Brian Hansel | Daily Journal

The river flows through: Water from the Otter Tail River poured through Pigsah Dam on the southwest end of Fergus Falls Monday morning.

At the prompting of Scott Kvamme, the Committee of the Whole agreed Wednesday morning to take a closer look at the effects a forthcoming hydro project on the Otter Tail River may have on the city.

In was pointed out at a May 15 meeting of the Committee of the Whole that a federal project currently under consideration could have a major impact the Otter Tail River chain. The river’s 187-mile passage from Becker County to the Red River of the North currently supplies power to five hydropower dams.

Otter Tail Power supply engineering manager Bill Swanson addressed the city leaders May 15 on a window of opportunity for the city that could soon be closing for the next 40 years.

Swanson is leading Otter Tail Power’s effort to have the five dams relicensed for hydropower use. Three of the hydro dams – Wright, Hoot Lake and Pigsah – are located within the city limits of Fergus Falls.

Otter Tail Power is planning to file a draft application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) by July 3.

Shawn Donais of the Department of Natural Resources also addressed the committee about the Otter Tail project at the May 15 meeting. Donais pointed out that Fergus Falls’ Riverwalk Project, one of the city council’s top priorities, was not even mentioned in an early recreation study for survey work within the 38 miles of river on which the dams are built.

It has been suggested that the riverwalk has the potential to open more of the scenic river to recreational use.

“Up to now the city hasn’t been involved in the conversation,” Kvamme said. “I think with three of the hydros right within the city limits we need to be having this conversation and  some comments made from the city.”

The DNR has also been taking a great interest in the relicensing process. The state agency calls Otter Tail “one of the most biodiverse rivers” in Minnesota.  It is the DNR’s contention that the hydro dams on the river presently limit fish migration and recreational use.

“There are questions about fish passage but even more significantly it seems like we ought to be talking about access and recreational passage,”  Kvamme said Wednesday morning.

Mayor Ben Schierer got a nod from the committee when he suggested adding a conversation about the city’s role in the hydro project to Monday’s city council agenda.

Committee member Karoline Gustafson, who is in her sixth year at the helm of Saturday’s Lake Region Run, said the event is expected to bring 850 people from nine different states to Fergus Falls.

To accommodate the participants in the Lake Region Run, Friberg Avenue will be closed from Summit Avenue to Fir Avenue from 6:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Gustafson added that while the street around Lake Alice will not be closed it will be jammed with around 500 runners.

”That’s not the best route either,” Gustafson said with a touch of wry humor.

The run features a half marathon, a half marathon relay, a 5K and a 1-mile event.

Finance Director Bill Sonmor outlined the 2020 city budget process for committee members. The city has to have a proposed budget ready for Otter Tail County by late September.

City Administrator Andrew Bremseth reviewed the rental registration ordinance and set July 29 as a target date for a meeting between the city and registered landlords that have questions about the ordinance. If the process moves forward the ordinance could become effective by Sept. 6.

In other business Monday the committee approved six agenda items that included:

• An encroachment agreement with Speedee Delivery for a parking lot expansion to be prepared by the city attorney and the city engineer.

• A recommendation to have the city attorney draft a letter to Preferred Auto Body in regard to a request by the business to amend the city code for the purpose of operating an outdoor wood burner.

• A recommendation to the council that a memo of understanding between the city and the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center be extended to June 20, 2024.

• A resolution requesting a 60-day extension for the Platte Properties rezoning request.

• A recommendation to approve the 2019 sidewalk/driveway rates for Public Improvement Projects 6071.

• P.I. 5234 – the $221,300 2019 Milling and Bituminous Overlay Project.

• P.I. 5325 – a $104,600 Sealcoat Improvement Project.


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