Lake dredging gets hearing in St. Paul

Published 10:04 am Thursday, March 1, 2012

The House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday heard a presentation on why $7.5 million ought to be included in the state bonding bill for the dredging of Fountain Lake.

Two Albert Lea officials made a presentation to the committee Wednesday morning. Weather prevented all but one other supporter of the project from attending.

The committee either next week or the following week will produce a score for the project. The scores go to the Capital Investment Committee, often termed the bonding bill committee. It will craft a bonding bill that ultimately will be combined with the Senate version and go before Gov. Mark Dayton for a signature.

Email newsletter signup

Speaking to the legislators were Brett Behnke, the administrator with the Shell Rock River Watershed District, and state Rep. Rich Murray, R-Albert Lea.

“The hearing went well; it was received well,” Behnke said. “They asked good questions and liked the answers. It appeared they really liked the project.”

Dredging Fountain Lake is a $15 million project. It aims to remove 1 million cubic yards of sediment. Half of the funding would come from the half-cent sales tax Albert Lea voters approved in November 2005. Project supporters hope the state bonding bill can pay for the other half.

Behnke and Murray competed Wednesday against presentations from 13 other projects from across the state. Some examples are ATV trail funding in Lake County, flood mitigation in Moorhead, Como Park Zoo funding in St. Paul, Minnesota Zoo funding in Apple Valley, wetland restoration statewide, land acquisition for land near various state parks and addressing inflow and infiltration sewer problems in the metro area.

Behnke said he said he felt confident that the dredging project stood out. He said committee members asked questions about the watershed above Fountain Lake.

He told them all public ditches now are 100 filtered and the private ones are at 80 percent. Stream and lakeshore erosion problems have been addressed.

Behnke showed how the state was invested in Fountain Lake already. He noted how, before voters could approve it, the local sales tax referendum was allowed on the ballot by the Legislature. The Legislature appropriated $6 million — in two bills, the first portion in 2006 and remainder in 2008 — to clean up a former dump at the north end of Edgewater Park that was seeping chemicals into the water. And the House Capital Investment Committee toured Fountain Lake during a visit to Albert Lea last October.

Murray said the committee members were able to see the project had strong community support and that the lake has a major impact on Albert Lea’s quality of life. The work leading up to the dredging has been years in the making.

“We stressed we are not jumping right into the middle of the project,” he said.

One of the committee members, Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-St. Paul, grew up in Freeborn, Murray noted.

Between 1940 and 1942, the city of Albert Lea dredged about 1.8 million cubic yards of sediment from the main bay of the lake to improve recreation, and beginning in 1962, Dane’s Bay and Edgewater Bay were dredged.

Behnke said he wasn’t asked about why the watershed district is not pursuing funds from the clean water portion of the Legacy Amendment funding. He said he likely will face that question when he goes before the Capital Investment Committee.

“The answer is this is a large project, not just a clean water project,” he said. “It’s for recreation, too. It has more purposes. This is our civic center.”

Behnke hopes that when the project goes before the Capital Investment Committee, people can come to the hearing at the Capitol to show there is a strong local support for dredging the lake.

About Tim Engstrom

Tim Engstrom is the editor of the Albert Lea Tribune. He resides in Albert Lea with his wife, two sons and dog.

email author More by Tim