Recreation vs. environment: Lake plan tries to further both interests

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 6, 2002

Many people have shown their interest in having better lakes, but not all agree on what to do and how.

The county’s Albert Lea Lake Management plan adopted by the board last month is the product of efforts to accommodate the different opinions that often clash against each other. But critics are still concerned that it focuses more on recreational development and less on ecological aspects.

&uot;The only way to get this plan to succeed was to fit everybody’s goal, not just environmentalists’, not just developers’,&uot; said County Watershed Field Technician Andy Henschel. &uot;We had to find a happy medium for all of us to get along with. And we feel we have accomplished that.&uot;

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The most difficult part was to let the recreational use of the lake and environmental conservation stand side by side. Both issues were voted as primary emphases for the lake in a 1995 citizen survey.

A seven-member committee appointed by the board to craft the plan went through the fiercest argument when deciding on dredging the west basin.

Proponents emphasized that dredging would contribute to reducing pollutants and preventing waves from stirring up the bottom sediments, thus improving water quality. Opponents questioned such effects and suspected the proposal aimed to promote recreational use of the lake, especially for powered boats.

&uot;Everything we have heard from the DNR and MCPA, and most resource managers showed reservations about dredging,&uot; said committee member Mike Kelly, who represents Save Our Lakes.

Kelly is concerned that if dredging turned out to be ineffective, it could cause irreparable damage on the lake environment. He pointed out the dredging should be supplemental after other measures such as a limited draw down, which would have positive effects.

&uot;In reality, the focus (of the plan) is on recreation and economic development,&uot; Kelly said. &uot;What we should be doing is tailoring the development of the lake to a restored ecosystem, not tailoring the ecosystem to recreational wants and tastes.&uot;

Committee member Harley Miller, who represents petitioners for establishing a Shell Rock Watershed District, said, &uot;The plan needs to work for most people in the community, not the narrow view.&uot;

He questions Kelly’s view of the natural state of Albert Lea Lake, which has been contaminated over decades, saying dredging is part of the answer. &uot;You have to remove sediments polluted by sewage and the meat-packing plant.&uot;

The plan is the first one ever crafted to address the lake management issue comprehensively. Various community organizations met and talked about Albert Lea Lake in the past decade, only to find discord.

In 1999, a group of people who were frustrated by the stagnant discussion initiated a petition to establish Shell Rock River Watershed District, detaching the lake management issue from the county. The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) administered the process, and mandated the county to come up with a plan to counter the petition. If BWSR does not deem the county’s plan acceptable, it can appoint a watershed board to handle the cleanup.

Now, the county needs to move forward to budgeting the plan.

A $400,000 bonding request to the state for building a new dam did not pass in the last session, and neither did a half-percent local sales tax that would pay for lake improvement projects. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers may provide grants up to $7.2 million, but the county would have to match 35 percent of it.


The plan

1. Establish a comprehensive lake monitoring plan.

2. Replace water control structure (dam) with a structure that controls the water level in a manner that accommodates the ecological and recreational potential of the resource.

3. Maintain and enhance existing game-fish populations and improve water quality.

4. Enhance water quality through the restoration of aquatic plants, wildlife habitat, and fisheries.

5. Improve water quality and increase fish and wildlife habitat by establishing submergent, emergent and shoreline vegetation, flood control, and reduce shoreline erosion.

6. Dredge the west basin and perform limited dredging of the central basin, and remove the delta at Peter Lund Creek.

7. Stabilize the shoreline.

8. Establish a recreation plan. Encourage land uses that are in harmony with the Albert Lea Lake restoration plan.