Grass Lake project has 'regional, statewide significance'

WILLMAR -- A petition and letters of support for the proposed Grass Lake wetland restoration project were presented Thursday morning to Gov. Tim Pawlenty's office in St. Paul.

WILLMAR -- A petition and letters of support for the proposed Grass Lake wetland restoration project were presented Thursday morning to Gov. Tim Pawlenty's office in St. Paul.

The petition with 725 signatures and letters from three local officials and representatives ask Pawlenty to include funding for the project in the 2006 state bonding bill.

The Senate bonding bill contains $2.2 million requested by the Board of Water and Soil Resources, but the House bonding bill does not. Five Senate members and five House members were to be appointed Friday to a conference committee to work out a compromise.

Four area residents gave the petition and letters to a Pawlenty aide because the governor was attending meetings.

The petition says the project "has clear regional and statewide significance, thereby meeting the requirements of current state law and your new policy."


The petition states the source of the South Fork of the Crow River is just downstream from Grass Lake, which is presently a dry lakebed located just southeast of Willmar.

"The mouth of the Crow River is the Mississippi River just north of the metropolitan area of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

These municipalities draw their drinking water from the Mississippi River," the petition says.

"Improved water quality and reduced volumes of water discharged during storm events would benefit everyone downstream, through Lake Pepin and beyond."

Area residents talked to Pawlenty's aide for about 15 minutes. Loren Engelby of Atwater said he and the three others in the group came away feeling optimistic about the project's chances.

"We impressed upon them that there was a lot of support. This is a project that has been underway, thought about and pursued for 12 to 15 years and the water quality benefits that would be achieved from the project," said Engelby, who begins new duties on Tuesday as Kandiyohi County drainage and ag inspector.

Others in the group were Allan and Linda Bjornberg and Marilee Druskin, all of rural Willmar.

Engelby said 99 percent of the petition signers were from the area.


The letters of support were written by Willmar Mayor Les Heitke, Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners Chairman Dean Shuck, and Margaret Sheldon, chair of the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce.

Heitke said the city of Willmar has endorsed the project and has joined the county, BWSR and others to address regional water quality.

Shuck said the project will improve water quality and even water flows discharged during storm events, which will benefit everyone downstream to the Mississippi and beyond.

Sheldon said the Chamber supports efforts to maintain and enhance the community's quality of life through the wetland restoration project.

Money will also be needed to buy and install pumps to move storm water from Willmar to the wetland. The wetland would filter floodwater before it moves downstream.

City and county officials have informally discussed the possibility of equally sharing some of the project's cost, but the City Council and County Board have not voted on the idea, said one county commissioner.

"I think from both the city and the county's perspective that, to a degree, it depends on how much money we're talking about," said Commissioner Richard Falk. "And if the dollar amount is unrealistic, as far as local participation, then obviously the project won't go.

"But if we can get some help from the state bonding and hopefully maybe get water levels in Lake Waconda lowered a little bit to increase the water flow out of Willmar so that there is a significant plus for the city of Willmar, then as a commissioner not only representing Kandiyohi County but the city of Willmar, I would be very much in favor of voting for a 50-50 split," he said.


"If it's properly done, it will dramatically improve water quality as the water leaves Willmar and flows southeast. And if it's done properly, it should hopefully alleviate some flooding in Willmar and the bonus to it is to have a huge waterfowl area. So it's just a win-win-win situation."

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