After around two hours of debate, the La Crosse County Board of Supervisors voted not to approve half a million dollars to conduct more dredging on Lake Neshonoc.
The resolution would have allocated $500,000 from the county’s general fund to do some additional work on the lake, which is near completion on a much larger, village-funded dredging project.
The funding would have needed a two-thirds vote from the board since it would have been an unbudgeted expense. It received 15 yes votes and 13 nos, with one excused vote at Thursday night’s monthly meeting.
The request was largely made because of the price per unit of dredged material the contractors doing the current dredging were offering, which is likely cheaper than prices that would be offered in the future.
Dredging is a process in which the bottom sediment of a body of water is scraped and removed. It serves several purposes, and in this case officials would have used the additional dredging to clean out eroded sediment that has begun to fill up the east end of the lake.
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But supervisors had mixed feelings, and some questioned if the money was worth the benefit, and if it would increase sustainability.
Officials leading the dredging project said that, with or without the extra dredging the funding would have supported, the lake would likely need to be dredged again in around 20 years, and that it would remove an extra 15% of the lake’s sediment.
Some supervisors questioned whether the money could be better spent on other issues in the community such as the PFAS crisis or homelessness.
“I cannot in good conscience say that we should do this when we have how many people on French Island who have no water to drink that is not safe,” said supervisor Pam Viner.
Others wondered if it could be used to fund more upland conservation practices that prevented the need for methods such as dredging, and some questioned if creating a better boat landing for homeowners on the lake was an ulterior motive to the extra funding.
Still, several supervisors thought the cost savings were too good to pass on.
“I know there are other aspects we could spend the money on,” said supervisor Jack Pogreba. “But right now we have a situation where the value of our dollar is going to be extended.”
The contractor currently working on dredging the lake offered to complete the extra work at a rate of $5.30 per cubic yard since the equipment would already be in place
The resolution that was originally proposed to the board called for $1 million in American Rescue Plan Act dollars, but the Executive Committee last week amended it to cut the funding in half and instead draw from the general fund, saying that the board had not yet finalized how it wants to spend the ARPA money.
Supervisor Andrea Richmond attempted to pass an amendment Thursday night to revert the funding source back to the federal COVID relief money, but it failed on a 11-17 vote.
The current $3.45 million dredging project on Lake Neshonoc is expected to wrap in just the next few weeks. It was entirely funded by the village of West Salem and the Lake District, and will have removed around 500,000 cubic yards of sediment when all said and done.
The lake was first dredged in 2000, a $2 million project that at the time was expected to last between 50 and 100 years, but it instead needed redone just two decades after.