Independence delays Lake Independence decision

The Independence City Council, Tuesday, May 14, heard a long discussion about the proposal to unclog the outlet from Lake Independence and then decided to table a request for city of Independence participation in cost sharing for the effort. 

The Lake Independence discussion began when Craig Olson, who lives on South Lakeshore Drive, raised questions about a proposal to unclog the lake outlet between Independence Road and Pagenkopf Road. Olson also is a board member for the Lake Independence Citizens Association (LICA) and a city of Independence Planning Commissioner.

Olson noted that LICA had asked for a study of both high and low water levels in Lake Independence. “What we got was a study of high water levels,” he said, and the study did not address low water levels.

He also wanted to know how much the proposed unclogging of the channel would cost, who would pay for it and who would keep the channel clear after work is done.

Later in the meeting, he asked for more public input.

After Olson spoke, LICA President Mike McLaughlin asked the City Council to approve Independence’s share of the cost of the project. McLaughlin also is vice chair of the Pioneer Sarah Creek Watershed Commission. Pioneer Sarah Creek, the cities of Medina and Independence and the Three Rivers Park District shared costs for the Lake Independence Outlet Feasibility Study done by water resources consultant Hakanson – Anderson.

McLaughlin said lake property owners need to look beyond their own self-interests and do what is best for the lake. Unclogging the channel would mean that the lake level would be closer to normal lake levels. Currently, the water level in Lake Independence is 12 inches higher than water levels recorded between 1935 and 1991.

“High water levels are wreaking havoc on the shoreline,” he said. Lake level increases are washing out millions of dollars in shoreline improvements, and some improvements can’t be completed because the water level is too high.

Meanwhile, the public has had many opportunities to learn about the proposed project — at every LICA annual meeting, on the LICA website and in the association newsletter, McLaughlin said. Unclogging the outlet also was discussed at the watershed district’s third generation plan meeting held in April at the Water Resources Fair at Independence City Hall. The meeting was heavily attended.

“There has been a ton of public input,” he said. More opportunities are coming and will happen after a project plan becomes available.

Medina, the watershed commission and Three Rivers Parks District already have signed on as funding partners for the Lake Independence Outlet project, McLaughlin said, as he asked for Independence’s financial participation.

Another Lake Independence resident said that hundreds of mature trees along the outlet channel are sitting in water during summer months and soil is being washed into the lake. “Now is the time for action,” he said, before rains come again and raise the water level.

He said Lake Independence has become a seepage lake in which water is sitting and not going anywhere. The lake smells of blue green algae during the summer.

Then the discussion turned to how much Independence was being asked to contribute to the project. Estimated overall cost is $292,000 for channel dredging and vegetation removal, according to an April 17 memo from Jim Kujawa, of Hennepin County Environmental Services. Benefitting cities (Medina and Independence) would share $129,650 of the cost.

But as the Independence City Council discussed the cost of Independence’s share, no one came up with a concrete figure. “If we don’t have hard numbers, we can’t approve anything,” said City Councilor Brad Fisher.

And City Councilor Brad Spencer said he wanted to make sure Independence residents had enough information about the project and were on board.

In the end, the City Council decided to table the request for funding the city’s share of the Lake Independence outlet project so that city staff can bring in more information.