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Rochester council candidates join community in divided views of future for Silver Lake Dam

The proposal for an alternate dam structure to maintain the bulk of Silver Lake spurs differing opinions among candidates for three Rochester City Council seats and mayor.

Silver Lake Dam
The Silver Lake dam on Wednesday, April 6, 2022, in Rochester.
Post Bulletin file photo
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ROCHESTER — The Rochester City Council is expected to decide in November whether it will continue to seek state funding for proposed changes to Silver Lake Dam , but it would be the future council that determines whether the project moves forward.

As a result, the Nov. 8 election could have an impact on what happens, with at least one new council member to be named and two others, along with the mayor, facing challenges.

The proposed changes to the Silver Lake Dam and nearby area would make way for new trail access under the nearby Broadway Avenue bridge, as well as a north shore trail expansion and a new pedestrian bridge.

They would also replace the lake immediately east of the dam with a new structure, which would create cascading pools to maintain the flow of water and provide flood protection.

Rochester's Heritage Preservation Commission is slated to return to discussions on the potential for designating the northeast Rochester park as a historic landmark.

During public discussions, opinions have been split between support for the new pedestrian and bike access and concerns about decrease of lake size and loss of shoreline.

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The divide extends to those running for city elected seats.

While Ward 1 council members agree that any change would depend on whether the state supports helping fund the proposed $23.4 million project, they split on their levels of support.

Incumbent council member Patrick Keane has supported the project, pointing out that it’s important to make sure it won’t cause the lake to disappear.

His opponent, Andy Hemenway, points to questions that remain to be answered and said he likes the dam as it is, but also likes aspects of the proposed changes.

“Therefore, I need more public input,” he said, citing concern about potential outcomes amid proposed changes.

In other races, candidates have drawn clear lines on the issue.

Ward 3 candidate Norman Wahl said too many questions remain to move forward at this point, citing potential historical value of the dam and questioning whether new recreational use is likely due to the number of geese in the park.

“It would be prudent for the city to pump the brakes on this project and ensure that residents support removal of the dam and that desired outcomes are possible,” he said.

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Fellow Ward 3 candidate Vangie Castro said she supports moving forward with plans for changes, citing improved pedestrian and bike safety with new routes under Broadway Avenue and across the lake.

“The need to invest in both stronger and safer infrastructure and providing more outdoor recreational activities for residents is a win-win for everyone,” she said.

In Ward 5, which includes Silver Lake Park, incumbent Shaun Palmer has opposed proposed changes from the start and said he will continue to do so.

“Modify the dam, and the plan loses 1,500 feet of lakeshore and adds a swamp on the southwest corner,” he said, adding that pedestrian access under Broadway Avenue could be obtained when the roadway is reconstructed in two years.

Silver Lake Dam
The Silver Lake dam on April 6, 2022, in Rochester.
Post Bulletin file photo

His challenger, Saida Omar said she supports the plan to modify the dam.

"The modification of the Silver Lake Dam will bring an increase of recreational use, connecting the trail system of the area, and pedestrian safety,” she said. “The proposed modification will be beneficial for the long term of the city of Rochester and the area.”

While the mayor won’t have a direct vote on whether the city opts to continue moving forward on the project, the incumbent and her challenger have voiced differing opinions on the proposed changes.

“I support the proposal to replace the mechanical dam with the riffle dam as long as the Lake can be preserved as we’ve been told,” said Mayor Kim Norton. “I hope we can look forward to seeing our beautiful Silver Lake area upgraded.”

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Her challenger, Britt Noser, said he’s opposed to the plan, as well as many aspects of the proposed Silver Lake Park master plan, which he’s referred to as a “master plan of destruction.”

Speaking during the September meeting of the Rochester Heritage Preservation Commission, he said he sees no need to alter uses or design of the park.

“This is my hometown, and I just feel like it’s being taken away for reasons that are not good, that are just to have some new shiny thing,” he said.

Randy Petersen joined the Post Bulletin in 2014 and became the local government reporter in 2017. An Elkton native, he's worked for a variety of Midwest papers as reporter, photographer and editor since graduating from Winona State University in 1996. Readers can reach Randy at 507-285-7709 or rpetersen@postbulletin.com.
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