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DNR presents case for removing Minnesota Falls Dam

July 13, 2012
By Steve Browne , Marshall Independent

GRANITE FALLS - More than 20 residents of Granite Falls came to the Kiwanis regular meeting Thursday to listen to officials from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources explain the probable effects of removing the Minnesota Falls Dam just south of town. The century-old structure is currently owned by Xcel Energy and has been condemned as unsafe.

Chris Domeier, assistant fisheries manager at the Ortonville hatchery, and Lucas Youngsma, area hydrologist from the Marshall DNR office, came to address the somewhat skeptical crowd.

"I live on the river and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what will happen if they take the river down five to seven feet," said local resident Janet Wambeke. "It's been taken down before for projects."

Article Photos

Photo by Steve Browne
Chris Domeier, assistant fisheries manager at the Ortonville hatchery, left, and Lucas Youngsma, area hydrologist from the Marshall office of the state Department of Natural Resources, addressed a meeting of the Granite Falls area Kiwanis on Thursday to explain probable effects of the removal of the Minnesota Falls Dam downriver from the town.

Concerns have been expressed in the community about the river shrinking below the Granite Falls Dam along the waterfront and Memorial Park area.

Under Minnesota law, the commissioner of the DNR can order a dam modified, repaired or removed, in the public interest according to Domeier.

"The public interest lies in five areas: safety, economic effects, recreation, aesthetics, and the environment," Domeier said. "Safety is the primary reason, nobody wants anyone to drown below the dam and eventually it will happen. And if the dam fails, it could be a major catastrophe."

Domeier addressed the worries that a diminished river would retreat from the present banks leaving unsightly mud flats.

"During the 2006 draw down, we saw one bank was sandy, the other was firm silt you could walk on," Domeier said. "Trees will grow down to the banks. It'll be a new river, narrower with deeper pools."

Though proponents of keeping the dam in place have argued for reinforcing the structure with a rock barrier on the downstream side, the cost would approach an estimated $15 million with uncertain results, according to Domeier.

Granite Falls Mayor Dave Smiglewski expressed concerns about nearby basins and wetlands fed by the river and asked if the DNR would be responsible for maintaining them.

"We looked at the watershed size," Youngsma said. "The basins and wetlands will still be there without mitigation. The wetlands were there before the dam and will be afterwards."

Granite Falls Area Chamber of Commerce Director Nicole Zempel asked about the effects of removal on recreation.

"I've had phone calls already from people with concerns about canoeing and kayaking," Zempel said. "Will we be able to canoe and kayak from the Granite Falls Dam to the lower dam area?"

Domeier and Youngsma said the waterfront area should still be good for boating, and the restored rapids by the lower dam area should be manageable for those skilled at shooting rapids.

As for concerns about the effect on Memorial Park on the east side of the river, Domeier said he could not commit for the DNR but funds for mitigation of any effects on the park would probably be available.

And in any case, all attempts to transfer ownership from Xcel Energy to any entity or combination of entities willing to take on the expense and bureaucratic process of ownership and repair of the dam have fallen through.

"A permit for removal has already been issued," Youngsma said.



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