Dredging funding OK’d

Published 10:08 am Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Local officials called Tuesday a historic day in Albert Lea as Gov. Mark Dayton signed a $1.1 billion construction bill into law authorizing $7.5 million in funding to dredge Fountain Lake.

“Our community worked so hard for so many years to get to this point, it is overwhelming to actually see this outcome,” said Brett Behnke, administrator for the Shell Rock River Watershed District.

Behnke thanked the area’s legislators, District 27A Rep. Shannon Savick, DFL-Wells, and District 27 Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, for their work in getting the bill passed.

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“Rep. Savick was tenacious in securing the commitment of House leadership to this project and Sen. Sparks worked hard to bring the Senate along,” Behnke said. “We would not be celebrating this historic day without them. It was an amazing partnership between the community and St. Paul.”

With funding secured, he said district officials will next work to obtain the necessary permits for the project. Behnke still has hopes of starting the dredging in 2015.

Watershed and city officials have said previously the dredging project is necessary because Fountain Lake has become filled with sediment — as much as 5 to 8 feet in some areas. The accumulation has resulted in water quality impairment and large algae blooms.

The entire project is estimated at $15 million, with the other half of the cost coming from the local-option sales tax. The state funds would go toward engineering, design, permitting and land acquisition for the sediment removal and cleanup of the lake.

Behnke said officials are already negotiating with landowners for a site that the sediment can be taken once it is removed from the lake.

The district in 2012 purchased a 2010 IMS 7012 HP 51-foot Versi hydraulic dredge for $340,000, along with the pipes, pumping and other equipment necessary to pump the dredge material away from the lake for $435,000. It has also purchased land in the former Albert Lea Country Club that will be used as a staging area for the project and has contracted out for preliminary engineering.

Local leaders have lobbied the dredging project would increase economic development for Albert Lea and the state through increased tourism, spending and strengthening the economy of southern Minnesota.

“It can’t do anything but continue to improve the quality of life in this great community and give us one more tool to attract new businesses,” said Randy Kehr, executive director of the Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce.

The funding was part of a more than $1.1 billion package of construction projects that are projected to create an estimated 33,000 new jobs.


Sales tax extension

Also on Monday, Dayton signed a tax bill, which include the extension of Albert Lea’s local-option sales tax. The tax helps fund the district’s projects to clean up the city’s lakes.

The sales tax was initially approved by more than 80 percent of voters in 2005, and through the extension will bring in an additional $3 million.

At the end of the extension, the revenue will have brought in $15 million.

The Shell Rock River Watershed District was established in 2003 and covers 246 square miles in Freeborn County.