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Funding in sight for Lake Bronson Dam?

By Anna Jauhola
Gov. Tim Walz has recommended $20 million toward dam safety repair, reconstruction and removal for the state’s 2020 budget. Top of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ priority list for this funding is the dam at Lake Bronson State Park.
The governor’s budget was released late last week with funding recommendations for hundreds of projects across the state. The dam project would use general obligation bonds. While those who have fought to thoroughly inform the governor and legislators of the significance of replacing the dam at Lake Bronson State Park, the decision now lies with the Minnesota Legislature.
“The governor’s budget would fully fund the Lake Bronson dam,” said Jason Boyle, state dam safety engineer. “That budget basically is in the hands of the Legislature to appropriate funds.”
The Legislature reconvenes at the capitol in St. Paul on Feb. 11.
Should the state’s government heed the governor’s proposal to fully fund the removal and reconstruction of the Lake Bronson dam, Kittson County Engineer Kelly Bengtson said construction still wouldn’t begin until 2021.
“If the legislators approve it as part of the bonding bill I would speculate that the DNR would hire an engineering consulting firm to design the project,” Bengtson said.
This project has been a long time in the making. The Lake Bronson dam was built under the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s. Its configuration was cleverly created by its designers as it was constructed on quicksand. Although the dam has withstood the test of time thus far, engineers and other officials have questioned its stability for decades.
A look back in the Enterprise archives revealed officials asking for money, sometimes receiving money and doing repairs on the dam as far back as the late 1960s. As early as the 1980s, local officials have been asking for money to either partially or fully replace the dam. It has presented with cracks in its base and other structural issues, which has led to draining the lake to make the repairs.
In September, Boyle and Bengtson, along with Lance Crandall of DNR Parks and Trails, spoke with the Senate Bonding Committee when they stopped on a tour at Thief River Falls. At that time, Boyle said the dam has terrible seepage problems, which have been temporarily fixed using relief wells, but “if seepage is not controlled it can lead to failure.” He also said the dam’s “spillway is too small to safely pass a large flood.”
Officials are cautiously optimistic about the possibility of the funding passing the Legislature’s approval. However, they are adamant they will keep fighting.
“If need be, we will go down and testify because they need to understand the urgency,” said Theresia Gillie, chairperson for the Kittson County Board of Commissioners. “It can’t be kicked down the road again.”

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