May 29, 2008

City Council Meeting Notes

A few minutes of Wednesday’s city council meeting demonstrated a democratic axiom: you get the government you deserve. I’m not saying that Little Canada’s government is especially bad. Watching the interrogation of two business owners explain how their property improvements would enhance the appearance of the city or how their improved security would minimize bar violence gave me some glimpse into the mundane tasks the council handles. On the surface, I think they do that job fairly well. The surface is all I was able to see and I’m as guilty as any citizen for being that unaware of my own communities’ activity.

Little Canada residents were underrepresented at last evening’s city council meeting. Especially underrepresented were Savage Lake residents who were spoken for by Rocky Waite and considerably less so by city council members and our city administrator, Joel Hanson. After listening to Rocky’s complaints about inaction by the city regarding the lake, Rocky was informed there would be a meeting for lake residents. This turned out to be a surprise for the city clerk, Kathy Glanzer, who would have the task of informing lake shore owners when this meeting would be held. Hanson hadn’t bothered to tell her about the meeting because, according to him, citizens would forget about the meeting if too much time passed between the meeting notice and the meeting date. Apparently, we’re all approaching senility and can’t be trusted with extended planning information. As of last night, this meeting is planned tentatively for Tuesday, June 17th, where all the “experts” in our lake will be called together to tell us what has happened to our lake.

Now, these are the same “experts” who demonstrated their expertise when they took over management of the lake from residents and lowered the lake’s level or when they designed drainage systems that dumped silt, salt, and sand into the lake.
Honestly, I think the real experts are the residents who have lived around this lake for decades. Rocky Waite, for example, has lived across the street from the lake for more than 30 years. He knew a lake that was recently dissected by 35E, but that still lived as a home for fish, frogs, turtles, and the wildlife the lake had supported for thousands of years. He’s observant enough to see that lake is slowly vanishing as it turns into a unsightly drainage ditch.

Today, the lake is slowly filling with dirt, sand, salt, and other crud because the drainage that is common to natural bodies of water has been eliminated from both sides of the lake. The lake fills with runoff and there is no way for that material to continue its trip to the sea. The drain on the west side is high enough that it will allow the lake bottom to fill almost to its current waterline before any sediment will escape to the east side. The same applies to the east side. The new drain is what determines the high level of the lake, which means that whatever solids drain into the east side will eventually fill that body of water, just like the west side. In recent years, the runoff from the streets has been increased by the design of new streets and added drains. The city rarely cleans the streets before the winter detritus is washed by spring rains into the lake.

This is the brilliant engineering that was applied to the design of Savage Lake. Genius, don’t you think?

The only way these two halves of the lake will stay capable of holding enough water to be considered anything more interesting than a shallow ditch is if the lake is regularly dredged to remove the collected sediment. That’s it. Any other plan of inaction is pointless, unscientific, and unrealistic. But I’m sure the experts will tell us something different and entertaining. Their solution is bound to require less effort from the people who caused the problems and will be intended to put off real solutions as long as possible.

The real Savage Lake experts have yet to be heard. Part of that is your fault. You’re not forcing your government to listen. The other part of the problem is that we have a government that isn’t particularly interested in our opinions. I got a face full of that as I watched Joel Hansen’s expression as Rocky tried to explain his difficulties in getting straight answers from city employees. Clearly, Mr. Hansen objects to having whatever he does during his day interrupted by commonplace citizens expecting service for their tax money.

Our expectations from government are regularly lowered by our government’s performance. Our government consistently lowers its performance to meet our shrinking expectations. Eventually, we may as well give up on this democracy experiment and pick one of the more simple forms of government; like a monarchy or a dictatorship.

May 28, 2008

On the Schedule

Rocky Waite is putting the state of our lake on the Little Canada City Council's meeting schedule tonight (Wednesday, 5/28/2008). If you can be there to lend support, he expects to be given the floor about 8PM.

May 22, 2008

Bird Names

My wife says so far this spring she's sighted Canadian geese, kingfishers, egrets, blue herons, orioles, gold finches, American redstarts, American coots, swallows, bitterns, wood ducks, mallards, cormorants, greater loons, Bohemian waxwings, grebes, plover, red tail hawks, bald eagles, red wing blackbirds, dark eyed juncos, chickadees, sea gulls, one pelican, northern phalaropes, hooded merganser ducks, catbirds, common goldeneye ducks, purple house finches, sooty terns, crows and ravens, mourning doves, cardinals, blue birds, downy woodpeckers, pileated woodpeckers, and turkeys.

She is recovering from knee surgery, so when she is feeling better she promises to make a more complete list.

