Lake activists want county to increase 2003 budget for improvements

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 12, 2002

The Lake Restoration Committee, a branch of the Albert Lea/Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce, has asked the county to plan for $350,000 for lake improvement projects in next year’s budget, an increase of $75,000 from the county’s original plan.

&uot;The one attraction Albert Lea and Freeborn County have that none of our neighboring communities can offer is real lakes and the benefits that come with quality lakes,&uot; said LRC Chairman Don Sorenson.

The proposal, following a request to the city to budget $150,000 for Fountain Lake, asks the county to carry over excess funds in this year’s lake budget to next year.

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The Environmental Services Department will not spend all of its 2002 budget. At this moment, the department still has around $80,000.

Commissioners have already discussed in a workshop whether to designate the leftover cash to lake management or put it back into the general fund. Customarily, if a department does not use up its budgeted funds, the money returns to the general fund. Though they did not make a decision, commissioners were in agreement that exceptions should not be made.

&uot;I believe that the recent elections provided a clear indication that the majority of the county citizens are ready to see aggressive action by both the county and city,&uot; Sorenson said.

Sorenson brought up the option of forming a state-appointed watershed district, warning the county to be open to the public input. &uot;Should efforts stall, the Lake Restoration Committee will not hesitate to refile for a watershed board,&uot; he said.

A group of Freeborn County residents asked the state Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) to intervene in 2000. The agency can appoint a board to govern improvements to a watershed. The board would not answer to any other local governments. BWSR told the county that it must make progress on watershed improvements or it will appoint a board.

The LRC also wants to establish a city-county citizens lake advisory committee, modeled after the Albert Lea Lake Management Committee, to deal with a long-term plan for Fountain Lake. The organization would work under the city council and county board and make recommendations.

County Board Chairman Dave Mullenbach said the budget issue would be back on the board’s agenda by the end of year.

Mullenbach said he understands the need to increase budget for lake management. To implement the plan the Albert Lea Lake Management Committee crafted, the county is applying for a $7 million federal grant. But, the grant requires a 35 percent local match.

&uot;We need to come up with how to fund it. We cannot turn down the grant opportunity. This is a kind of an opportunity of a lifetime,&uot; Mullenbach said.