Council approves Firesteel watershed land purchase
The Mitchell City Council unanimously approved Wednesday a $4.1 million purchase of land near Lake Mitchell, providing the city a long-awaited chance to slow down the lake's algae and phosphorus woes.
Mitchell Mayor Bob Everson unveiled the land purchase proposal that will create a wetland along Lake Mitchell's watershed in front of a packed City Hall during a special meeting.
The purchase agreement includes $1.6 million that will go toward an approximately 330-acre parcel of land, while the other $2.5 million would be spent on a 41-acre property that includes the residential home of Harvey and Peggy Kelley located at 40580 250th St., 1 mile west of Lake Mitchell.
Everson noted another advantage of the property is Firesteel Creek running right through it, which he said is ideal for what the city needs to do for the watershed clean up in Lake Mitchell.
"Mr. Croce, Mr. Johnson and Mrs. Ellwein, I'm thankful you brought this to me, and it happened to be perfect timing for what we're trying to do at our beloved lake," Everson said of the purchase agreement during the meeting. "Lake Mitchell is currently on the list of impaired lakes by the DENR, along with being a zero contact lake, and this is the best solution for improving our lake."
The plan is to build a low-head dam to raise the water slightly to approximately 6 inches to 2 feet into the low-lying areas of the property, which will then allow for the city to plant cattails and develop a wetland that will ultimately help remove phosphorus from the lake.
"This will also act as a point where sediment will settle out of the water before it enters into Lake Mitchell," Everson said.
Previous studies of the lake have indicated that 53 percent of the phosphorus entering into the lake is coming in from Firesteel Creek, while 47 percent of it is in the lake itself.
Everson said the existing crop lease the city has with Stehly Farms can be used to help pay down the city's debt for the project, which is in the amount of $22,000 annually. The crop lease is in effect until 2030.
The $4.1 million purchase agreement will be paid over 20 years, which the city will pay $300,000 annually for funding the project. Everson said 84 percent of the total debt service on the purchase agreement could be paid through existing lease agreements on the property, as well as funds received from Poet for its water use. The annual debt contribution from the city's funds is estimated at $49,000.
Everson said the $49,000 price is a small sum to pay for something that will help significantly clean up the lake such as this creation of the wetland.
"Currently, there is still a roadbed that crosses the creek with two concrete abutments that the water goes through, and that's where we see the low head dam being installed to raise the water level on the back end of this to help flood the Kelley land," Everson said.
The city has been working closely with the James River Water Development District on watershed improvements through utilizing grant funding that's available from the city's financing of infrastructure projects. Everson said the city also plans to preserve the land into a nature area, as there's currently an abundance of wildlife in the area.
"We will keep the crop land and lease it, and that is part of how we're going to be paying for this, along with potentially making nature trails along the area," Everson said.
Because of the watershed plans, Ducks Unlimited and the South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks have expressed willingness to help match grants for the wetland project. Mitchell Public Works Director Kyle Croce said the city already has a plan in place for development of the land and is in talks to start a program with a design through working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the GF&P for ponds and grassland areas.
"We've got a lot of good partnerships established to move forward with this," Croce said.
"There is an existing CRP for $1,000 a year that goes through 2023, and Kyle has had conversations with other groups about opportunities for similar or different programs as well," Ellwein said.
Everson emphasized the purchase would not require the city to raise taxes.
After Everson presented the purchase land agreement and opened up public input, Steven Larson addressed the council and asked why the council kept the plan secret for as long as they did.
Everson responded, noting the deal was so good, that he didn't want to risk a counter offer on the land and property.
Mike Vehle, a member of the Lake Mitchell Advisory Committee, said the land purchase is more than once in a lifetime opportunity.
"When are we going to get an opportunity for low lying land that has some nooks in it that you can make some wetlands out of this close to the lake," Vehle said. "This is so timely, and you had to scrape me off of the ceiling when I heard about this plan."