City officials field questions, concerns about funding a $25M Lake Mitchell dredging project
“There are a lot of people who live in Mitchell who never really do much at the lake. Why should they be asked to pay more fees for people that benefit from living on the lake?" Scott Houwman asked.
MITCHELL — How is the city going to fund dredging Lake Mitchell? Are there ways lake residents can pitch in more to help fund a future dredging project vs. non-lake residents? What’s the drawdown structure going to look like?
Those were some of the questions city officials fielded Tuesday night during a Lake Mitchell information meeting held at the Corn Palace. A new task force led by Jeff Logan, a longtime Mitchell resident and local business owner, organized the informational meeting to allow city leaders to answer questions from residents and delve into an engineering firm's $25 million recommendation to mechanically dredge the city-owned body of water that’s been grappling with algae woes for decades.
Scott Houwman, a Mitchell resident who lives near the lake, voiced his concerns about whether the city can fund an estimated $25 million dredging project by borrowing a majority of the money amid a volatile economy without passing it on to future generations.
“I mean I live close to the lake, so this is important to me. But at what point do you sit there and make the same mistakes that the rest of the country is doing. We’re overextending ourselves at a time when I think the economy may very well not be in very good shape right now,” Houwman said. “I see what’s coming for the community. It’s a big bill. Everybody seems to think that big bills are going to be paid by someone else. There’s not enough rich people in this town.”
Although Houwman said he supports dredging the lake and investing in improving the body of water, he questioned whether it’s fair for Mitchell residents who don’t own property along the lake or rarely utilize it to help fund a dredging project in the same manner as lake residents and avid users. Among the suggestions Houwman pitched to come up with an equitable funding structure for future lake improvements was a boat dock fee.
“There are a lot of people who live in Mitchell who never really do much at the lake. Why should they be asked to pay more fees for people that benefit from living on the lake or close to the lake? Why should they subsidize houses that are the nicest houses in town?” Houwman asked during the meeting.
Mitchell Mayor Bob Everson emphasized the city’s approach to funding a future $25 million dredging project is doing so “without any tax increases” on residents by solely using the city’s revenue sources to foot the bill.
Everson explained the city has explored the possibility of a Tax Increment Financing District around the lake and some form of a tax fee to help fund a future dredging project. However, Everson said “it can’t happen” in part due to regulations and state laws restricting the city.
If the Mitchell City Council approves moving forward with the $25 million dredging project, the city will look to use the State Revolving Loan Fund, more commonly referred to as an SRF loan.
Everson said the SRF loan the city is eyeing would allow a 30-year financing window, which the city would have to pay off within that time. The loan would also come with a fixed interest rate.
Another funding mechanism that city leaders are eyeing to help foot the bill for dredging and major lake restoration projects is selling city-owned lots along the shore. The city owns roughly 77% of the land along the lake, which is designated park land.
For the city to sell any land along the lake, an initiated ballot measure must be approved by voters on June 6. If approved, it would allow the city to sell eight pieces of land at the lake. Everson estimates the land sales could equate to $1 million, which he said would be earmarked for lake improvement projects.
“One of the benefits of these areas is they have infrastructure near them. They will be listed with a realtor, and that realtor will have to put them on the market as a multiple listing, so any realtor in Mitchell can sell them and take offers on them,” Everson said of the eight lake lots.
A look at the proposed drawdown structure
For crews to mechanically dredge the phosphorus-rich soft sediment along the lake bottom with heavy equipment, it would require a drawdown of the water.
Public Works Director Joe Schroeder broke down what the drawdown structure would look like and how it could benefit the lake post-dredging. Schroeder said the drawdown structure would be located near the spillway dam on the southeast edge of the lake where water funnels out of the lake and into the creek.
“Our drawdown project includes a valve that we can open and close to control the water levels. It would be built in the structure of the sidewall next to the spillway. We can get the lake level lower if we go further down into the sidewalls because the spillway drains down toward the east,” Schroeder said.
The drawdown structure itself is estimated to cost $3.5 million, which is included in the $25 million dredging proposed dredging plan. As the city is inching closer to building its first wetland in the Firsteel watershed to combat the biggest contributor of the algae problems Lake Mitchell experiences each year, Schroeder said the drawdown structure will be beneficial for future maintenance work on the wetland.
“With our lake drawdown structure, we'll be able to draw the lake down to perform maintenance on those wetlands as well as our sediment traps that we’re planning on doing,” Schroeder said.
After learning more about the drawdown structure, Tate Crago, a Mitchell resident, gave the city a nod of support for the project.
“I think this is a worthwhile endeavor. It would be nice to have a lake where you can take your family and fish,” Crago said.