Hovercraft assists in retrieving ‘thin ice’ signs on A.L. Lake

Published 7:27 am Sunday, April 14, 2013

Talk about being in the right place at the right time.

Douglas Kenison and two sons enjoy messing around with hovercrafts. One son is James Kenison, a Rochester police officer, and the other is Jesse Boren, an Albert Lea resident who works for SunOpta Grains & Foods Inc. in Hope.

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The brothers were hovering on the ice and water of Albert Lea Lake on Saturday when they encountered Marv Lenz, a volunteer who assists with placing and removing aerators on Albert Lea Lake. The devices maintain open water for sake of fish and water quality.

There were three aerators on Albert Lea Lake this winter. One is run by Freeborn County, another by the Shell Rock River Watershed District and the third by the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

They place “thin ice” signs near the open water the aerators create. Normally, in the spring when the ice melts, the signs float way, and officials must go hunt them down along the shores of the lake.

“Thin ice” signs rest on a hovercraft Saturday on Albert Lea Lake. -- Submitted

“Thin ice” signs rest on a hovercraft Saturday on Albert Lea Lake. — Submitted

Instead, at the request of Lenz, the brothers used their hovercrafts to track down about 50 to 60 signs, saving a lot of man hours.

Richard Hoffman, the environmental health coordinator for the Freeborn County Department of Environmental Services, said Lenz telephoned him Saturday and let him know the signs were recovered. Lenz, he said, lives along the shore near one of the aeration units.

Normally, county workers go out to find the signs along the shores in May. In addition, homeowners along the shores call the county to tell them they discovered washed-up signs. Hoffman said the signs have wooden-posts and said the county’s signs have Styrofoam on the backs to ensure they float.

Freeborn County sent certificates of appreciation to the two brothers for saving work hours for county employees.

The brothers and their father have a business in Rochester called Med City Hovercraft, which has a website at medcityhovercraft.com. He said the business takes people on rides in the hovercrafts and plans to have a four-seater demonstration in the Albert Lea area in coming months.

Kenison said the hovercrafts they were riding Saturday were designed for a single rider, so it took several trips to find and haul the signs. It became a fun challenge.

“The good thing with hovercrafts is we can get into places that most boats can’t get into,” he said.

He said he was glad to do the community a service this year and is open to doing it on a contract-basis.

Freeborn County’s aerator, Hoffman said, is an air-defusing system, and has been on the lake in winters since 2001. The watershed district’s is a bubbler and has been in use since 2008. MnDOT, he said, placed a third aerator at the start of this past winter. He said it is a wind-driven impeller that exchanges air with the water. Motorists might notice it near the Interstate 35 bridges over the lake.

The Albert Lea Parks and Recreation Department operates a bubbler on Fountain 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.

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