Jul 7, 2008

I received a very positive response from our local state Representative, Bev Scalze (rep.bev.scalze@house.mn), regarding our trials in getting the lake levels and contamination problems resolved. She has contacted the DNR regarding our concerns and is working with DNR officials. She commented that "Since there is a mention of the State setting the water levels and the fact that legislation may be needed, I see a need for me to be involved in an issue that I had hoped would be addressed by the Watershed District and the City."

This is a ray of hope in an otherwise depressing trend of events for Savage Lake shore property owners. Please contact her to thank her for her involvement and assistance.


Jul 1, 2008

June 25, 2008 City Council Meeting

The following is an exerpt from the city council's meeting notes. Obviously, some things are dramatically less detailed than what was presented in the meeting. A couple of things stand out from these meeting notes and past statements lake shore owners have heard:

1) The DNR and the Watershed District do not use science, historical records, or justifiable information in making decisions on issues like lake levels. A "finger in the wind" appears to be sufficient information for their pronouncements. If the DNR is the ultimate arbitrator of the lake level and they are not competent to perform that task, it appears that the city and state is practically daring property owners to challenge their decisions in court.

2) However, the buck is constantly being passed in this regard. The "lake," according to the council and the Watershed District, is not a lake, but a watershed. The DNR passes the buck back to the Watershed District, they pass it back to the DNR, and the city pretends their hands are washed of all responsibility.

3) The city is not aggressively investigating or monitoring lake pollution, if they have to be shown pictures of trash, clippings, and old tires before they decide to act on a citizen's complaint of business pollution in the city's lakes.

4) Claims such as "the Public Works Department’s use of salt and eliminating sand usage, coupled with better sweeping practices would go a long way toward water quality improvements" perfectly describes how little the city administration understands the concept of "water quality."


McGraw recapped the Savage Lake meeting that was held on Tuesday, June 17, 2008 with residents in the Savage Lake drainage area. He noted that Cliff Aichinger, Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District did a very good job of presenting a lot of information. McGraw felt that the biggest issues the neighbors have are the high water mark for Savage Lake, how and when it was set, its impact on the lake, and the water lilies that have taken over the west side of the lake. McGraw indicated that most of the neighbors present want the water level raised and want the water lilies gone.

McGraw reported that Aichinger gave the property owners some encouragement on how to accomplish both through the DNR. Aichinger indicated that if that avenue was not successful, the City’s legislative representatives would need to get involved. McGraw pointed out that the treatment of the water lilies would be at the property owners’ expense. While the DNR has approved some treatment of the water lilies, McGraw felt that more was warranted given that there had never been water lilies on West Savage Lake in the past.

Blesener noted that Aichinger made it clear that Savage Lake is classified as a wetland and not a lake.

McGraw further reported that the Watershed does not test water quality of wetlands. However, they have done testing of Savage Lake and committed to continue to do testing. The result of the testing is that Savage Lake is not polluted.

McGraw reported that the issue of the School District dumping into the wetland system. It was determined that latex field paint was being dumped, which is not hazardous. The School District has been informed to cease this practice or they will be fined.

With regard to water quality, McGraw reported that discussions focused on treatment with the City Engineer recommending that rain water gardens be installed in the Savage Lake drainage area to provide treatment. It would not be possible to put a rain water garden at the end of the culvert that runs directly into the lake near the Day property, however. The City Engineer indicated that he would work with property owners in this drainage area to determine the level of interest in both having the gardens in yards as well as maintenance of the gardens. With regard to the culvert, it may be possible to install a system for collecting trash and debris before it gets into Savage Lake. This would have to be cleaned frequently to prevent blockage and flooding.

The City Administrator indicated that there are still roles that the City can plan relative to concerns about Savage Lake. He noted that the City is trying to get good historical information on the lake level. He pointed out that many people who live on Savage Lake have been there for many years and can provide information. The Administrator also pointed out the Watershed’s willingness to contact the DNR to request a re-evaluation of the ordinary high water mark. The Administrator noted that before an adjustment in that level would be possible, it is likely that a flood study will need to be done to determine if there would be any negative impacts as a result of higher water levels. He pointed out that one property owner on East Savage expressed opposition to having the water level raised. With regard to water lilies, the Watershed has indicated it will assist in working with the DNR on a more extensive eradication plan. The Administrator noted that the Watershed has indicated that property owners can request their Board to provide funding to help defray the costs.

McGraw felt that the property owners had a legitimate argument for the removal of the water lilies from Savage Lake given that at one time there were none on the lake. McGraw felt that if the property owners and the Watershed presented the information in an organized fashion, the argument for total removal of the water lilies would be stronger.

Keis asked about the street sweeping discussion, and asked if the City can justify the cost of a sweeper. The City Administrator felt the issue was not one of economic payback to the City, but rather issues of aesthetics and water quality. He noted that cities typically sweep three times per year. Little Canada has been sweeping only once per year, given timing issues with fall sweepings. The Administrator felt that the purchase of a sweeper should be looked into, noting that the City will get some additional LGA funds that could be used for the purchase. There are additional issues related to operating costs, and the Administrator suggested it may be possible to hire a person part-time to do sweeping. The other issue is what to do with the materials that are swept up. Under the contracting arrangement, the contractor must dispose of this material.

The Administrator felt that the Public Works Department’s use of salt and eliminating sand usage, coupled with better sweeping practices would go a long way toward water quality improvements. Additionally the installation of rain water gardens and collection of trash at catch basins will help the lakes. Further, the Watershed has indicated their assistance with the DNR relative to the Savage Lake water level and water lily eradication.

