Watershed administrator ‘optimistic’ dredging can resume in 2024 after inclusion in bonding bill

Published 3:10 pm Tuesday, May 23, 2023

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The administrator of the Shell Rock River Watershed District on Tuesday said he is optimistic the dredging on Albert Lea’s Fountain Lake can resume next year with the inclusion of $9 million toward the project in the state’s capital investment bill.

Shell Rock River Watershed District Administrator Andy Henschel said though the timeline for the dredging will include some variables, the district is hopeful to sign with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources sometime in July.

Once that is complete, the district can move forward with final engineering, the permitting process and negotiating dredging plans.

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“Special thanks go to Rep. Peggy Bennett for her tireless efforts in securing the project in the bonding bill and to Sen. Dornink for voting for the final bonding bill,” Henschel said.

The final phase of dredging includes the east basin of the main bay, Bancroft Creek and parks of Bancroft Bay.

Active dredging on Fountain Lake began in 2018. The first two phases were funded by an initial $7.5 million in bonding appropriation and $9.5 million in local option sales tax funds.

Costs are higher than initially anticipated for this portion because the dredge had to be removed from the lake because the funding was not available.

Henschel said the district was also successful in the Omnibus Legacy Bill, which included funding from the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Fund. This bill contains almost $2.2 million for Phase 12 of the Shell Rock River Watershed Habitat Restoration Program.

In addition to the dredging project, the infrastructure package included $2 million for the first phase of the city of Albert Lea’s wastewater treatment plant.

Albert Lea City Manager Ian Rigg said at the end of the Monday City Council meeting that he was happy the city was awarded the funds that will go toward the grant building at the plant.

City staff are still waiting to hear back on the process and about where the city’s federal appropriation request is for other parts of the wastewater treatment plant.

Senate Republicans had blocked a public infrastructure borrowing package known as a bonding bill all session as they pressed for deeper tax cuts from the surplus. But they settled over the weekend for a $300 million cash infusion to help nursing homes that are struggling with staff shortages and cost pressures stay open.

In return, the GOP delivered enough votes Monday to reach the 60% supermajority required in each chamber to pass the $2.6 billion package, which includes $1.5 billion in borrowing plus $1.1 billion in cash.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.