Council defers to watershed committee

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 27, 2001

Several clean water advocates, concerned about the state of Freeborn County’s lakes and the slow progress of bureaucracy, asked the Albert Lea city council Monday for support in water testing initiatives.

Tuesday, March 27, 2001

Several clean water advocates, concerned about the state of Freeborn County’s lakes and the slow progress of bureaucracy, asked the Albert Lea city council Monday for support in water testing initiatives.

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Don Sorensen, representing the Lake Restoration Committee, asked the council to support his group’s proposal to begin water testing as soon as possible, and asked that the city foot 35 percent of the cost.

&uot;We can’t move forward in the projects of cleaning up our lakes and watershed until we really understand the problems we have,&uot; Sorensen said. &uot;We’ve got ideas. We think we know, but we really don’t know.&uot;

Until now, testing has been sporadic and disjointed, Sorensen said.

&uot;It’s time to stop sitting around and talking and planning,&uot; he said. &uot;It’s time to do some actual work.&uot;

Council members spoke in favor of watershed cleanup efforts, but said such a request would be more appropriately posed by the Shell Rock River advisory board.

If testing is not done under the auspices of the advisory board, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) or Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) could discount their findings, said City Manager Paul Sparks.

&uot;Giving it some air of authority is the key, to make sure it is approved data,&uot; Sparks said. &uot;Just to have a bunch of numbers might not do us any good.&uot;

&uot;If the testing is not valid in the eyes of the MPCA, then we’ve done it all for naught, and we’ve wasted a lot of money and we’ve wasted a lot of time.&uot; Councilor Ron Sorenson said.

Sorensen argued that, no matter what the advisory board decides, testing is going to be the first step. Waiting for the board to decide on a plan could mean adding years to cleanup efforts.

&uot;If we leave it to the bureaucracy, it’s going to go to next year, then the year after, then maybe the year after,&uot; Sorensen said. &uot;And maybe you’ll get something started, but it keeps getting pushed back.&uot;

&uot;The watershed advisory committee to the county board is making progress, but it is painfully slow,&uot; said member Anthony Trow. &uot;We’re now meeting three hours every week, and that may even increase.&uot;

Without data, clean water advocates are just guessing at the problems of our county’s lakes, Sorensen said.

&uot;Everyone just kind of assumes that Albert Lea Lake is the worst one in the area,&uot; he said. &uot;The things that I’ve been hearing lately, the bacteria in Fountain Lake may actually be worse than Albert Lea Lake right now.&uot;

Doug Edwards said the Albert Lea water ski team has noticed deterioration in Fountain Lake water quality in recent summers.

&uot;The lakes not only have an appearance and an odor problem often times throughout the year, but also many members of the ski team including myself have experienced sinus infections and a variety of other things that I didn’t experience years ago.&uot;

&uot;It’s gotten to be enough of a problem that some of the members have elected not to ski as a direct result of the problems they’re experiencing. And the rest of us are taking the rather embarrassing measures of taping our nose shut.&uot;

Tom Tubbs, chairman of the Lake Chapeau Habitat Committee, Inc., said his group supports Sorensen’s initiative.

&uot;We want to see a complete program done in order to make the citizens of Freeborn County and anyone connected with the Shellrock River Watershed very proud of the water resources that we have,&uot; Tubbs said. &uot;Because once we lose it, we won’t get it back.&uot;

But the decision to test water quality is under the jurisdiction of the advisory committee, Sparks said.

&uot;The watershed itself is so much greater than the city of Albert Lea,&uot; Sparks said. &uot;You’ve got to have an entity with a broader jurisdiction involved, and that’s where the watershed advisory committee came in.&uot;

Historically, the problem in Freeborn County water cleanup has been groups’ inability to coordinate their efforts, Sorenson said.

&uot;I think at this point the watershed group should be the catalyst for this, and we can certainly work with them in the future,&uot; he said.

The council moved to accept the Lake Restoration committee’s comments and place them on file.

* The council will call a public hearing discussing the possible closing of the intersection between Second Avenue and West Main Street at its April 9 meeting. Because of construction on Main street, the intersection will not be functional or safe, Sparks said.

&uot;It’s going to cause a problem for getting onto the street, and in bad weather its going to be impossible,&uot; he said.

* The council approved a bid from Crane Creek Construction of Owatonna to overlay 40 blocks of asphalt in the northeast part of the city. The firm’s bid of $264,350.78 came in considerably less than was proposed at a recent public hearing, so assessments on affected properties will be lower, Sparks said.