Historic flooding on the Mississippi River is bringing record-breaking delays to the year’s barge season for Savage businesses along the Minnesota River, several business officials said.
The latest start to barge season on record in Savage was May 15, but barges aren’t expected to arrive until July this year, said Lisa Brickey, the warehouse manager at Mosaic Crop Nutrition.
“I’ve been here 25 years, and it's never been this late,” she said.
The problem echoes last year but for different reasons. Savage-bound barges in 2018 were held up in St. Paul when the Minnesota River flooded. This time around, flooding downstream prevented barges from even making it that far.
The Minnesota River fell below flood stage on Wednesday, according to the Army Corps of Engineers, but Brickey said it’ll take a couple weeks for barges to make their way to St. Paul on the Mississippi River from St. Louis. The U.S. Coast Guard closed the river there earlier this month due to high water and fast currents.
Mosaic handles fertilizer, which goes out to Midwestern cooperatives, and salt, which goes to Cargill to be packaged for water conditioning or road salt. The fertilizer’s phosphates come to Savage from Florida, and the potash comes by train from Canada.
When farmers were ready to plant their crops earlier this year, Brickey said, Mosaic’s access to the railroad network gave them an edge over competitors who depend entirely on barge service, but many farmers still weren’t able to access fertilizer.
“Pretty much everything is in the ground right now, and a lot of it went in unfertilized,” she said. “It’s going to be an interesting crop year.”
The Minnesota River rose to nearly 713 feet and major flood stage in March. Brickey said it becomes unsafe to unload barges when the river hits 702 feet.
At CHS, where grain is loaded onto barges to be sent to the Gulf of Mexico for export, the dock sits at 705 feet.
One barge holds over 1,600 tons of product, which is the equivalent of 70 semi-trucks and 16 railcars, according to CHS Terminal Manager Greg Oberle. Between here and St. Louis, 15 barges are strapped together and transported on the river with one tow boat. A tow pulls 23,000 tons of product.
“There have been no barges loaded in the Savage port this year, and this is the first time since the elevator was built in 1982 that we have not loaded a barge before June,” Oberle said in an email. “We have the ability to load shuttle trains; however it cannot make up for the efficiency of barge transport.”
Oberle said he can’t disclose how much grain moves through the Savage terminal; CHS moves more than 2 billion bushels of grain annually.
Ceres Global and Consolidated Grain and Barge Co.’s terminal in Savage holds 9.2 million bushels of grain and will remain full until the barges begin to arrive, said facility manager Steve Kucala.
“We are owed barges waiting to come up to the Twin Cities,” he said.
The terminal holds also corn and beans. Crops are brought by farmers in trucks, stored and then sent out on barges down to New Orleans. From there, the product goes out on the Gulf for export.
May, June and July are the busiest months for farmers looking to unload last year’s crop, but with holding facilities at capacity, many farmers looking to sell their product were told they needed to wait.
Once barges resume, Kucala said they’ll need to work fast to move as much product as possible as the peak season winds down.
Plans for a 190-unit apartment complex to be built in Savage moved forward this month despite outcry from surrounding residents.
The Planning Commission voted 6-2 to recommend approval of the project on June 6; it’s scheduled to go to the City Council on Monday, June 17. The proposed development, Enclave Edge, would stand on roughly 16 acres north of Life Time Fitness along 140th Street and Edgewood Avenue.
Supportive commission members said the project was ideal for the location because it’s within walking distance of businesses like Hy-Vee and the gym.
“It’s lifecycle housing, something Savage desperately needs,” Commissioner Johanna Picard said. “There’s not a lot of locations left to development where that can go.”
But its opponents and nearby residents brought up a common worry: dangerous traffic.
Robb Bucklin, vice president of the Connelly Park Townhouse Association, circulated petitions opposing the development and collected 472 signatures before Thursday’s meeting.
“We don’t understand how this can actually function,” he said.
The proposed development would include a mix of units ranging from studio designs to three bedrooms. Amenities would include a recreation room, coffee bar, fitness and yoga studio, bike storage and repair area and dog spa.
It’d also hold 200 underground garage stalls and a surface lot with another 257 stalls.
