Lanesboro City Administrator David Todd, second from left, explains to a group of state senators the pressing need for the restoration of the 1868 Stone Mill Dam in Lanesboro. Due to weathering, rusting and an increasing number of leaks, the dam would need to be removed or replaced before it fails in due time. Pete Haug of Ayres Associates engineering firm, center, explained that dam failure would cause loss of life and injury in the city. The project would cost roughly $2.2 million.  ANTON ADAMEK/BLUFF COUNTRY READER
Lanesboro City Administrator David Todd, second from left, explains to a group of state senators the pressing need for the restoration of the 1868 Stone Mill Dam in Lanesboro. Due to weathering, rusting and an increasing number of leaks, the dam would need to be removed or replaced before it fails in due time. Pete Haug of Ayres Associates engineering firm, center, explained that dam failure would cause loss of life and injury in the city. The project would cost roughly $2.2 million. ANTON ADAMEK/BLUFF COUNTRY READER
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As part of their tour of southeastern Minnesota, members of the Senate Capital Investment Committee made stops at several locations in Fillmore County that are seeking state funding through the 2014 bonding bill.

Lanesboro Dam

Already a damp and foggy day in the morning of Wednesday, Dec. 4, the senators, staff and members of the press stopped at the historic 1868 Stone Mill Dam in Lanesboro to feel the spray from the dam's falls.

Lanesboro's city administrator, David Todd, greeted the group and briefly explained how the dam had become a centerpiece for the community as an historic tourist attraction, clean energy source and environmental safeguard. The project's engineering firm, Ayres Associates, had project manager Pete Haug on hand to explain the details of the dam.

The dam is a pinned gravity-arch structure, which is the only one in the world that is still being used. The stones are held in place by steel stone cramps attached to each other rather than mortar. These cramps are rusting and the Oneota Dolostone blocks are weathering causing leaks.

Haug explained to the legislators that the dam had become a public safety issue. If the dam fails, he explained bluntly, "It has the potential to kill people downstream." Downstream is downtown Lanesboro. This statement was verified in 2010 by a DNR study of the dam.

The restoration of the dam would cost roughly $2.2 million. All preliminary design and engineering surveys have been completed and $750,000 has already been awarded from the Minnesota Historical Society and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR). However, using that money will be contingent on securing the remaining funds from the state, as the city does not have the financial means to fully fund the project.

The project would add new concrete behind the old stone, effectively becoming a new dam. In order to preserve the historic value and appearance of the dam, new Oneota Dolostone would replace the current face of the dam.

Sen. Jeremy Miller asked what would happen if the dam wasn't restored. Haug responded saying the dam would need to be removed. The dam generates almost 700,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per year, which makes it the city's largest source for renewable energy. Removing the dam instead of restoring it would eliminate that energy source and also create problems downstream along the Root River. Approximately 5 million cubic yards of silt are held back by the dam. Downstream ecology and recreation would be impacted and would require funds for embankment stabilization and sediment mitigation.

Following the meeting with the senators, Todd said the legislators seemed surprised by the poor condition of the dam. Todd and city representatives had delivered a presentation to the House Capital Investment Committee in October, but they hadn't seen it for themselves at that time.

While noting that political winds may change what the Senate feels are the most important projects to fund next year, Todd expressed his optimism in the dam being one of those projects.

If it isn't, the city will have until mid-2014 to secure the funding they need from other sources. If that doesn't work out, the city will have to return the grant moneys promised to them.

"It's time-sensitive," remarked Todd, "We would like to see it move forward."

Lanesboro fish hatchery

After snapping a few pictures and offering a few quotes at the dam, the senators rode their tour bus southwest to the Lanesboro Fish Hatchery. Assistant manager David Susag greeted the legislators and immediately showed them the damage the office building had sustained during the June 23 flood. The hatchery, which is the largest in the state for trout, lost roughly 74,000 fish from that flood.

Susag said the flooring in the office building would be replaced soon and that heat had just been turned on the week before. However, issues with radon and nitrogen levels in the water supply, structural deterioration and noisy and cramped space are what the hatchery is hoping will be resolved through a $1.5 million request from the state.

Radon levels in the nursery water supply had been measured between 20 and 30 picocuries per liter. Generally, homeowners who have four picocuries per liter are advised to implement radon mitigation strategies. The hatchery has been utilizing spray bars to release the radon from the water and exhaust fans to release it from the buildings. Susag noted the radon didn't affect the fish, but was harmful to the workers.

The water does contain harmful amounts of nitrogen gas, which naturally comes from the bedrock. The spray bars have helped reduce nitrogen and radon levels, but not as much as the hatchery would like.

State funding would allow the hatchery to replace the 1954-built office building, employ further mitigation strategies and other projects.

National Trout Center

Following their stops in Lanesboro and Chatfield (see related story in this issue), the committee left for Rochester. At Rochester Community and Technical College, representatives from the National Trout Center (NTC) in Preston presented their request.

George Spangler, president of the board of directors for the NTC, said the senators had expressed interest in the proposal he and Preston Tourism director Kathy Dahl had delivered.

Noting that Driftless Area recreational fishery made up 10 percent of the tourism economy in the state, Spangler said, "They seemed to be sympathetic to the economic value of the fishery."

Spangler and Dahl answered questions about the NTC and reiterated their request for $3.5 to $4 million for the construction of a NTC permanent home. Spangler said political forces would make the final decisions, but the NTC board and members were remaining optimistic.

"They understand that the project is not frivolous. It isn't just local, but would benefit the entire region and state," he added.

If the trout center's request for financial assistance falls through, Spangler said they fully intend on providing NTC programming in 2014 that has already been established.

These were only three of roughly 20 projects the committee reviewed during its three-day tour of southeastern Minnesota. With nearly $3 billion dollars in bonding being requested throughout the state and the governor pushing for a roughly $1 billion bill, local projects are competing against each other.

With both the House and Senate tours complete, only dollars and time will tell what impacts are to be seen for area communities and Bluff Country.