below 3 feet by June 10. Flood stage is 14 feet.
The Corps adjusted lock gates this week to keep commercial navigation open. (Turn to Business, page B2.)
The American Queen, which is 450 feet long compared to the 315-feet Duchess, had her July 25 visit canceled.
A moment long in the making
The first docking at the wall took two years longer than expected.
Construction began on Jan. 24, 2019, with the intention of attracting more riverboats and therefore more tourists. The longer wall can accommodate more than one riverboat at a time.
The plan was to complete the project that summer, but then spring flooding came. Work ceased March 25-July 3 due to high water. Work resumed periodically as the Mississippi River continued to rise and fall that summer before picking up in the fall.
But on Nov. 7, 2019, a towboat pushing a barge down the Mississippi hit the fender stanchions and the newly installed sheet pile wall.
Repairs pushed work into spring 2020.
“I’ve lived in the area my entire life, I’m going to be 61 next week … I’ve never heard of a barge hitting the wall ever,” Ron Seymour, the city’s manager of capital investment programs, told the City Council that January. “I’ve heard of them grounding up at Bay Point ... but never on the wall.”
Red Wing finally dedicated the wall on June 12, 2020, however, the pandemic dashed any hopes of riverboats, calliope music and tourists that year.
The moment finally came on July 18, 2021.