Almost a year after tornadoes ripped apart Roberds Lake homes, uprooted trees and hurled just about anything that wasn't nailed down into the water, county officials are starting the cleanup process.
Property owners, with help from volunteers and local governments, began the cleanup on land immediately after the storms blew through Sept. 20, 2018. But getting debris out of the water has taken a while longer.
Despite a promise from state Sen. John Jasinski, R-Faribault, to make resources available before the start of the 2019 summer season, the $100,000 in state funding he helped secure wasn't available until the start of the fiscal year, July 1. Getting the money transferred from the state tacked on additional time. On Tuesday, the Rice County Board of Commissioners approved an agreement with the state that allows it to reimburse the county for up to $100,000 for debris removal.
Jesse Thomas, Rice County Sheriff's Office chief deputy, and Environmental Services Director Julie Runkel are leading the county's cleanup effort. Thomas is also working with members of the lake association to keep them up-to-date on the cleanup process. On Thursday, Thomas said, the first step is to have the lake mapped with high-tech sonar equipment. That, he said, will give officials an accurate picture of what's actually in the lake.
Earlier this year, Thomas and Lt. Joe Yetzer used sonar equipment belonging to the Sheriff's Office to try see what they could in the lake, noticing a small boat motor, some metal wagon wheels and aluminum pipes. He called that search preliminary, and noted that they searched only in water deeper than 8 feet.
The county has hired Search and Recovery Consulting to conduct the search of the almost 400-acre lake. Thomas expects that will be complete by mid-September, due in part to poor lake clarity.
Once that's finished, the county will not only know what they're looking at, but what costs to remove debris will be.
"We really don't know what we have until we get this done," he said.
If costs exceed $100,000, county leaders will determine if some debris can remain in Roberds Lake or if the county has funds to cover the overage.
While the storm debris has hindered boaters and others looking to enjoy a summer in the lake, Thomas believes that high water in the lake and the lengthy no-wake restrictions the Sheriff's Office issued this season because of high water levels have hampered lake lovers more than debris. High water has left a number of property owners unable to get their docks into the lake, said Thomas.
No-wake restrictions were in place for most Rice County lakes for a large portion of the summer season. The last of the restrictions were lifted Thursday morning.