Split council authorizes erosion study for major lakes in Lake Elmo

Three members of the Lake Elmo city council hope a study of erosion on the city’s major lake shorelines will end neighborhood fighting.

“This is such a contentious issue and it drives me nuts,” Councilmember Anne Smith said. “The only way to put this to bed is to have a study done.”

Council members Julie Fliflet and Jill Lundgren — both members of the city’s environmental committee — brought forward a recommendation Dec. 6 that the city hire a firm to study the erosion on shorelines. The city currently has an ordinance in place that restricts the use of boats that cause wakes during high-water levels, and the city has seen many years of contentious debate among lakefront property owners regarding the ordinance.

“Here’s what is going to happen — they are going to come in and are going to say, ‘There is no definitive data,’” Smith said. “But you know what, people can’t argue back and forth and put the item on the agenda a hundred more times.”

Smith said she believes from information presented to the council over many years that there are cyclical changes in local lake water levels.

“So the reason I’m supporting this is that it should never have to come back again,” Smith said. “In order to completely put this to bed, do the study, get the results because I’m pretty sure where the results are going to stand and nobody can fight ever again about this topic.”

Despite the discussion coming before the city council after midnight, many lakefront homeowners gave comments during the Dec. 6 meeting.

“We just had a council member say that the study wasn’t necessary because it has been done and done and done,” said resident Dale Dorschner. “There is no more erosion from boats, if you read all the studies, than wind. Unless you are going to regulate Mother Nature, the wind with whitecaps hitting your shoreline for 12 hours, 24 hours, 48 hours is way more than any boat traffic.”

Some residents pointed to other concerns they felt were more pressing.

“The millfoil is an incredible problem that is reducing the ecosystem in these lakes,” said resident Brian Boyle. “As a resident … and having some knowledge of the lake’s topography both top and bottom, to talk about shoreland erosion is profoundly uniformed if we are looking at this for lake health.”

Fliflet argued that an erosion study was only one of many issues facing the lakes that she was interested in working on.

“This isn’t about discounting the other problems that the lakes have,” Fliflet said.

Fliflet pointed to $40,000 set aside in the city’s budget for 2017 that would give matching grant funds to lake associations.

“The DNR supports a study, and the environmental committee recommended a study so it is before the council,” Fliflet said.

Fliflet said the study wouldn’t look into the high water levels and when the no-wake boat ordinance would be triggered, but would only focus on erosion and its potential causes.

“The experts will tell us if there is a problem or not,” Fliflet said.

The council voted 3-2 — with Pearson and Bloyer dissenting — to allocate $25,000 to a study of the shoreline erosion on lakes Olson, Demontreville, Jane and Elmo. An additional $5,000 could be spent if needed.

Contact Alicia Lebens at [email protected]