GRANITE FALLS - The Yellow Medicine County Board received some bad news last week when the Granite Falls Energy company informed it and the city of Granite Falls that it was giving up plans to try to acquire ownership of the Minnesota Falls Dam, downriver from Granite Falls.
The dam maintains the river level by the city's waterfront district and pools from which the Granite Falls Energy ethanol plant and city golf course draw water. The 105-year-old structure is presently owned by Xcel Energy and has been condemned by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
In a letter addressed to Commissioner Gary Johnson and Granite Falls Mayor Dave Smiglewski, attorneys for Granite Falls Energy wrote, "...it has become obvious that obtaining ownership and maintaining the dam is not feasible or practical. Accordingly, Granite Falls Energy is stopping its attempt to obtain ownership and maintain the Minnesota Falls Dam. Accordingly, it appears likely that Xcel will proceed with removal of the dam."
The commissioners discussed Tuesday sending a resolution opposing removal of the dam to their state representatives or the governor and expressed concerns the lowering of the river level downtown would leave unsightly mud flats and cattail marshes.
"Do people realize how ugly Granite Falls is going to be without the dam?" Johnson said. "Lets draw down the river to where it's supposed to be and let citizens see what it looks like."
When contacted for comment, Granite Falls Energy CEO Steve Christensen said a study was under way to look into modifying the plant's intake on the river.
"It will depend on where the channel in the river turns out to be," Christensen said. "We might lengthen it and lower the height."
Christensen described possible costs as "substantial."
In other business, Property and Public Services Director Janel Timm briefed the commissioners on the effects of a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would require voters to present government-issued photo IDs to vote. Timm said the new requirements would require more election judges at each polling place and make elections more costly.
"It's more than changing voter ID," Timm said. "It's changing how our elections take place."
Minnesota allows same day registration to vote, Timm said. Voters who do not have a photo ID, such as a driver's license and proof of current residence, can cast provisional ballots that would be held seven to nine days for verification before being counted.
"In the last presidential election, we had 821 register the day of the election," Timm said. "In 2008, we had 420 absentee ballots, that'll be harder to verify now."
The board also heard a presentation by the Mankato-based engineering firm of Bolton and Menk Inc. on a design for improvements on Branch R of County Ditch 9.
The ditch was constructed in the early 1920s and drains 24 square miles in the middle of Yellow Medicine County. Proposed improvements would cost an estimated $1.1 million.
After some discussion, the board voted to proceed to the next step of ordering a final engineering study and appoint three viewers to redetermine benefits if the project does go through.