Friday, October 24, 2014
   
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Lake Helen restoration gains speed

Council gives verbal okay to hire consultant.

Local interest and support, and the placement of Lake Helen on two state lake impairment lists, makes clean-up funding from state and federal agencies a priority.

As a result, LakeTech Inc. consultant Paul Brakhage advised Gothenburg City Council members Friday, during a special meeting, to “strike while the fire is hot.”

The council then agreed to hire Brakhage for $50,000 to develop and document a plan for the improvement of the lake, work with funding partners to meet their goals and obtain public input.

Brakhage’s fee will not include engineering and design, which will be done by Miller & Associates Consulting Engineers of Kearney, or obtaining permits.

Brakhage coordinated clean-water programs and watershed projects for the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality for 24 years before resigning to do consultant work in October.

During a presentation, that included analysis of samples taken from Lake Helen, Brakhage said that high nutrients, specifically phosphorous, are causing toxic algae blooms that kill fish and can be deadly to dogs and other animals that drink it.

The blooms can also cause human sickness, and/or skin irritation.

Managing phosphorus levels is key, he said. The mineral is caused by waterfowl feces, dead fish, plant decay (including dead algae blooms) that settle in sediment at the bottom of the lake.

Brakhage said draining and dredging alone will not take care of the problem.

The consultant said the city needs funding partners such as the DEQ and Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, noting that the cost of the project will be done within reasonable limits.

Gothenburg could end up paying 10% to 15% of the cost of the project, he said.

However there are requirements, such as ridding the lake of “rough” fish such as carp and bullhead and keeping the waterfowl population at a number that won’t increase phosphorous levels.

Monitoring pollutants, through a water quality management plan, is necessary.

To receive grant money, Brak-hage said public meetings and input and a public education component are also needed.

Brakhage noted that the city might want to look at other projects they want done such as trail systems or recycling.

“It’s good to have a large-scale plan to make Gothenburg a better place to live,” he said.

As far as a schedule, Brak-hage said the city needs to apply for a DEQ grant by September of 2012, which includes the completion of planning and obtaining permits, with final notice of funding in March of 2013.

Contracts could be awarded in June of 2013 and the lake drained. Possible refilling could occur in 2014.

The council directed city administrator Bruce Clymer to meet with Brakhage and DEQ officials to discuss funding.

If funding cannot be obtained, Brakhage said his contract becomes null and void.

During a question-answer session, Brakhage said he thinks the best way to deter waterfowl from the lake is to break up their landing pattern with cables stretched across the water.

A dog run area on the grass could keep them from flat, grassy areas, he said, noting that draining the lake will also help.

For years, the council has discussed ridding Lake Helen of large numbers of geese and cleaning up the lake.

The issue came to the forefront again last summer when signs were erected at the lake to warn residents of toxic algae in the lake.

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