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Silver Lake project planning remains on track

Rochester council agrees to seek state assessment for proposed work on Silver Lake while RPU clarifies its funding intentions.

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The Silver Lake Dam Monday, Nov. 30, 2020, in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)
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Work on the proposed dredging, dam modification and other work at Silver Lake is moving forward even as park neighbors and supporters have questions about the project.

The Rochester City Council gave the go-ahead to prepare a required environmental assessment worksheet for the proposed $13.3 million project, starting a state review process that will also provide information for further design efforts.

However, council member Shaun Palmer said too many questions remain regarding the work beyond the dredging effort, and he asked that the assessment be limited to the $5.2 million sediment-removal project.

“Our need is flood control,” he said. “We have the responsibility to do flood control and do this dredging. We have the money to do this dredging. If we have a flood next year, I don’t want to have to look people in the face and say ‘Well, we delayed it because we had other projects to do.’”

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Matt Crawford, project development manager for Rochester Public Works, said the sediment in the lake is at an action stage, but it has not reached a critical level that would point to additional flooding concerns.
Wendy Turri, director of Rochester Public Works, said doing a single assessment for the larger project isn’t expected to delay dredging efforts, but could add costs if the larger project is eventually approved.

“If we decided to go further on we would have to do a second EAW,” she said.

Last month, the majority of the council supported moving toward with the added design, but a final decision hasn’t been made.

This week, the council voted 6-1 to seek the state review on the overall project. Palmer cast the sole objecting vote.

Council member Nick Campion said he doesn’t want to see the council get mired in revisiting debates about the project that includes modification for controlling water levels from Silver Lake to the Zumbro River, as well as a pedestrian trail and bridge at the northwest section of Silver Lake.

“There’s obviously some sort of initiative here to take us off the line we’ve generally agreed with on this project,” he said during Monday’s council meeting.

The assessment effort, which will spur state reviews, is also expected to help the city pursue funding options for the larger project.

So far, the dredging is expected to be funded with city flood-control money; other funding could include state infrastructure funds, as well as state dam safety or trail funds.

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Rochester Public Utilities has committed $1.24 million, if the work removes the need to fund further maintenance on the existing mechanical dam.

The city’s Public Utility Board clarified its stance this week, after Silver Lake neighbor Greg Munson raised a question regarding the November action that referred to “dam removal.”

Removal of the actual structure is estimated to cost $350,000 as part of the nearly $4.1 million modification project, which calls for creating natural controls to keep the lake at its current level while also opening access for water recreation downstream.

The Public Utility Board voted unanimously Tuesday to clarify that the RPU funding would support the larger effort, which will save the utility maintenance costs related to the existing dam.

The city’s Heritage Preservation Commission also discussed a question from a Silver Lake neighbor this week.

Following up on an inquiry about a potential historical review of the dam, Molly Patterson-Lundgren, the city’s heritage preservation and urban design coordinator, said the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office will conduct a formal review once the environmental assessment worksheet is submitted.

She added that she had made some inquiries about the potential results.

“What I’ve been told is that it’s been determined, or probably been preliminarily suggested, that it doesn’t merit National Register (of Historic Places) eligibility,” she said.

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The current plan calls for Silver Lake dredging to start in 2022, with final plans being developed next year so they can be presented to the city council for a decision on whether to proceed with the overall project or limit its scope to the dredging.

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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