The Lake Mitchell dredging project is inching closer to becoming a reality following the Mitchell City Council’s approval on Monday to have a preliminary dredging design completed.

The council tabbed Minnesota-based Barr Engineering to complete the preliminary design at a cost of $339,000. According to Mitchell Mayor Bob Everson, the preliminary dredge design -- which he emphasized is not a study -- will provide key information, including determining the actual cost of the project, which has yet to be determined.

“This is not a study like I have heard many say. We need to know how much this will cost, and this will get us there,” Everson said. “It will also allow the city to begin applying for grants and look for additional funding sources.”

Parks and Recreation Director Nathan Powell said the preliminary design will lay out a dredging plan that includes identifying potential spoil sites to dispose of the dredged sediment, along with explaining the feasibility of the project and its goals for improving the water quality.

“The preliminary design is the first of two scopes of the design services agreement and approximately a third of the total cost for design. The preliminary design will provide us with an initial plan, drawings, technical specifications for permitting, along with a cost opinion for construction, and the ability to outline a strategy for financing the future projects,” Powell said during Monday’s meeting. “We will look at all the options of dredging like mechanical and hydraulic.”

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Barr Engineering was among the three engineering firms that pitched dredging proposals to the city in January. The city chose the group based on a scoring criteria that was decided by city officials and subcommittees.

With the algae that has been hampering Lake Mitchell’s water for several decades, the city has been focused on finding effective solutions to enhance the lake.

While there's been a history of mixed support for dredging the lake as a potential solution to improve the water quality, it appears the council is collectively on board with a dredging project. Previous studies on the lake in 2017 found that 53 percent of the phosphorus enters the lake from Firesteel Creek, while 47 percent is in the lake itself. Studies commissioned by the city pointed to dredging as the most effective in-lake solution.

Everson addressed the time frame of the work leading up to a dredging project, noting the preliminary design may take roughly nine months to be completed.

“Nothing happens instantly with a project of this magnitude. We are making very good progress, in my opinion, on both the in-lake and watershed solutions,” Everson said.

Everson also cautioned the council that the design may reveal the cost to dredge the lake may exceed a feasible amount.

“Maybe when they are done with the design, we find out it is too costly for us to take on,” Everson said. “But we won’t even know that if we don't do that.”

Joe Kippes, president of Friends of Firesteel, a local nonprofit organization that was formed to help fund the lake improvement projects, gave the council a nod of support for the decision to approve the preliminary design.

“This is something we have to do if we want to begin making real progress on the in-lake solutions,” Kippes said.

Pam Bathke, who is running in the June council election for a seat in Ward 2 pressed the council on what went into the selection process. In response, Kippes and city officials said there was a lengthy scorecard for selecting the engineering firm.

“Barr was the strongest of the three firms,” Kippes said, who participated in scoring the engineering firms.