Many Strides Have Been Made Toward Dredging

Guest Column by Brett Behnke

Brett Behnke is the administrator of the Shell Rock River Watershed District.

The Shell Rock River Watershed District would like to provide an update regarding the progress of our mission toward improved water quality in our region, specifically regarding the Fountain Lake Restoration Project.

The most significant step in moving this project forward last year was the acquisition of three parcels for the storage of the dredge spoils: the bottom of Fountain Lake. This land purchase was a critical first step in our process toward construction of what is called a confined disposal facility — you will hear us refer to this as a CDF.

I cannot emphasize enough what an undertaking this was and the significance of completing this step. The process began in December 2014 with the hiring of outside consultants Natural Resources Technology. NRT immediately issued a request for qualifications to gauge the interest of the nationwide pool of companies available to complete our project.

In April 2015, our engineers identified nine parcels as a potential location for the construction of the CDF. This process required a number of screening requirements including location (upstream from Fountain Lake), proximity to a water return mechanism such as a ditch or stream, proximity to other uses, soil types, topography and an interested landowner. After nearly six months of intense review and negotiation, all nine of these initial parcels were determined to be ineligible for our purposes. Our search continued and we inspected an additional five parcels for possible use for the CDF.

On Dec. 17, 2015, the district finalized a letter of intent to purchase 95 acres north of Interstate 90 and an option to purchase an additional 20 acres at a future date. Following negotiations with two additional landowners throughout 2016, the district now owns 112 acres of land with the option to purchase an additional 20 acres for the construction of the CDF.

On June 16, 2016, we submitted our dam safety permit to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, which as of the writing of this update we still have not received.

This is snapshot of the behind the scenes work that was required just for the construction of the future home of the bottom of Fountain Lake. A parallel process has been underway for the design of the dredging project itself — including the location and depth of each dredge cut in Fountain Lake.

There are no comparable dredging projects in recent Minnesota history. Not only are we undergoing an internal learning process, so are our agency partners. We recently met with our permitting partners, and they acknowledged that issuing permits for this project is not a run of the mill exercise. I ask the public to recognize that 2016 was a long and tedious year with many of these activities quietly occurring behind the scenes.

We were reassured to receive the public’s vote of confidence on Nov. 8, 2016, with over 72 percent of the public voting in favor of our efforts. We are committed to increased community communication in 2017 as we believe this is key to the success of this project. We are all in this together as a community and together this project will succeed.

Moving forward, permitting and funding are our primary guideposts to when this project will occur. We originally targeted to have construction begin on the CDF in the fall of 2016. We are now into 2017 and are still waiting for the necessary permit to be issued by the DNR.

Likewise, the timing of our local funding continues to be a guidepost for the timing of the actual dredging project. We previously secured state funding of $7.5 million. We will also continue to receive sales tax revenue until later this year when this revenue source will cease unless the state Legislature can pass a bill to extend our sales tax for another 15 years. While we face these unknowns, we have also been exploring other funding sources, including a bond scenario backed by income from a local property tax levy. We continue our discussions with Freeborn County to find a way to successfully implement this funding alternative.

Again, we continue to rely on our local partners to work together to implement this historic project for our community.

We are looking to our city, county, regional and state-elected officials and appointed position holders to assist us in moving past these two major barriers (permitting and funding) as we are otherwise posed and ready to begin the dredging aspect of the Fountain Lake Restoration Project.

We are confident in the support of our community, our leaders and our valued partners — we are now asking each of you to be vocal on behalf of that support. Your help is needed and appreciated.

© 2015 Shell Rock River Watershed District, 305 S 1st Avenue, Albert Lea, MN 56007