City, county ask state for pay for dams

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 15, 2002

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Friday, February 15, 2002

A $3.4 million bonding request for lake management for Fountain Lake and Albert Lea Lake – including long-sought new dams on both lakes -&160;will be discussed in the state legislature this session.

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The bill, introduced to both the House and Senate, consists of an appropriation of $3 million to the City of Albert Lea and $400,000 to Freeborn County.

The city portion involves a $1 million construction project for a new dam on Fountain Lake.

According to City Environmental Engineer Steven Jahnke, the current dam was built in 1924. Though some minor modifications were added to the abutments in 1966, the 75-foot-span structure remains basically unchanged.

Jahnke pointed out the concrete of the dam is wearing and the foundations erode during heavy rains.

The Albert Lea Lake dam at the south end of the lake where the water pours into Shell Rock River was built in 1922. The 57-foot obsolete spillway holds the lake about two feet higher than the river surface.

Last November, the county formalized an easement to the dam, which was originally located under County Road 19 but later surrounded by private land.

Both structures are simple concrete walls that do not have any mechanism to control the amount of water flow.

County Environmental Services Director Randy Tuchtenhagen said he is concerned that the current dam cannot function to prevent a flood in the Shell Rock River basin as well as frequent lake water rises during the thawing season. In addition, the small elevation, allowing predatory fish to go into the lake from the river, affects the ecosystem, he said.

&uot;The new dam might have gates on a taller wall that can be closed and some device to prevent fish from jumping over,&uot; said Tuchtenhagen.

The water level control is a long-standing problem for Fountain Lake, too. Jahnke thinks the two dam projects should be conducted concurrently to maximize the effects.

Besides the dam construction, the city is asking for $1 million for shoreline stabilization, $500,000 for sediment infiltration control strips, and $500,000 for storm water sump pumps in catch basins for both lakes.

In the House, the bill will be discussed in the Environment Committee first, then the Capital Investment Committee, according to Rep. Dan Dorman, R-Albert Lea, who crafted the bill.

The bill has a long way to go before being realized. Even after the legislative scrutiny, Gov. Jesse Ventura has the right to veto the funding. Ventura has been repeating that projects funded by the state bonds need to have &uot;statewide significance.&uot;

In the last session, a half-million dollar request by the Albert Lea Port Authority for the business incubator was trimmed down to $100,000 in the legislature, then vetoed by the governor.

The dam replacements are also a potential part of the Destination: Albert Lea half-cent sales tax, which needs legislative approval before it can go before local voters.