City to spend $4.43 million to elevate, repair barge dock wall; Mayor ‘doesn’t understand rationale’ for Park District’s intention to close the marina in 2024

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Between the city's barge dock and Art Keller Marina, the Mississippi River has long been key to commercial and recreational interests in Quincy.

QUINCY — The Quincy City Council voted Monday night to accept the low bid of $4.43 million from County Contractors of Quincy to elevate and repair the city’s barge dock wall and grade the land adjacent to the dock.

The barge dock, located on the Mississippi River at Mile 326 in Lock & Dam Pool 21, is the northernmost pool open all winter. It has the capacity to load or unload two barges at one time. Businesses and industries using the facility contract with a private loader provided by the city. However, the river has reached a level at or exceeding flood stage requiring the closure of the barge dock in five of the past 10 years. Closing the barge dock causes industrial customers to seek alternate transportation. 

Improvements to the barge dock will allow the dock terminal to remain open and operational until the river level reaches approximately 23 feet, at which time river traffic will be halted by the Corps of Engineers.

“We have not made any significant improvement to the city dock in a couple of decades,” Quincy Mayor Mike Troup said. “The seawall is damaged, and it’s actually worse now than it was when we went out for bids several months ago, so we do need to improve that.

“The Corps doesn’t always shut the river down at the high-water level. We’ve had to shut our dock down before the Corps shuts the river down. Raising the seawall and that dock platform will allow us to operate the city dock for loading and unloading, as long as the Corps allows the river to be open.”

Jeffrey Conte, director of engineering and utilities, previously said a budget for this project was completed two years ago and estimated to cost $1.3 million. However, when city officials discovered severe deterioration to the dock’s sheet piling, the estimate from the engineering department was at $2.7 million when bids went out earlier this year. Five companies turned in bids, with the highest coming in at $5.8 million.

The city received $743,200 for improvements to the barge dock as part of $16.5 million in Rebuild Illinois capital grants announced Sept. 21, 2021 by Gov. JB Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. Aldermen on Monday also authorized a $2.34 million loan from the general fund for 20 years with a 2 percent interest rate to the barge dock fund.

“(The river) is the least expensive mode of transportation for our industrial customers,” Troup said. “When we do have flooding, they can’t use (the barge dock) and it adds significant cost. This will give us and our local industries a better transportation solution for the foreseeable future.”

In another river-related matter, Troup said he had concerns about the Quincy Park Board’s perceived lack of a long-term vision for Art Keller Marina.

The Park Board pledged last week to continue operations at the financially troubled Art Keller Marina only through 2023. No plan for 2024 and beyond has been determined except to close the facility.

“The board basically just felt like, due to the financials and the problems and the struggles, they no longer want to commit to keeping it open,” Park Board president John Frankenhoff said after a planning session on Aug. 1.

The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee gave tentative approval in August 2021 to allocate $33 million to fully fund projects in the Upper Mississippi River Restoration program, including the restoration of Quincy Bay. A date for the restoration has not yet been selected.

The bay restoration, the recent creation of the Riverfront Development Committee and the money being spent on the barge dock elevation and repair led Troup to say Monday he “doesn’t understand the rationale” for the Park Board’s pledge to keep the marina open only through 2023.

“I know the number of boaters using the marina is low. It’s a revenue versus expense thing they’re looking at,” he said. “But I think long term, if they have to shut it down or mothball it for a time period … we’ve got the Corps coming to dredge the bay. When that happens … I think local boaters will want to try to get out again like they did in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s for the recreational aspect.

“Our river needs some work, but I look at that marina as an asset, especially as we start developing the riverfront. But we need to get the money in so we can start doing some of these projects.”

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