Posted on January 7, 2021
The number of Rochester City Council members seeking to split proposed changes to the Silver Lake Dam from planned dredging doubled Monday.
“I happen to wholeheartedly agree with council member (Shaun) Palmer that there are really two different projects here,” Ward 2 council member Mark Bransford said Monday during his first meeting after taking the oath of office.
Bransford sought to separate the projects as part of the city’s legislative priorities, which were approved on the eve of Tuesday’s start of the 2021 session of the Minnesota Legislature.
Heather Corcoran, the city’s legislative policy analyst, said however that including the joint project in the list of priorities doesn’t commit the city to combine the efforts.
“As situations and opportunities arise, we can adjust to be strategic and smart about our request,” she said, adding that the existing proposal for state funding is based on potential savings due to the timing and potential for cutting costs by combining the effort.
While Bransford joined Palmer in seeking to split the dredging from the larger proposal, which includes modification of flood-control efforts, as well as a new trail extension and pedestrian bridge, council member Kelly Rae Kirkpatrick said the proposal might not go far enough.
“I see this project as far more than dam removal or ADA compliance with a new path,” the new Ward 4 council member said, adding it holds the opportunity to seek grant funding to expand the scope of the project.
“I see this as habitat restoration,” she said, suggesting the area covered by the project could be expanded. “I see this as a really large economic driver for our community.”
Council member Nick Campion said he was excited to hear new ideas for the project but added that discussion was best delayed until additional project details emerge.
“It isn’t the time to necessarily dissect the project,” he said.
In November, the city council approved moving the proposed $13.3 million project forward to the next stage of planning, which should provide more clarity on potential timing and impact.
Council President Brooke Carlson agreed Monday that the Silver Lake project is a topic better suited for a future meeting.
“We as a council will be reflecting more on the project in the coming months and have an opportunity to further advise staff in what is important for our community from our collective perspectives,” she said.
Palmer said his concern is that continued discussion could postpone the dredging, which is slated to start in 2021 or 2022.
“I’d hate to see it get tied down to a bonding bill since it’s not a bonding year,” he said, noting the city already has funds for the estimated $5.2 million dredging effort and could start this year.
While the Minnesota Legislature uses even-numbered years as the time to approve borrowing for infrastructure projects throughout the state, lawmakers have routinely sought to approve smaller packages on odd-numbered years.
In the end, the council voted 5-2 Monday to keep the project in its list of legislative priorities as currently proposed.
STATE OF CITY ADDRESS DELAYED
Rochester Mayor Kim Norton was slated to provide the annual State of the City address Monday, but opted to postpone it.
She said it was important to focus on the swearing-in of new council members, as well as to look back on the city’s accomplishments in 2020, rather than dedicate time to the address.
“We’ll announce a new date for that — probably a stand-alone meeting — in the coming weeks,” she said.