BEMIDJI-If you notice Lake Bemidji looking a bit lower next week, don't be alarmed. It's all part of the city's plan for the South Shore Restoration Project.
Bemidji City Engineer and Director of Public Works Craig Gray said officials are planning to lower lake Bemidji by about 6 inches starting Monday through a power dam operated by Otter Tail Power.
"Usually every fall Otter Tail will open the dam and lower the lake for the winter so that there's more storage for the spring with the snow melt and runoff," Gray said. "The difference this year is we're doing that a month early to help with our south shore project."
The decrease is expected to take about a week and the lake will stay at that level through the winter months.
The objective with lowering the lake is so construction crews can install a portable dam, referred to as a cofferdam, without having as much water to contend with. The cofferdam will be about 1,600 feet in length and will hold back water surrounding a 200 foot beach on Lake Bemidji's south shore, between the Nymore boat access and the Sanford Center.
"The cofferdam will hold the water back, allowing the contractors to get in there and pump the water out and put in some dewatering wells to prevent groundwater from surging up," Gray said. "Once that area is dry, they can bring in heavy equipment to remove wood chips and other debris from there."
The cleanup of the south shore lake bed is expected to run through October into early November. Parks and Recreation Director Marcia Larson said the next portion of the project will be to bring in a sufficient amount of new sand to ensure there's a large enough beach area. Then, in spring, a buffer will be created to protect against erosion.
What's undecided at this point is what sort of amenities will surround the updated beach, since the council is still reviewing options.
"We have several concept plans and they range from having a lot of amenities to a more scaled-back version," Larson said. "It could include a renovated building already on site or a new restroom facility. We will have to evaluate the current facility to see if it's feasible to renovate, but we know we need basic amenities down there."
In addition, the city's plan also includes landscaping areas that are undeveloped and planting native vegetation.
"We can always lay out the park so that if we want to build a new picnic area or a playground later, we can," Larson said. "I think the goal right now is to invest and make it usable and look at the future if more things need to be added."
The project, which was included in a park master plan the city put together in 2012, has a cost of $1.4 million and is being partially funded through a grant from the Minnesota Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council. The council was established by the Minnesota Legislature to recommend how the state's Outdoor Heritage fund is utilized.
In mid-July, the city sent out letters to notify residents near the shore of Lake Bemidji about the lowering water level and to suggest removing large boat lifts and other watercrafts which could be affected. Gray said despite the project, though, lake usage will still be open and the public can still fish and recreate.