$6.3 million for Lake Shady plans
ORONOCO – Locals now have a $6.3 million plan to pump new life into the muddy field that used to be this city’s recreational lake — but they have no idea how to pay for it.
City, county and state officials met Monday night to review a concept design for the former Lake Shady and ruminate over ways to shake millions loose from a financially hemorrhaging Minnesota state budget.
"I don’t know that we can afford to wait, and we don’t want to find out. … Sediment deposition and channel repairs will only get worse and more expensive," said Joe Palen, an engineer from the Rochester-based firm Bonestroo, which led design of the multiyear plan.
Lake Shady emptied into Oronoco last September when the dam at the convergence of the Middle and South forks of the Zumbro River burst under pressure from heavy rainfall.
That flooding permanently changed the Zumbro’s course through Olmsted County, and the now-unchecked river continues to fill riverbeds and lakes downstream with tons of environmentally damaging sand and silt.
"Stabilizing those channels and stopping that sediment is the utmost concern because it’s continuing to cut as we speak, and that sediment is continuing to flow straight downstream," said Kevin McDermott, Oronoco’s mayor.
The plan unveiled Monday night represented a culmination of efforts within the Oronoco City Council and Olmsted County board to demolish the dam and stabilize both forks of the river, then transform the muddy lake bed into wetlands and park space.
Plans for the first phase include demolition of the dam and installation of a quarter-mile rapids run, plus construction of bike paths, walking trails, canoe launches and historical markers in and around the former lake bed.
That first phase of restoration would cost an estimated $5 million and likely wouldn’t start until 2012 at the earliest.
Future plans also include a $1.3 million restoration of wetlands and development of two wildlife preserves west of U.S. 52 along the Zumbro’s South Fork.
State Sen. David Senjem, R-Rochester, sits on the Legislature’s Bonding Committee, which might release some funding from its roughly $800 million pool of contingency money, he said. But persuading the Legislature to part with any money during such a tight budget year could prove difficult, Senjem said.
"Every unit of government is broke," Senjem said. "There’s so much competition for that money that it makes this difficult."
Engineering costs so far have come from an $85,000 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which gave the Olmsted County board money to help pay for minor repairs to the dam.
A $1 million emergency grant from the state to demolish the dam has yet to be spent and likely won’t be until construction begins, McDermott said.
Details of the plan, including engineering specifics and architectural blueprints, have yet to be hammered out.
In addition, officials must determine for certain who owns the mud hole that used to be Lake Shady.
Olmsted County owns the dam. The city of Oronoco owned the lake. But local officials said they are concerned that landowners along the former shoreline might be able to assert property rights down to the current water line.
County officers have submitted deed and records histories from properties surrounding Lake Shady to the Minnesota attorney general’s office with the hope that lawyers can shed some light on the question.
State Rep. Duane Quam, R-Byron, said the issue of property rights could muddy plans to move forward with restoration. "These kinds of things can take years," Quam said.
But legal precedent must have been established in other areas of the state, he said.
"Surely this isn’t the first time a lake emptied out overnight," Quam said.
Whatever happens, engineers and city officials agreed that something needs to be done with the Zumbro River and lake bed to reduce the risk of flooding to surrounding residents and alleviate environmental stressors on Lake Zumbro.
"Nobody planned for this. Nobody wanted this to happen," Palen said. "We’re here to try to make the best of it."