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Silver Lake dam and dredging project heads to next phase of design

The Silver Lake Dam on Wednesday, April 10, 2024, in Rochester.

Posted on June 19, 2024

Council members voice some concerns about portions of proposed $5.5 million dam project amid support for continued planning and community engagement.

ROCHESTER — Design work will continue on the proposal to replace Silver Lake Dam alongside future dredging.

“This is not the vote right now to take a wrecking ball to the dam,” Rochester City Council member Molly Dennis said Monday after voicing concern about the proposal. “This is a vote to bring back all of the information for a future vote, for a possible wrecking ball.”

The council voted 6-1 to approve a nearly $800,000 WHKS and Co. contract for continued design and project management of the project that seeks to convert the existing dam to a non-mechanical structure that will maintain the current lake level while allowing fish passage and added recreational opportunities.

The move also authorized Public Works staff to seek bids on the project once the design work is complete, which is expected to be next year.

Rochester Deputy Public Works Director Aaron Luckstein said city staff have been intentional in not calling the project a dam “removal,” since the work will create an alternate dam structure about 700 feet east of the existing dam.

“As soon as you mention removal of the dam (people) think the lake is gone,” he said, stating that some communities have called similar projects “a conversion.”

The new dam will be longer than the current structure but won’t use mechanical operations to maintain the existing lake level. With the relocation, the new structure is expected to maintain approximately 85% of the lake’s footprint.

Council member Shaun Palmer, who cast the sole vote against Monday’s action, said he’s willing to support additional design and study to see if the proposal will work, but he objected to a request to seek construction bids on the project once design is complete.

He said the final design should be up for a council vote before seeking prices from potential contractors.

As proposed, changing the dam is estimated to cost $5.5 million, with an added $4 million expected to be needed for dredging the lake and a portion of the Zumbro River. Additional costs could include the creation of trails, building a pedestrian bridge and additional dredging.

While the base proposal calls for creating space for a trail extension along the lake’s north shore, Luckstein said construction bids are expected to include options for added work to complete the trail, as well as potential additional pedestrian amenities.

Additionally, he said the planned 2025 bidding process would provide city staff more time to work on a funding plan, which could include trail grants, reserved funds from the 1989 sales tax and city stormwater funds.

“We wouldn’t have actual costs and a breakdown based on the various funding sources,” he told the council of what could be presented before seeking bids. “It would just be an estimate.”

“The idea is to bring a complete package forward,” he added.

Dennis joined Palmer in voicing concerns about moving too fast, saying she has heard opposition regarding the current plan but adding that she supports the proposed environmental and pedestrian benefits. She said the conflicting issues led her to support the additional design work and public engagement that is expected as part of the contract.

“We need to spend money to do it right,” she said, noting the added details will show whether the project is viable.

Council member Kelly Rae Kirkpatrick also cited some hesitancy, saying she supports goals of the project but worries about the aesthetics of what is emerging from the 30% design. She said she’s hopeful the added design work will provide time to improve the project.

Deputy City Administrator Aaron Parrish sadi while Monday’s vote isn’t the council’s last decision on the proposed project, it is a critical step.

“You are authorizing the spending of about $800,000 to do this work and when you do that, you want to have some confidence that you feel like this is the direction you want to go,” he told the council.

However, Luckstein said timing is crucial, since a delay beyond a 2025 approval could jeopardize up to $2 million in funding from Rochester Public Utilities, which is currently responsible for maintaining the dam.

If an agreement isn’t reached next year, he said RPU must make repairs to the existing structure, which would use the $1.2 million already designated for the dam change, as well as added funds for ongoing maintenance.

The city is also hoping to start negotiations this summer related to a nearly $2.4 million state grant for the dam project. Luckstein once details are finalized, the council will be asked to approve acceptance of the funds.

Another future decision point will likely come with a review by the city’s Heritage Preservation Commission, since Silver Lake Park was recently deemed a local historic landmark . Luckstein said that review will likely occur after the project is at the 60% design point, which could be later this year.

Under the current proposed timeline, the design and planning will continue into 2025, with construction and dredging starting at the end of the same year and being completed in 2026.


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