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Grass Lake restoration project inches forward

WILLMAR -- The Kandiyohi County Commissioners approved an amended contract Tuesday with Barr Engineering that will keep the Grass Lake restoration project inching forward.

The $59,880 contract will be paid for with a state grant that was awarded in 2010.

The contract reflects a change in the plan for restoring the shallow dry lake bed located south of Willmar by the Highway 71/23 bypass.

"We've switched gears," said Loren Engelby, who is the county's agricultural and drainage inspector and is over-seeing the project.

After working on the project for 16 years and discussing numerous revisions in the project that has progressed at a "snail's pace," Engelby told the commissioners this was the "last plan" for the project.

Originally a county ditch branch was going to skirt the entire southern border of the lakebed.

That plan created a "deep footprint" for the project and was expensive, Engelby said.

The revised plan utilizes the existing County Ditch 23 and takes the branch on a much shorter route that will exclude two sections of the lakebed (the Rauenhorst tract and the Parker/Poss/Hustoft tracts).

The new plan is "shorter and a much more efficient means of transporting that water," said Engelby, and means the water depth in the permanent pool of Grass Lake may be deeper than originally thought.

Another segment of the project will bring water from Peach Creek.

New hydraulic modeling is needed to reflect the changes, Engelby said in explaining the need for the additional engineering work. There had also been some errors in elevations recorded in the 1990s that also will affect the water storage and flow that need to be re-calculated, he said.

It's expected that pumps may still be needed, but they will be smaller and less expensive than with the original plan.

The restoration project was planned, in part, to serve as water management control tool for the city of Willmar and to protect downstream waters, like Lake Wakanda, that may suffer from upstream water pollutants.

The county and the city had been working together on the design, which at one point included pumps to get water from Willmar through the low elevation to Grass Lake.

But after the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency said Willmar would not get credit for future storm water discharge regulations, the city withdrew financial support for the project.

Engelby said the city still support the project, but not financially.

Commissioner Harlan Madsen expressed disappointment with the city's lack of financial support, but Engelby said the city has been completing storm water control issues within the city limits which holds back water from downstream, which also helps the Grass Lake project.

He said the city is always invited to attend the Grass Lake meetings.

Chairman Richard Larson said it's important to remember that not all of the water that comes out of Willmar goes into Grass Lake.

Engelby said he expects construction to take place this summer near Peach Creek and work to begin on re-routing the ditches. He said there is still additional land to purchase the project.

Despite the setbacks over the years, Madsen there have been some "significant steps and strides" made in the project.

In other action, Kandiyohi County is moving ahead with preliminary discussions with Meeker, Renville and McLeod Counties for the consideration of developing a Service Delivery Authority to provide human services.

Legislation is pushing counties under a population of 55,000 to create an SDA with one or more counties to equal that size.

The commissioners agreed to allocate $5,000 to study the feasibility of working with one or more of those counties.

Ann Stehn, who is currently overseeing the county's public health and human services department, said it's a "big step" to figure out which counties might be a feasible partner. "We're just in the very beginning, initial stages," she said.

In other action:

- The commissioners agreed to provide $1,500 in matching funds to the Kandiyohi County Lakes Association to help fund over-time pay for deputies to patrol lake access to enforce regulations regarding aquatic invasive species. Last year the association paid for 50 hours of off-duty pay for deputies. Some individual lake associations in the county are paying for deputy time for specific lakes without a match of county funds. Sheriff Dan Hartog said the extra patrol will be provided on the condition that officers are available and volunteer to sign up for the over-time hours.

- At the recommendation of Public Works Director Gary Danielson the commissioners approved a resolution to proceed with eminent domain on three parcels of property the county needs to acquire for the new County Road 9 construction project east of Eagle Lake. Work is expected to begin Aug. 1, pending the results of an archeological survey that's currently underway.

- The commissioners approved a utility permit for Great River Energy to cross county drainage ditches at nine different locations about two miles south of Blomkest and approved a utility permit for the Roseland community sanitary services district.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750