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Lakes subdivision to be retrofitted

By Staff | Apr 18, 2008

SPIRIT LAKE — One of the oldest and largest residential subdivisions in the Iowa Great Lakes — and one long targeted by environmentalists for its sediment and nutrient pollution into East Lake Okoboji — will undergo a complete road reconstruction and drainage retrofit project under a plan set in motion on Tuesday by the Dickinson County Supervisors.

East Okoboji Beach, a 96-acre, 489-lot subdivision platted in 1961, is located roughly midpoint on the east shore of East Lake Okoboji, just south of Elinor Bedell State Park. The subdivision has from its outset suffered from poor drainage engineering. Lakes area environmentalists have long pointed to the ravaged ravines and substandard roads that contribute to heavy sediment and nutrient loads deposited into the lake in that area.

The Dickinson County Clean Water Alliance and other ecological groups, along with the supervisors and members of the East Okoboji Beach Homeowner’s Association, looked at ways to implement Low Impact Development (LID) techniques onto the site.

Dickinson County has led the way statewide in incorporating LID projects — such as wetlands, bio-swales, rain gardens and other storm water management practices — into mostly new construction sites. The challenge was how to finance a retrofit project into the longstanding subdivision.

An engineering study of the subdivision was recently completed through a $15,600 grant from the Dickinson County Water Quality Commission, illustrating where LID practices could be utilized throughout the property in conjunction with road and drainage reconstruction.

It gradually became apparent that extending the life of a Tax Increment Finance (TIF) district already existing in the area for sanitary sewer was the only viable means of funding the proposed project, and on Tuesday the supervisors agreed to amend the TIF to allow for street and drainage improvements.

Several Okoboji Beach residents urged the board to take the action. John Kruse, mayor of Storm Lake and a 20-year property owner at East Okoboji Beach, said the homeowner’s organization has no taxing authority to finance road reconstruction and erosion control. “By extending the TIF we can utilize the tax base that’s there now,” Kruse said. “Quite frankly, if we don’t do this project now, we are not aware of any other funding mechanism to get it done.”

Kruse said the drainage problems in the area have grown worse over the years, creating a negative impact on water quality. “There are a lot of steep slopes out there,” Kruse said, “and when this (subdivision) was laid out originally the plan of everybody then was to get it (water) away as fast as you could. All the sediment ends up in the lake.”

Steve Anderson, an urban conservationist for Dickinson County and northwest Iowa — and a champion of LID — said the entire state would be watching how the retrofit project is carried out. “It will be the first complete retrofit, from an environmental standpoint, of a residential subdivision in Iowa,” Anderson said. “It should be a prime example of how to better manage storm water runoff.”

Anderson said he isn’t usually a proponent of using TIF funds for infrastructure projects, but feels it fits here. “Too often TIF money rewards developers on new projects by paying for roads and other infrastructure, but this is a unique case where the endeavor cures an environmental ill by retrofitting the roads and drainage in an existing subdivision. It’s a water quality issue.”

Supervisor Mardi Allen said the board would hire an engineering firm to provide a project plan and cost estimate. Bonds would likely be sold to finance the project — which could cost several million dollars — with repayment to come from TIF revenues, Allen said.