Montour felt that a lot of good things came out of the neighborhood meeting. He suggested that an action plan be put together so that it is clear who owns which tasks and establishes a timeline for when action items will be addressed. McGraw stated that it is his understanding that a Savage Lake Homeowners Association will be formed, which would take on tasks at hand with the assistance of the Watershed and the City.

The City Administrator indicated that he could put together an action plan, but noted that there will be a lot of variables depending on DNR reaction to raising the ordinary high water mark for Savage Lake as well as additional water lily removal. If the DNR does not support these actions, legislative action will be needed. Montour indicated that having a document outlining the action steps and responsibilities would be helpful.

Elvy Day, Lakeshore Avenue, indicated that it will take the cooperation of all parties working together to move forward on the issues. She thanked the City for any help they would provide.

Blesener pointed out that a lot will depend on the DNR, and it could be that they will not be supportive of raising the ordinary high water level or additional water lily removal. Day pointed out that there are other environmental groups that could be solicited for help.

Rocky Waite, Lakeshore Avenue, appeared before the Council to clarify a few issues from the last meetings. He indicated that when he brought the issue of the School District’s dumping into the storm sewer system, it was not latex field paint that he noticed, but another substance which appeared to be anti-freeze. The City Administrator indicated that the City did contact the School District on the occasions that Mr. Waite reported the dumping, but the substance was not tested. He further reported that the Watershed has contacted the School District to cease this practice, or they will be fined.

With regard to the Gopher Electronics property, Waite showed pictures of existing conditions. He indicated that the original building plans for this site call for a sediment pond, and noted that the pond has not existed for a number of years. The City Administrator reported that the pond was originally put in but has eroded out. He has talked to the property owner and is trying to get voluntary cooperation to clean up and repair this pond.

Waite pointed out that at the May 28th meeting Council Member Montour indicated that Gopher Electronics was not dumping into Savage Lake. Montour indicated that what he said was that Gopher Electronics was not dumping pollutants into the lake.

Waite presented pictures showing discarded old tires on the Gopher Electronics property as well as broken concrete and asphalt near the lake edge. He also showed piles of leaves dumped on this property. Waite contended that these materials would be considered pollutants. Waite indicated that he wanted to show that he did have documentation for the issues that he raised relative to Savage Lake.

Blesener indicated that the City will contact Gopher Electronics and request that they clean up their property.

Waite reported that in researching the ordinary high water level (OHW) for Savage Lake, he found that in 1964 when the freeway went through that level was at 899.5. Blesener pointed out that the OHW is currently at 895.1 as established by the DNR. Allan noted that the flood level is 896, and pointed out that an OHW of 899.1 would flood properties abutting Savage Lake.

Blesener indicated that he was in the back yards of the Freeman and Smith properties, and noted that the lake level is currently 18 inches below the top of the concrete wall in the Smith back yard. The water level is about 3 inches below the top of the weir. Blesener indicated that to raise the water level to 899.1 will put water in people’s basements on East Savage Lake. Blesener indicated that the Watershed discussed with the DNR as to how the OWH is determined, and they indicated that they look at the vegetation around the lake as well as historical water lines. The DNR indicated that it is their opinion that the OHW is within 3 inches of its historical levels.

Waite again indicated that the OHW was 899.1 in 1964. Allan pointed out that different base lines have been used over the years.

Waite referred to 1979 minutes in which Roy Nadeau referred to the high water level for Savage as the highest point in the freeway culvert. He indicated that that elevation is 899.2. Blesener again pointed out that an 899.1 elevation will flood some homes.

Keis stated that he could not prove whether Waite is right or wrong, but indicated that the bottom line is that the City does not determine the ordinary high water line. It is the DNR that makes this determination. Keis suggested that Waite bring his arguments to the DNR.

Waite stated that he wanted the City Council to provide support for this effort. McGraw pointed out that this is a difficult situation given the impact that an 899.1 elevation would have on East Savage Lake properties. McGraw indicated that he has lived in Little Canada since 1971 and reported that he has never seen the yards on East Savage Lake flooded. McGraw pointed out that while property owners may not like it, at some point it has to be accepted that it is the DNR that sets the OHW level.

Waite indicated that he has been researching the City’s records for the 1960’s and believes that it was the City that put in the gate system that managed the Savage Lake level. He noted that he found minutes in which comments were made by the then City Attorney relative to maintaining Savage Lake at its highest level and preventing the lake from becoming a swamp.

Allan pointed out that it will be up to the DNR hydrologist to determine if the 895.4 OHW level is appropriate. She pointed out, however, that an 899.1 level will not be approved as it will flood people’s backyards. Allan noted that there were people at the June 17th neighborhood meeting who oppose an increase in the OHW. Allan pointed out to Mr. Waite that it is apparent in looking at the lake that an increase of a foot will cause flooding.

Waite stated that he realizes an increase to 899.1 will not be approved, but felt that the lake could be raised by 1 ½ to 2 feet. Allan again indicated that the DNR will make the determination, and will likely do a flood study as part of their review. Allan again pointed out the impact to abutting properties.

Waite stated that he did not want to flood anyone out. He suggested another solution may be to cut off the pipe joining East and West Savage. That would allow the level of West Savage to be raised.

Blesener felt increasing the lake level 1 ½ feet will put water in people’s back yards. An increase of 4 feet will put water in basements.

The City Administrator stated that he would put the Savage Lake action plan together, outlining options as well as responsibilities.