Project underway to build islands in Pig’s Eye Lake in St. Paul

A view of the shore of a lake
A view of the shore of Pig’s Eye Lake in St. Paul, where the the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Ramsey County are leading a project to build six islands using material dredged from the Mississippi River.
Courtesy U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in St. Paul

Work will start soon to build six islands in Pig’s Eye Lake southeast of downtown St. Paul, using sand and sediment dredged from the Mississippi River navigation channel.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Ramsey County are working jointly on the project, and awarded a $14.7 million contract last year to LS Marine of Inver Grove Heights.

The goal is to restore backwater habitat for birds and fish, and slow winds that can stir up sediment and cause shoreline erosion, said Aaron McFarlane, a biologist with the Army Corps of Engineers in St. Paul.

"We designed these islands to break up the wind that blows the longest across the lake, and tried to create these little protected areas where you're going to find more wildlife,” he said. “You're going to create more different valuable habitat throughout these island complexes."

Pig’s Eye Lake is a 600-acre lake that’s only about three to four feet deep, McFarlane said. It has loose, suspended sediment that's easily stirred up by the wind, making it unstable for plants and other aquatic creatures, he said.

A view of the shore of a lake
A view of the shore of Pig’s Eye Lake in St. Paul.
Courtesy U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in St. Paul

In addition, “the waves hitting the shorelines where there is vegetation can rip up the plants along the shorelines and then they don't grow back,” McFarlane said.

Before you keep reading ...

MPR News is made by Members. Gifts from individuals fuel the programs that you and your neighbors rely on. Donate today to power news, analysis, and community conversations for all.

Aerial images show that more than 100 acres of vegetated shoreline have been lost since 1951, he said.

The Corps of Engineers has constructed similar islands in other stretches of the Mississippi, McFarlane said.

“We’ve got this great source of sand that we need to manage somehow anyway,” he said. The Corps of Engineers receives additional funding to use the material to create or enhance habitat, rather than disposing of it somewhere else, he said.

The contractor will use about 400,000 cubic yards of dredged material to build the islands, which will total about 40 acres.

Some area residents have opposed the project, which they say is adding pollutants to the lake.

St. Paul resident and former city council member Tom Dimond said there wasn’t enough opportunity for public input, and questioned the wisdom of placing the dredged material in the lake.

"It is using this site as a place to dump their waste that they can't get rid of,” Dimond said. “You call them islands, it sounds good. But what they are is waste piles that they're putting in the lake."

McFarlane said the dredged material is mostly sand, and has been tested to make sure it's safe.

Building the islands is expected to take at least a year or two, after which they will be covered with topsoil and vegetation. Boaters should use caution in the construction area.