Dredge sets sail April 1

Thursday, March 25, 2004

LPA seeking $300k each from state, feds to extend the lake program past 2004

On April 1, the Storm Lake dredge is expected to leave its winter harbor and return to work, but this season, dredging for funds will be almost as urgent as dredging for silt.

All systems are go for a first full season of local dredging. The dredge was completely rebuilt over the winter, its two interior diesel engines now redone and ready to fire. A new dredging bit "head" was located and purchased in Louisiana that should do a better job than the one that came with the boat, according to Gary Lalone of the Lake Preservation Association. "The thing is huge and it looks wicked. It makes the one we used last year look like an eggbeater. This piece is specifically designed to remove spoil from a glacial lake bottom and we're excited to see what it can do."

Palmer Olson of Storm Lake Hydraulics spearheaded the project and volunteered to make the trip to Louisiana to obtain the head unit for Storm Lake. "He's been a real godsend to this project," Lalone said.

The dredging will begin in the Stoney Point area, near the present spoil site, and will end up the season in the east part of the lake.

Negotiations are complete to extend the agreement to pump spoil into the existing Wetherell spoil site on the south side of the lake for another season. And a pre-project meeting held this week projected construction on the new city-purchased site near the municipal golf course to resume within two weeks, weather permitting. Spoil could start going into that site at the tail end of this dredging season or the start of the spring 2005 season.

However, there is currently only enough cash on hand to guarantee this summer's dredging, Lalone said, although hopes are strong for some government assistance to keep the project steaming ahead.

A $200,000 federal appropriation recently was helped considerably by area Congressman Steve King, according to Lalone.

"We are working with the feds for funding for the next appropriation year, which begins July 1. We have good hopes for that. We are looking to ask the state legislature for around $300,000 more for the coming year, and we're hoping for about that same amount from the federal level," he said.

"What we have is enough for this summer. Essentially we are doing this on a year-to-year basis, but we feel good about the prospects for continued funding. If we can land the appropriations we're looking for this year, and just keep going at that pace, we're going to be able to dredge every year."

The new spoil site will hold around 3.2 million cubic yards of material, and the LPA estimates the dredge can suck 800,000 to one million cubic yards of silt from the lake bottom in each full season - or enough to cover 100 acres of land.

"The spoil sites that we already have are going to get us to well over half the project done as we want to do it," Lalone said. "We set out to dredge 1,500 acres of lake area to a depth of 12-13 feet."

Prior to dredging, the lake averaged about eight feet deep, and was much less in many areas. The shallow nature of the lake and the wind levels kept the lake turgid with suspended soil in the water making it appear cloudy. Environmental officials also worried about a hard freeze resulting in a major fish kill for the lake that serves as an important fishery for walleye which are used to stock many of the state's waters.

Preliminary testing shows that water clarity may already be improving after a year of a state dredging and the first short season of local dredging.

Storm Lake as a charter member of the Iowa Lakes Association was recently involved in the first major lobbying effort of that group at the state legislature this month. Storm Lake representatives have also gone to lawmakers on their own twice so far this session to plead their case, and are also working with the Iowa Environmental Council on calling for water quality efforts.

"It's all gone reasonably well, but so much of the action takes place in the last 30 days of a legislative session, so we will have to wait and see," Lalone said. "The important thing is we are all working together, and legislators keep hearing us."

Critical to Storm Lake's hopes is the continuation of the Environment First Fund, the source for dredging money to Iowa communities. "The legislature decided to put some money in that fund a year ago, and appears to be looking good to be funded again, but that decision has yet to be made," Lalone said.

In addition, the LPA is beginning to plan its first general public local fundraising campaign, with details to be announced soon.

"We appreciate the people's support on this all along," Lalone said. "We expect to have something going in terms of a fundraiser by early this summer."

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