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State boundary lost in Mississippi River (07/10/2013)
By Sarah Squires

Photo by Monica Veraguth
In 1848, surveyors scouted along the Mississippi River, plotting out the boundary that separates Southeastern Minnesota and Western Wisconsin. They didn't have global positioning devices or computers as they charted the map lines that would define this part of the country into the future.

After 165 years, the river has changed. Latsch Island, now in Minnesota, was traded for another island with Wisconsin, locks and dams were built, channels dredged. Today, officials are admittedly unsure of where those 1848 state lines really are as they curve along the river.

"One hundred and sixty-five years later, with locks and dams and significant change, the 1848 line is not clear and in some cases, is ambiguous," Winona County Recorder Bob Bambenek told the County Board Tuesday.

Not knowing where the boundary really lies along portions of the river in the Winona region does not often present a problem, but Bambenek said it can present challenges during emergency situations, as well as when a person drowns. Bambenek recalled an incident, in which a Hmong family drowned near Lock and Dam 7 in 2007, in which it took weeks for officials to agree in which state the death occurred so that death certificates could be issued. He said that officials and sheriffs in boundary territory have been able to agree to a solution in the past, but "the issue of exactly where that line lies remains."

Three locations have caused the most confusion, explained Bambenek, including where the boundary is located at Lock and Dam 7. Some evidence suggests the line runs right through the lock, he said, but others believe that assertion is too convenient for a lock and dam area that was constructed more than 90 years after the lines were drawn. Bambenek said he believes the boundary more likely rests somewhere along the dam.

Without a certain boundary between the two states in that area, Bambenek said problems can surface during bridge projects, as well. For the Dresbach Bridge over the Mississippi River, Bambenek said the two states basically "split the difference" in ownership and cost.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation has set aside funds for researchers to head to Des Moines, Iowa, where original survey records are maintained, in an effort to find the original boundaries drawn in 1848.  


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