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Firm attempts to walk back initial Lake Mitchell restoration cost estimates

After a bit of sticker shock from the first Lake Mitchell restoration proposals, water resources officials with Fyra Engineering attempted to walk back and reclassify their recommendations.

Sara Mechtenberg, of Fyra Engineering, speaks behind the podium to discuss near-lake alternatives to members of the public during the Lake Mitchell public forum on Tuesday at Mitchell Technical Institute. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Sara Mechtenberg, of Fyra Engineering, speaks behind the podium to discuss near-lake alternatives to members of the public during the Lake Mitchell public forum on Tuesday at Mitchell Technical Institute. (Matt Gade / Republic)

After a bit of sticker shock from the first Lake Mitchell restoration proposals, water resources officials with Fyra Engineering attempted to walk back and reclassify their recommendations.

Fyra Engineering, the Omaha-based company given $73,725 to report on Lake Mitchell's water quality and algae issues, gave a public presentation Tuesday to approximately 60 to 70 people at Mitchell Technical Institute. But one month after including three plans in a report - ranging from $6 million to $31 million to $87 million - Fyra worked to change the conversation on their lake restoration proposals.

Rather than looking at one estimated cost, Fyra's Mike Sotak attempted to frame the initial proposals differently than before. Instead of looking at total project costs, Sotak split the estimates in categories of initial investment and long-term investment.

And Sotak alleged that the project will require routine investment.

"No project you're going to do on a lake restoration project, certainly this one, is anything that's going to be one shot and done," Sotak said.

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When the preliminary report was introduced to city committees in December, the first plan came in at a whopping $87.01 million, a project which featured sweeping watershed improvements to reduce algae-causing nutrient loads.

Another plan, at $31.218 million, proposed a "by-pass system," retention system and a chemical injection to address the nutrient loading in the lake. The by-pass system would divert nutrient-rich water away from the lake.

The final plan was focused on aluminum sulfate chemical injections to improve the lake. It could require, at least, a one-time cost around $6 million.

But Fyra broke the projects down differently on Tuesday. A watershed and internal load control plan, reminiscent of the $87 million plan, was framed as a $6.3 million initial investment with a future investment of $52 million plus $225,000 per year.

The near-lake and internal load plan included the by-pass system, and was framed as an initial investment of $30.168 million with an additional $176,000 annually and $225,000 for four to five years. The final plan included a $6 million initial investment and $435,000 per year.

Sotak focused on the $30 million investment, and said he that could possibly be hammered down to $20 million or $25 million.

The idea of draining the lake also resurfaced briefly Tuesday night.

Fyra was tasked with creating a data-driven report to understand the issues at Lake Mitchell, while also coming up with possible solutions. The report cost $73,725 and gained the support of all but two Mitchell City Council members when voted upon in October 2016 - Councilmen Dan Allen and Mel Olson.

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Since the report was first introduced in December, at least one City Council representative from each of Mitchell's four wards expressed interest in ultimately putting the project in the hands of the voters. While they differ on the specifics about a possible public vote on a prospective lake project, Councilmen Allen, Olson, Jeff Smith and Kevin McCardle each suggested last month that some sort of public vote on the matter would be beneficial.

Much of the information Fyra presented Tuesday night had been reported at public meetings, but very few of those Lake Mitchell meetings were attended by the public. That changed Tuesday night, when the people who aren't on the Lake Mitchell committees were able to share their insight.

One person in attendance who spoke about the project Tuesday was Scott Houwman. Houwman expressed concern about the complexity of the plans.

"I think that the simplest solution has to be simpler for this community, because I don't think we can afford this," Houwman said.

Later, Craig Bennett asked when the city will get working on the restoration project. He asked the question of Sotak after another lengthy period of study was mentioned.

"You just said this will take another year to get this going and analyzed, when are we going to cut bait and start getting things done? I mean, what's the point where we can start something?" Bennett asked.

Sotak said dredging could commence as early as the summer of 2018.

Roger Musick asked Sotak if Fyra could furnish the names of other firms who do similar work, allowing the city an opportunity for a second opinion. Sotak agreed to Musick's request, but wouldn't name those firms Tuesday night.

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Members of the public attend the Lake Mitchell public forum on Tuesday at Mitchell Technical Institute. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Members of the public attend the Lake Mitchell public forum on Tuesday at Mitchell Technical Institute. (Matt Gade / Republic)

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