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Lake Mitchell dredging project causing debate on time and cost

Posted on July 17, 2023

MITCHELL, S.D. (Dakota News Now) – A public health watch was issued on July 5 for Lake Mitchell. The lake has been impacted by algae blooms and high phosphorus levels for years. The EPA also has it on its “impaired waters” list.

Finding a plan to clean the lake has been difficult in Mitchell.

Lake Mitchell needs to be cleaned up, there’s no doubt about that. However, the discussions about how, when, and the price tag have all been subject to a lot of disagreement.

There have been talks about finding a solution to clean the lake for years. The plan is to dredge the lake and take out a loan to get it done, but the loan was initially shot down by the council in June.

“That went to a four-four tie, so it died, so what we took to the council last Wednesday night was a proposal to put it to a vote of the people, the residents of Mitchell, and let them make the ultimate decision on where we’re going from here,” said Mayor Bob Everson.

At the most recent council meeting, some pushed for a special election in September rather than the next election in June, which sparked some debate.

“In June, we’ll have four city council seats open, we’ll have a mayor seat open. I thought putting it all on one ballot and you get more people voting on it, it gives you a true feeling of how the city stands on whether they want the lake dredged or not,” said Kevin McCardle, president of the Mitchell City Council.

“The timeline here now has kind of become critical,” Everson said. “We lost two years because of COVID and of course, there was an administration change in Washington, D.C. that created issues relative to inflation and financing.”

The city of Mitchell has just under $2 million saved up, and the loan they would need to take out is over $25 million, which will be a total cost of over $50 million with interest.

According to McCardle, the cost of the dredge is 25 million plus $500,000 a year for 30 years for maintenance to the lake. Additional interest makes the cost about 54,500,000 over 30 years “with no guarantees it will clean up the lake.” McCardle also says that only 51% of the lake will get dredged for that price.

“We need to start fixing the problem in the watershed coming into the lake before we fix the inlake. I personally feel $1.8 million a year out of the city’s general fund is not financially feasible at this time — our budget is already tight enough,” McCardle said.

Some argue that the price tag is too high, and some say that it will only get more expensive as they wait due to inflation.

“What we fear is we’re going to see an increase in the cost of this go up even beyond the $13 – $25 million dollars we’re already looking at. If it’s going to happen at Lake Mitchell, it’s got to happen sooner, or we’re not going to be able to afford it anymore,” said Everson.

McCardle says that a special election would also not be beneficial because it would cost $10,000 to do one.

“I don’t see how we can spend $2 million a year, it’s 1.8 million for the next thirty years, and have the city be fiscally responsible and survive,” McCardle said. “We need to find more money to fund it. Nobody on the council is against dredging the lake — it’s just the amount of money that it’s going to cost.”

While things did escalate at the last council meeting, McCardle says that he and the mayor have been friends for a long time and put it behind them. They both have the same goal of doing what’s best for the city of Mitchell but have different ideas of what the best way forward would be.

There was also conflict about the amount of money the city has in its fund for the lake project. Mike Bathke, one of the newest members of the council, was concerned that the amount was at $1.8 million. Everson says that they’ve made many attempts to find more money, whether it be from grants or other means.

“We’ve talked to about every agency we can think of to try to find a way to get this funded so that it doesn’t fall back on the city of Mitchell, but that’s not going to happen. We are not raising taxes by any means to do any of this. If we’re going to do it, it needs to happen, or we need to make that decision and move on,” Everson said.

Everson is hopeful that the city can work something out and get the lake cleaned up.

“I am because frankly, it’s a very nice lake and right now with algal blooms and the material that shows up on this lake and the smell that comes off of it, it’s very unfortunate,” Everson said.

Ultimately, it will be brought to a vote of the people next June.


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