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Lake Zumbro dredging deal reached after years of work

September 14, 2018
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Parts of Lake Zumbro have filled in so much over the decades that debris gets stranded on sandbars in the middle of the lake. This one is just up the lake from the Olmsted County Road 12 bridge. This, and other sandbars turn into islands when the lake drops.

The financial plan for dredging Lake Zumbro is coming into focus, following a decision Wednesday on 10 property owners’ appeals of their assigned share of the project’s cost.

Those 10 owners, among hundreds who are being assessed a combined $2.75 million for the dredging work, appealed assessments totaling $66,000. The appeals were heard by the Joint Powers Board of Olmsted and Wabasha county officials overseeing the project. One of the 10 appeals was successful; several others are pending a final decision.

“It’s not going to benefit me,” said John Sortland, of Mazeppa, who owns property along the lake. “The last time I paid for something and got nothing, I felt I was robbed.” His appeal was unsuccessful.

While Sortland echoed a common concern, other objections expressed in the appeals ranged from worries about increased lake traffic to objections to limitations on the planned dredging project, now estimated to cost $7.4 million after the project cost was scaled back by about $1.4 million. The project has been in the works for nearly a decade.

In addition to the cost of the dredging, related expenses, which include things like land rent, consulting fees, and administrative expenses, are being covered by $4.1 million in state funds, at least $1.16 million from Rochester Public Utilities, $525,000 from Olmsted County, $130,000 from Wabasha County and $316,000 from the Lake Zumbro Forever organization. All of those organizations — save RPU — have increased their contributions in response to project costs that have increased over time.

The Rochester Public Utilities board on Sept. 25 will address a request for an extra $366,000.

Rochester City Council Member Michael Wojcik, who serves as the council liaison on the public utility board, said Monday the board has indicated it is unlikely to support any additional funding.

“There is no benefit to the utility by putting this additional money in there,” he said.

Bill Angerman, of the WHKS office in Rochester, who presented the plan and assessments to the Lake Zumbro Joint Powers Board and approximately 70 residents Wednesday night, said that if RPU does increase its contribution, it will increase the scope of the project.

“The goal is to spend all the money,” he said.

Following the appeals and public comment Wednesday, the joint powers board agreed to reduce a single appealed assessment by $5,500, while also dropping one when it was determined the property wasn’t on the lake. Three other assessments with lingering questions were kept open for further review.

With that, the four board members adopted the remaining assessments and awarded the contract for dredging to JF Brennan Co. of La Crosse, Wis.

Property owners who have been assessed for the project — those with developed property along the lake — have 30 days to pay their assessment in full, if they wish.

Otherwise, the assessments will be charged in installments over 10 years with 5 percent interest.

Angerman said the assessments are spread across the equivalent of 336 residences, making the baseline assessment $6,853. With that, some property owners are paying more or less based on factors that include property type and proximity to the dredging work.

Residents 65 and older, disabled residents and active military personnel are eligible to apply for an assessment deferral until the property is sold or their status changes. Interest will accrue over the time the assessments are unpaid, however.

While undeveloped properties are not being assessed, Angerman noted any development in the next decade will likely generate a service charge on the project, based on the value of a potential assessment.

The service fee would be put into an account to help ensure the benefits of the planned dredging are maintained.

Work on the project is slated to start this fall with preparation of Olmsted County land that will be used to dry the lake sediment when it’s pulled from the lake.

Actual dredging is slated to start in April or May, with a December deadline to finish the project.

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