The Fergus Falls Committee of the Whole approved a recommendation by City Engineer Brian Yavarow Wednesday to adopt a water supply plan pursuant to Department of Natural Resources requirements.
Yavarow received a letter dated May 7 from DNR area hydrologist Julie Aadland advising the city’s water supply plan was approved.
The plan will now be placed before the City Council at their May 20 meeting in City Hall.
The future of Otter Tail River was one of the main points of discussion due to the upcoming necessity of relicensing the five Otter Tail Power hydro dams – Taplin Gorge, Hoot Lake, Wright, Pisgah and Dayton Hollow by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Three of the hydro dams – Hoot Lake, Wright and Pisgah – are located within the city limits of Fergus Falls.
Supply engineering manager Bill Swanson made a presentation on behalf of Otter Tail Power.
“The key takeaway is if you have any desire to be involved with the process, if you want to make any comments on the process, please do so. Everyone has a voice here,” Swanson said.
The application process is already three years old. When a hydropower license is granted by the federal government it is in force for 40 years.
Otter Tail Power’s draft application, a key milestone in the six-year-long process, will be filed around July 3.
Swanson told the committee Otter Tail Power has submitted their initial plan for the hydro dams.
“To paraphrase the plan it is to leave the hydros basically the way they are with minimal to no changes in the operation,” Swanson said.
Eleven studies were offered up and completed. They were categorized as fish and wildlife, historical and recreational.
In generalizing the comments that people have made during the process Swanson said, “Generally people just want to be informed.” He also brought up the fact that there has been a lot of comments and criticism on the technical basis of the study.
Swanson told the committee there are a “fairly large” group of citizens concerned about the potential of the hydros going away.
Erik Anthonisen, Shawn Donais, Luther Aadland and Neil Haugerud of the DNR were on hand to offer their comments on the 187-mile river.
Anthonisen called the Otter Tail “one of the most biodiverse rivers” in Minnesota. It is also one of 26 state water trails.
“People do travel it so we have been talking quite a bit about the recreational passage,” Anthonisen said. “The first process is a long process, very involved and they (FERC) do take a look at hydropower. They are also looking at the impact of those projects on natural resources and recreation.”
Anthonisen said the five hydro dams on the Otter Tail impact about 38 miles of the river.
While there are fish passages on the Otter Tail Aadland told the committee he felt there should be more.
“Providing fish passage for these hydro facilities is fairly routine,” Aadland said. “It is kind of considered a cost of doing business.”
Donais, who pitched the DNR’s recreational interest in the river, pointed out that Fergus Falls’ Riverwalk Project was not even mentioned in an early recreation study for survey work within all the dam areas. He encouraged the city to submit written comments to FERC.
“Be part of the process because it hasn’t happened,” Donais advised.
Wednesday morning’s meeting also included an update on activities by the A Center for the Arts from director Michael Burgaff, an overview of the capital improvement process by Yavarow and a brief discussion on the May 8 bid openings for the Phase II project at the Regional Treatment Center. The project is on track to begin in late June.
“We had a total of nine bids,” Yavarow told the committee. “Once the bids are taken they are validated and it was deemed of the nine bids received three of the bids had bid irregularities. They are deemed nonresponsive,” Yavarow said.
According to Yavarow, one of the nonresponsive bids was the low bid.
The bid has not been awarded yet but at this time Yavarow said the second-lowest bid, by Carlson Company, will be recommended at Monday’s City Council meeting.
The estimated cost of the work has been set at $2.7 million.