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City councilor questions validity of Mitchell Lake dredging vote

Lake Mitchell
Lake Mitchell

A Mitchell city council member is raising questions about the city vote that narrowly approved $25 million-dollar plan to clean up Lake Mitchell.

Conversations surrounding if, when and how the lake would be cleaned have been going on for years.

The measure was approved last week with just over 50 percent of the vote.

Council President Kevin McCardle has questions on the legitimacy of how the issue was written on the ballot. He’s concerned because the measure involves a bond, it needed a 60 percent majority to pass.

“I got ahold of the attorney general today to make sure the way it was written on the ballot, where it said 'bond' is correct because I have been bombarded by people asking me if that was correct. So I sent all that to the attorney general just so you know that. I think it was written as shady as the voter fraud that I witnessed up at Firestone nursing home last May,” said McCardle in Monday's city council meeting.

McCardle said that incident involved a county official pressuring a nursing home resident on the vote.

Michell City Attorney Justin Johnson said the lake projects funding is sourced from a State Revolving Loan Fund. This means taxes are not raised to fund the project like many other bonds – making it a simple majority vote.

Johnson sent an email to the council before the meeting on their legal duty to canvass the results of the bond vote. McCardle said Johnson went too far in explaining the legal repercussions.

“Another thing I didn’t appreciate was that threatening email you sent out to us saying we could be put in jail and fined. I think that was B.S.," said McCardle.

Meantime, those behind the dredging effort are looking at the next steps. A nonprofit group, The Friends of the Firesteel is a coalition that has been working with engineers for years to find the best method of water treatment.  

Mark Puetz is the Board Secretary of the organization. He explained the key issues.  

“The excessive phosphorus both in the lake internally in the sediment, and also its coming in through the watershed, and how that specific phosphorus load is creating a pretty significant blue-green algae blooms throughout the year and making the lake less and less usable each season,” said Puetz.  

Puetz said the plan is to utilize a three-pronged approach with dredging, using special minerals to bind with and neutralize the phosphorus, and removing sediment from the lake.  

According to the city timeline water levels will be lowered in late 2024 with dredging to take place throughout 2025 and 2026.  

City officials said the lake should be ready for refill in 2027.  

Evan Walton is an SDPB reporter based in Sioux Falls. Evan holds a Master’s in English Literature from Southern New Hampshire University and was honorably discharged from the United States Army in 2015, where he served for five years as an infantryman.