Austin Morris, co-owner of Enclave Development Inc., said the company has built and managed over 2,400 multi-family housing developments with “clubhouse-style living” across the Midwest. The company’s also looking to build in Shakopee, Maple Grove and St. Louis Park.
Morris said outer-ring suburbs aren’t seeing a diverse mix of rental housing options and the vacancy rate of market-rate apartments in Savage is below 2%.
“Some communities haven’t had a new apartment community built in 20 years,” he said.
Morris said the company hasn’t sold any of its properties and prides itself on full-time on-site management. He hopes to begin construction in August and open to residents the same time next year.
Mary Tjosvold is selling the land to Enclave Development Inc. contingent on the proposal’s approval.
Tjosvold said the land was purchased by her grandmother in the 1950s and passed down to her mother, aunt and uncle in the ‘60s. Glendale Elementary, the Villas by Mary T. and other townhome developments in the area were built after pieces of Tjosvold’s family land sold.
Tjosvold owns developments around the country that serve seniors and people with disabilities.
She planned to build accessible housing on the Enclave property back in the late ‘90s but never finished. The land has remained vacant since.
Tjosvold said she’s now ready to finish developing the land, but there isn’t an immediate need for senior housing. She said it’s important to her that the developer keeps and manages the properties it builds because that’s how she runs her own business.
“That’s the kind of people we want in this community,” she said.
The land has been meant for high-density residential use of up to 20 units per acre since 1998.
Last month, the Savage Parks Recreation and Natural Resources Commission voted unanimously to recommend collecting around $730,000 in park fees in lieu of dedicating land for a park.
The neighborhood responds
The proposal stirred longstanding concerns from surrounding residents about the uncontrolled four-lane intersection at Connelly Parkway and County Road 27.
Savage City Engineer Seng Thongvanh said city staff and officials have wanted a traffic light installed for years, but it’s a complex process that involves working with Scott County and the Minnesota Department of Transportation. Savage and Scott County are carrying out a joint traffic study expected to finish in July.
Following the Planning Commission meeting, city staff received a draft signal justification memorandum from Alliant Engineering that concluded a signal is warranted. Thongvanh said that means the process to install a signal might be picking up speed.
It could come late next year or in 2021 if all goes smoothly, Thongvanh said Wednesday. The city would pay for half of the project.
The intersection is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to concerns about traffic in the area. Bucklin and around a dozen other residents said using Edgewood Avenue and 140th Street, both residential roads, to access the apartment development will create congestion and safety issues.
Katie Salmela lives with her family on Louisiana Avenue, which connects 140th Street to County Road 42 and Connelly Parkway.
She said the opening of the Springs at Egan Drive complex increased high-speed, reckless driving and thefts in the area, and the proposed apartment building will bring the same to Edgewood.
“I bought my home because it was a quiet neighborhood where my children could safely play outside and walk to school,” Salmela said. “I did not buy my home to live in the middle of an apartment complex. There is enough high-density housing in this block.”
The developer completed another traffic study for the area at the city’s request that estimated the apartment complex will generate a little over 1,000 trips on either Edgewood Avenue or 140th Street daily. An estimated 71 cars will travel those roads during morning rush hour.
“The proposed development has appropriate access to the site and to the surrounding roadway network,” the study states.
Crash data gathered in the partially complete Alliant study shows there were 21 crashes at the Connelly Parkway and County Road 27 intersection between 2011 and 2017. For comparison, 64 crashes occurred at the nearby, signal-controlled intersection of county roads 42 and 27.
Commissioners Drew Christensen and Kelly Schwenn voted against recommending the project, saying they wanted to wait until the ongoing traffic study is complete next month. They added they liked the project itself but had concerns about its proposed location.
“It doesn’t seem that the city, in our past development around here, has set up this parcel very effectively for high-density development,” Christensen said.
Christensen said he agreed with residents that cars would likely back up on Edgewood Avenue waiting to enter County Road 27 from Connelly Parkway.
The rest of the commissioners said traffic problems will be solved in the future. Commissioner Stacy Crakes said the proposal is one they’ve been hoping for and one of their last opportunities to offer high-end rental housing to residents.
“It was always meant to be for a project like this,” she said.
Ray Leathers said the commission’s task is not about evaluating traffic but rather determining if the project fits the criteria for the planned mixed-use development.