Nearly a year and a half after receiving approval from the Rice County Board of Commissioners, a newly formed taxing district around Circle Lake in northwest Rice County is starting to work toward its intended goals.
The taxing district was established last year at the behest of a group of residents who have worked tirelessly over the years to rid the Forest Township lake of invasive species, including non-native carp, and improve water quality at the 838-acres lake considered an impaired water by the Department of Natural Resources.
In order to create the taxing district, supporters had to present a petition signed by at least half of the property owners who would become part of the proposed district. They managed to do so, even though some area residents raised concerns about the structure of the board.
Due in large part to a lack of financial resources, the Circle Lake Association’s efforts to clean up the lake have been slow. Under the new property tax district, each owner can be assessed a fee of up to $300 annually. In addition to securing a more reliable, regular stream of revenue, establishing a taxing district gives area residents a much better chance of securing grant funding from state agencies like the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Department of Natural Resources.
Circle Lake Improvement District Board Chair Dean Sunderlin said that the district finally received that tax revenue last month. Not all of that funding will be available for the district to invest in projects, as some is slated to cover debt associated with the formation of the district.
However, a portion of that funding is now going to conduct a comprehensive study of the lake’s watershed. The report will be prepared by engineering and consulting firm ISG, which also assisted in helping residents to set up the district.
The report is expected to be completed within the next few weeks, in time for the board’s annual meeting Aug. 17. However, Sunderlin cautioned that the board’s powers are limited, and the report’s release will mark just the beginning of the discussion, not the end.
Once areas for potential improvement are identified, Sunderlin said that the district could seek an agreement with the affected landowner. In exchange for some compensation, a landowner could grant a permanent easement, enabling water conservation projects on the land.
Not only are the district’s powers limited, it has plenty of people and entities to answer to. Budget and priorities must also be approved by its own membership as well as the county board, and they are also expected to work closely with the DNR and MPCA.
Sunderlin took care to emphasize that the district doesn’t intend to “point fingers” at anyone when it comes to water quality. He said that done right, land management projects could improve both soil and water quality for all involved.
Ironically, the improvement district is getting its feet under it just as the Circle Lake Association has finally managed to put together a project a decade in the making, pending the authorization of a Conditional Use Permit by the County Board.
On Thursday evening, Circle Lake Association President Keith Kluzak was set to go before the Rice County Planning Commission to make the case for the CUP, which would allow for the dredging of part of Wolf Creek adjacent to Circle Lake.
Long an active member of the Circle Lake Association, Kluzak said he’s been personally involved with the project since 2014. He said the creek was last dredged in 1977 and has since become a prime culprit of increasing sediment levels in Circle Lake.
Kluzak said that the Association’s goal is to start the project before the end of July. Dredging is only expected to last about two weeks but cleanup must follow, which could stretch the completion date into October.
In total, the project is expected to cost about $79,000. Of that, roughly 42% has been raised from area homeowners, a third from the Tri-Lake Sportsmen’s Club, and the remainder from the Circle Lake Association’s general fund.