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Senators hear funding request for dams, fish hatchery and bike trails

Bruce Gilbertson, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources area fisheries supervisor, right, stands Thursday in front of the tubes where walleye eggs are hatched at the New London hatchery. Also pictured are Sens. Steve Dille of Dassel, left, and Leroy Stumpf of Plummer. Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange

NEW LONDON -- While casually milling around New London's Mill Pond Dam on Thursday afternoon, about a dozen Minnesota senators were told that the structure they were standing on was classified as a "high hazard" dam.

Failure of the structure would result in the "loss of life" downstream in the town of about 1,000, said Kent Lokkesmoe, director of the Department of Natural Resources waters division.

After getting the senator's attention, Lokkesmoe said funding had already been approved for a project to replace the New London dam next summer.

In the same breath, he said more money is needed to make safety repairs on a long list of dams that pose potential danger to residents in other communities.

Of the 797 dams in the state, 27 are classified as a "high hazard" and 70 are ranked as being a "significant hazard," said Lokkesmoe.

The DNR is requesting that $4 million be set aside in the 2010 bonding bill to repair and replace the top 10 dams on the list.

Lokkesmoe said $115 million will be needed over the next 20 years to make necessary repairs. "There's some expensive dams out there," he said.

The senators, who are members of the bonding committee, will take that request under consideration next year.

Downstream from the dam, the bonding committee took a tour of the state-owned fish hatchery. They learned a lot about how to hatch walleye eggs and also that more money is needed to upgrade the aging cool-water fish hatchery so that area lakes can continue to be stocked with walleye for recreational fishing.

The DNR is asking for $3 million to make improvements to fish hatcheries throughout the state. About $300,000 would be divided between hatcheries in New London, Glenwood, Fergus Falls and Bemidji under the proposal.

Bruce Gilbertson, area fisheries supervisor who works from the DNR office in Spicer, explained the need for upgrades at the New London hatchery, including bringing electricity to seven of the outdoor rearing ponds.

Currently, the hatchery diverts water from the Crow River to supply habitat for the walleye fry in the ponds. When the fish are harvested, the water is drained back into the river.

If the river level is too high when the ponds need to be drained, the DNR can reduce the river flow by manipulating the nearby Mill Pond Dam.

But after the dam is replaced next year, the manual controls will be eliminated.

Gilbertson said the hatchery needs to install submersible pumps in the ponds to get the water to the river during times of high water levels on the river. That will entail bringing electrical service to the ponds.

The senators concluded their New London tour by hearing about a request to fund construction of an off-road bike and pedestrian trail from New London to Sibley State Park. The five-mile bituminous trail would be located on private property along County Road 40, U.S. Highway 71 and County Road 148. Plans include an underpass that would go underneath Highway 71.

The trail was authorized by the Legislature in 1971, said New London City Administrator Trudie Guptill. Funding, however, has not followed.

Carolyn Lange

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

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