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Boat launch to be repaired this fall; one lane to be open this summer

For the second summer, boaters who use Hastings' free public boat launch may have to wait just a little bit longer to get their boats in and out of the water this year, but if things go as planned, the boat launch will be restored to its full capacity this fall.

Early in the boating season last year, the city received reports that the westernmost, upstream launch lane had a hole in it, explained Barry Bernstein, director of Hastings' Parks and Recreation Department. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and city maintenance staff - which manage the launch jointly - investigated the launch and found that the last third of the ramp had broken away under the surface. They suspect that an eddy had eroded the ramp away.

Since it was just about peak boating season, the city and DNR filled the hole with rocks to minimize any further damage to the eastern lane, which was still usable, and closed the west lane.

Originally designed so that two boats could either launch or come out of the river at the same time, it can only handle one boat at a time for now. It will remain a single-lane launch through this year's peak season, which is between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

"At the end of the summer, we'll have a better long-term fix," Bernstein said.

Such a fix would mean closing the entire boat launch down for a time - about three weeks to one month.

"We plan to put up a cofferdam around the boat launch and repair it," Bernstein said.

The process would be much like what Mn/DOT is doing to construct the mid-river bridge piers. Water will be removed from the area to allow crews to work and the new cement to set.

What all will be included in the repairs has not yet been determined. The DNR is working on designing the new launch, and Bernstein said he expects those designs to be presented to the city early this summer. He added that the city is hoping that the project will include a redesign of the parking area as well, but as with all projects, cost may be prohibitive. There are other questions on the table too, such as whether or not to create an inlet to reduce the current, or constructing a breakwater to prevent eddies in the future.

"Those are things we have yet to discuss," Bernstein said.

While the boat launch is a joint venture between the city and the DNR, so far, the DNR is planning to fund the boat launch restoration. Funding improvements to the parking lot and surrounding area would still need to be determined.

For the 2011 season, Bernstein encourages boaters to utilize the turn-around access to launch their boats. Cement barriers have been placed on the upstream lane to prevent people from using it.

"We don't want people to damage their trailers, trucks or boats," Bernstein said.

The Hastings boat launch is one of the few free boat launches that provides access to both the Mississippi and St. Croix rivers, and attracts people from all over the metro area.

"It is a highly used boat launch, where on a weekend, the parking lot on both the east and west side of the boat launch will be full, with overflow parking at Lake Rebecca," Bernstein said.