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RPU board: No added dredging funds

September 28, 2018

The Rochester Public Utilities Board decided Tuesday to stand on its nearly $1.17 million commitment to dredging Lake Zumbro.

When bids for removing sediment from the county’s only navigable lake came in $2 million over budget, RPU was asked to add $366,000 to its commitment.

With staff recommending denial of the request, three of four voting members agreed to stand at the amount committed when the project was initially proposed, which was a third of the anticipated $3.5 million local match to $3.5 million in state funds.

“I don’t think this is the right thing for the utility to be doing,” said Rochester City Council Member Michael Wojcik, who sits on the RPU board.

He said he’s willing to support the previous commitment, but noted that dredging the lake fails to provide any benefit to RPU’s core mission, which is providing water and electrical service to its customers.

While RPU operates the dam that helped create Lake Zumbro, General Manager Mark Kotschevar said the dredging is unlikely to affect the operation that generates approximately $1 million in revenue each year through energy production.

The lack of additional RPU funding means the $7.4 million dredging contract approved earlier this month will stand. An added commitment could have increased the amount of sediment removed by the project, which was already scaled back to fit available state and local funding.

Olmsted County Commissioner Mark Thein said that without the added funds the dredging will “be a drastically different project and less successful” than originally planned.

In addition to scaling back the depth of dredging in some parts of the lake, other areas in the lake likely won’t be changed after work starts in the spring.

Mark Browning was the only RPU board member to support added funding, first at the requested $366,000 and then at a potential $125,000 compromise. He noted it was a stance he has maintained as the only board member remaining who voted on the initial agreement when the utility became the first entity to commit local dollars to the project in 2012.

“There was a feeling that it was the right thing to do,” he said.

With Tuesday’s rare divided vote for the RPU board, other members cited mixed feelings by pointing to appreciation for the effort.

“It’s a way to reflect on stewardship of where we are operating a generation plant,” Board Chairman Brian Morgan said regarding the effort, but noted committing to the additional unbudgeted expense led to a struggle he couldn’t overcome.

Likewise, Wojcik acknowledged having split feelings about the request.

“I’m entirely with the lake people if I’m not sitting at this table,” he said, noting he supports the effort to dredge the lake but not at the added expense of RPU customers, who are already committing to the project through the $525,000 in Olmsted County tax dollars.

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