Bird Watching on Savage Lake

This has been a specially good May for bird watching on Savage lake. Early in the month, when the temperatures were barely above freezing, I walked down to my dock and surprised three large loons. I've heard that Minnesota's "greater loons" were large birds, but I was surprised at how large they really are. When the three startled birds rose from the water and flew to the middle of the lake, at first I thought the were geese. Really large geese. Immediately, I realized they were different birds because of their coloring and shape, but I didn't identify them as loons until they settled back into (I mean into) the water. I watched them patrol the lake for more than an hour before going to work that morning.

Our yard has been decorated with a variety of yellow winged and breasted birds. If I were more of a birder, I'd know what they are, but I know they are unusual for our yard entertainment. We have two sets of wood ducks nesting in our duck houses, also. Red wing blackbirds are back. Robins, too. At least three different types of woodpeckers. And the usual finches, sparrows, and bug eaters. For a week in late April, we had a lot of seagulls and even a severely lost pelican.

The black birds are keeping the hawks and eagles from getting too comfortable, but we did loose one early baby goose to a bald eagle in the first week of May. Snatched it right off of our beach. I've never seen that before.

On the mammal front, a pair of muskrats are making a home under one of our beech trees. I hope they survive this year. We've lost every family of muskrats who have come to our lake in the last five years.

Changing the Lake's Name

To add insult to injury, H.F. No. 2503, was introduced to change Savage Lake's name (and the names of 13 other Minnesota towns, lakes, and rivers) to the "less offensive" "Gathering Natives Lake." Other than the ridiculous politically correct aspect to this new name, my biggest complaint is that there is apparently no interest from natives in this lake and no evidence of any attempt by government to protect this lake that, supposedly, has historic value. The state and federal government piled dirt on the lake in order to kill the lake's stream source and to build the I35E "bridge." That was done in such a hurry that no effort to determine if historic relics were present could be made. Personally, I think the "savages" the lake's name refers to would be the government officials who have ravaged the lake.

City Council - Lake Shore Owners' Meeting

On October 30th, 2007, there was a meeting of lake shore owners called by the Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District that only two homeowners attended. We don’t know if that was because of poor contact by the city or apathy by homeowners. We hope it was the first. In that meeting, the two of us (Thomas Day and Kathy Engebretson) were told that we needed to form a “lake owner’s association” to receive any assistance or protection from (or by) the state and city’s neglect of our lake.

In 2002, the City of Little Canada “took over” managing the lake height from a resident on the east side of the freeway. From that point until today, the lake has continued to deteriorate until it is in danger of becoming a mosquito swamp and an industrial and residential chemical waste dumping ground. These government institutions have caused a number of problems leading to the damage to our lake:

  • The Little Canada has poorly maintained the drain traps which allows street runoff to fill the lake with silt and pollutants,
  • the local school has dumped industrial chemicals into the school’s drainage system, ending up in Savage Lake,
  • the Watershed District improperly designed the lake drainage to drop the lake’s water level below historical levels, allowing water lilies to take hold and cover the surface of the lake,
  • and the DNR has ignored the deterioration of the lake while preventing lake shore owners, the county, and the city from correcting those problems.

In 2002, the City of Little Canada took over “managing” the lake height. For years past, a a resident on the east side of the freeway had contributed his own time to setting the gate and watching the water level. From that point to today, the lake’s condition has continued to deteriorate. In 2003, County Watershed District employees improperly measured the lake’s height and, accordingly, constructed a new drain system that lowered the lake height about 18-24” below historic levels. The Watershed district took 2 years to admit this mistake and two more years to make a correction that brought the lake levels up approximately 9” (still 9-15” below historic shoreline levels). The lowering of the lake level, plus the silt build-up from the street runoff, encouraged the dramatic increase in the lily pads covering the lake and other foreign plants along the shoreline. In my backyard, past runoff silt had created a small shelf that extended about 10’ into the lake from the drain, in 1997. Now, that silt-island extends at least 50’ into the lake. Further south, directly west of the island on our side of the lake, silt runoff has practically created a bridge between the island and the houses directly northwest of the island. By mid-June, the lake has been almost completely covered by water lilies, due to the lowered water level and raised the lake bottom.

All of this does more than just create a nuisance and environmental damage: it lowers the value of every property near the lake. Property values near high-quality natural resources are elevated, but those near unkempt swamps and abused waste dumps depreciate. If the city, county, and state choose to damage our property values, we should, at least, require them to accordingly lower tax evaluations.

I have created a blog site to try to help organize our lake owners’ group regarding saving this natural resource: If you are interested in joining a Lake Homeowners’ Association and working together to improve Savage Lake, please contact me at

Getting Started

Savage Lake has received the short shrift from the Little Canada city government and the state of Minnesota for so long that the lake is practically dead and gone. The long history of this body of water deserves more respect and this website is an attempt to begin a process of organizing lake shore property owners to begin the process of restoring the lake to recreational and scenic beauty.