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Hagen: Just like a decade ago, Lake Mitchell still needs to be fixed

An aerial view of Lake Mitchell pictured on Saturday, May 11, 2024, in Mitchell.

Posted on June 3, 2024

Did you happen to notice all the “Vote no to dredge Lake Mitchell” signs needed to be fixed?

The political signs around Mitchell now have black tape over a date that mistakenly read next week’s election date as June 6.

Oh well. Everybody makes mistakes. And the group that made all those signs spent a ton of time fixing them to remove the wrong information.

The city election, held Tuesday, June 4, will determine the next mayor of Mitchell, three Mitchell City Council seats and a ballot measure about Lake Mitchell.

Specifically, the vote on the lake is to approve a loan to fund the dredging of Lake Mitchell to remove harmful phosphorus that becomes nasty blue-green algae every summer.

There’s so much algae in the lake that it basically becomes shut down annually to swimmers due to poor water quality, and even worse is more phosphorus enters the lake daily due to the runoff from upstream.

The Mitchell City Council last year split its vote to approve this project, so now it is on the citizens to make the choice. It was disheartening to see some of the same council members who for years voted to spend $976,000 since 2017 studying the lake’s problems ultimately vote against what professional engineers suggested was the best route to fix the problem.

But now it’s our turn as a community to vote on the lake — and when I cast my ballot on Tuesday, it’ll be to push this years-long issue across the finish line. I’m supporting the dredge project, and I hope the community does as well.

Algae turns Lake Mitchell green near the Lake Mitchell Day Camp in this 2019 file photo.

First, it’s important to give credit to Mitchell Mayor Bob Everson for his urgency to get this so close to reality. There’s also been a ton of work done upstream. Perhaps no one on the council thought they’d ever actually be voting to fund the dredging and assumed years of endless studies would continue. Everson took this problem seriously from the start of his tenure as mayor.

Regardless, the lake is in the situation it is. No one can deny it needs help. It’s been problematic for years.

Consider this: In April 2015, this newspaper wrote an editorial with the headline, “Drain Lake Mitchell? Not a bad idea.” The opinion, which I wrote, was based on a Lake Mitchell Advisory Committee meeting, attended by an expert with South Dakota State University fisheries management and ecology. It was suggested that emptying the lake to add habitat, control sediment and re-sculpt its floor would be beneficial for years to come.

Ten years later, we’re significantly worse off for not listening. Where will we be in 2034?

The price tag of $25 million (plus $11.4 million in interest over 30 years) to fix the lake now is expensive, but it will only increase to do it right. We’ve tried alternative solutions like a solarbee, designed to reduce summertime algae blooms. We’ve heard alternative options during this election cycle, but the professional studies our tax dollars paid for concluded mechanical dredging is the best route. Why pay for the studies and not utilize the advice?

I ended that editorial in 2015 acknowledging the hefty cost to drain and dredge. But the project has always been worth the cost. Recreation on the water and along the shore will improve, the stigma around the lake will be erased and we’ll have a fresh start with one of our community’s best assets. So many people use the lake more than just those who live by it, and yes — our fish population will return.

This city has made some mistakes putting this project off and attempting Band-Aid solutions for too long. No more kicking the can down the road. No more excuses.

Remember, we all make mistakes and we’ve done that by waiting so long to address this issue. We’re at the finish line. Now’s the time to take action and vote to help Lake Mitchell.

Some problems can get fixed with just a little black tape. This isn’t one of them.

This is a major problem that shouldn’t wait any longer.


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