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County Board approves funds for Zumbro River restoration

The Zumbro River restoration project received additional funding approval Tuesday from the Olmsted County Board of Commissioners for consultant services on property acquisitions and wetland permitting in order to keep construction on schedule.

The Zumbro River restoration project in Oronoco received additional funding approval Tuesday from the Olmsted County Board of Commissioners to keep the project on schedule.

Tuesday's contract amendment approved an additional $39,720 for consulting services on property acquisitions and wetland permitting.

The original contract to Stantec Consulting Services was $211,009, but the total contract is now $511,059. It was first amended to expand the project to include funding to restore the Lake Shady bed since it originally only included removing the Oronoco Dam and rock rapids.

The restoration work started after the Zumbro River flooded in December 2010 and left the Oronoco Dam inoperable because it didn't have enough capacity to handle high-water events.

The first phase aims to remove the dam, replace it with rock rapids, then restore the meanders in the former Lake Shady bed to stabilize it, said Olmsted County Environmental Services Coordinator Terry Lee.


The second phase would acquire approximately 75 acres to transform the former lake area into parkland, which will eventually be an Oronoco city park and connect to the existing Oronoco city park, Lee said.

The county hasn't started the process of finding funds for the second phase yet, he said.

Initially, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources' Dam Safety Fund provided $1 million in emergency funding for the project. Then, an additional $2.5 million came from the state's Clean Water Land and Legacy Amendment funds.

County Commissioner Paul Wilson during the board's meeting Tuesday questioned the additions to the project, saying he'd like to see a total price tag for the river restoration.

"We were talking about replacing the dam, but it was too expensive," Wilson said. "But this is getting expensive. I'd like to know the final cost. It seems like we're just spending."

"One of the complications on the site is that we have to preserve wetlands or replace them," Lee said in an interview. "It was very complicated initially because the entire site was a wetland, and when (the lake) drained, the wetland disappeared."

The entire area is still considered a wetland, so any construction of non-wetland features would require the county to offset that usage. The project will be covering 3 acres, mostly with trails, and has to replace them at a 2-to-1 ratio.

"We'd probably go through the process of purchasing it from a wetland bank," Lee said.


The state's wetland bank operates similar to the concept of carbon offsets: If someone constructs a wetland, they can put it in the bank. When a project gets rid of wetlands and needs to offset it, it can pay the bank for wetlands in other areas.

The additional consulting services the board approved Tuesday will allow the river restoration project to stay on track for starting construction this winter and help move the project forward, Lee said.

"It's complicated from a technical standpoint and from the purchasing of the properties out there," he said. "The project is a lot more complicated than anybody anticipated on the front end."

While normal street construction happens in the summer, winter is the easiest and safest time to do the restoration work, he said.

"It's constructed in the winter because of low flows, and there's less likelihood of a major runoff event," he said. "Any other time of the year we could get a large rainfall."

Lee said the project was somewhat challenging to design because it was difficult to identify where the wetlands should be within the project area.

"We're 75 percent complete with final design, so we're at the very last details," he said.

Construction should start in December and be mostly completed by the end of winter, Lee said.

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