Posted on January 4, 2023
Uncertainty is likely to remain in discussions regarding Silver Lake dredging and potential dam modifications as 2023 begins.
“The work is around finalizing and continuing to generate consensus,” Heather Corcoran, Rochester’s legislative policy analyst, said of the city’s decision to back away from requesting the state borrow $6.7 million to support the project.
In 2020, the Rochester City Council approved a proposed $13.3 million plan to remove the existing dam structure and replace it with alternate controls to keep the lake at its current level while also opening access for water recreation downstream.
The proposed work would be done alongside required dredging of the lake, which would also make way for the construction of a new trail connection on city land on the lake’s north shore and a pedestrian bridge, just west of where the current dam sits.
The project has drawn public opposition, as well as support. Those in favor of the work point to added pedestrian safety and access to the park, while those opposed cite concerns about reducing the size of the lake and removing the dam.
A request for state funding to support the project went unanswered this year when the Minnesota Legislature failed to finalize approval of borrowing for a variety of infrastructure projects throughout the state.
Corcoran said the Minnesota House didn’t provide a public draft of the proposed state bonding bill, so it is unclear whether the Silver Lake project would have received funding through the Legislature.
The City Council left the project out of this year’s legislative request, which includes an ask for funds to support a potential North Broadway Avenue park-and-ride deck, work on the Willow Creek Regional Trail and the creation of a regional parks and forestry maintenance operations center.
While the city isn’t asking for the state to borrow funds for the project, Rochester Public Works Director Wendy Turri said other local and federal funding sources are likely available.
Additionally, dredging work could move forward without the other components of the plan in place.
The Silver Lake Park Master Plan approved this year includes the council’s authorized changes to the dam and pedestrian paths, but Parks and Forestry Division Head Mike Nigbur said modifications to the long-term plan are possible, if some of the work is not completed when the lake is dredged.
The cost of adding the pedestrian bridge — estimated at nearly $2.2 million in 2020 — would likely increase if the work is not done when the lake level is temporarily lowered as sediment is removed during the dredging process.
Additionally, Nigbur has noted that the proposed north shore trail plan could be replaced by a boardwalk system over existing water, if the dam modification isn’t completed to claim additional shoreline for a trail connection.
Work continues on scheduling the dredging project, with the Public Works staff monitoring sediment levels under federal Army Corp of Engineers guidelines for when work must be completed.
“When the channelized section is fully impacted with sediment, we will need to start a project at that point,” Turri said, adding that weather conditions and flooding could alter the eventual project timeline.
The city’s recently approved 2023 budget calls for the potential to spend $22.3 million this year on dredging and other changes identified in the proposed Silver Lake plan, but final council permission will be required to start some of the work.
The budget plan calls for using nearly $5.7 million in existing flood control reserves, along with the potential for the city to borrow $5 million. Another $11.6 million would be needed from the state or other source to fully fund the project.
In 2020, the dredging alone was estimated to cost nearly $5.2 million.
If dredging is delayed too long, Public Works staff has indicated that the flood-control capacity of connecting channels could be impeded over time.
Another decision regarding Silver Lake is likely to be reviewed by the City Council in January or February.
The city’s Heritage Preservation Commission has recommended the council designate Silver Lake Park as an official city landmark , which would mean future changes would require an added level of review for approval.
The nine-member commission made the unanimous recommendation in October, and Molly Patterson-Lungren, the city’s heritage preservation and urban design coordinator, said recently that the council is expected to consider the issue in early 2023.