Ishpeming council approves Lake Bancroft expenditure

ISHPEMING – The Ishpeming City Council will move forward with a $180,000 Michigan Department of Natural Resources grant application to improve the aquatic habitat of Lake Bancroft, despite the reservations of some council members.

The council decided Wednesday to adopt a resolution to commit an additional $7,000 of city funds to $10,000 that has already been collected in donations for the project, with $3,000 of in-kind services from the Ishpeming Department of Public Works for a total match of $20,000 to meet the requirements of the DNR grant.

Lake Bancroft has been undergoing a natural process called eutrophication. According to the Lake Bancroft Committee website “eutrophication typically promotes excessive growth of algae due to the high levels of phosphates and nitrates. As the algae die and decompose, the high levels of organic matter and the decomposing organisms deplete the water of available oxygen, causing the death of other organisms. If this condition is not reversed, the lake will literally fill with sediment and become a swamp.”

The Lake Bancroft Project’s engineered solution involves dissolving a food grade polymer into the lake. The polymer binds to the floating solids in the water, which then drop to the bottom of the lake resulting in clear water that re-oxygenates, the LBC website states.

In a memo to the city council, City Manager Mark Slown said the original grant application submitted listed the value of donated materials and labor from others as materials already purchased with donated funds in the amount of $7,000 in the hopes that it would be considered as part of the fund match.

The memo states: “Since the money has already been spent, the grant will not allow it to be used toward the grant application for a future project. There is no time to go out and solicit new donations before the deadline. Therefore, the only way to make these funds up in the current application is for the city to pledge an additional $7,000 in general fund cash toward the project.”

Councilwoman Claudia Demarest was hesitant to commit any taxpayer dollars to the project.

“We have to start watching our pennies, watching our money. I cannot vote for this, because I hear people complain about potholes in our streets and they are going to be saying it again. ‘Why are you spending this $7,000 when there are potholes in our streets?’ ” Demarest said.

The memo also states that per DNR rules, the purchase of equipment items is not allowed with grant money.

The original plan as laid out in the grant application would be to purchase and install pumps that would disperse the polymer and could then be removed and stored for the winter. Slown’s suggestion to resolve this problem was to install one or more permanent pumping stations that had the appearance of waterfalls, rather than purchasing equipment that could be installed temporarily.

“The grant would require us to put the project out for bids. We would solicit and hire a firm to design and another firm to build the stations,” Slown said.

One of the temporary pumps has been distributing the polymer at Lake Bancroft since 2013.

Despite some reservations, Mayor Mike Tonkin, who is on the Lake Bancroft Committee, was hopeful the grant could help to revitalize the lake.

“This $200,000 could go far enough to give us 10 feet of clear water. That could get us a fishery. We had about 4 inches of clear water when we started, now we are at about 4 feet in the short amount of time that we have been doing this,” Tonkin said.

The motion to amend the grant application and commit the additional $7,000 was approved by the council. Demarest voted no on the motion, and Tonkin abstained from voting because he felt being on the Lake Bancroft Committee created a conflict of interest.

The council also heard an update from the Michigan Department of Transportation on the roundabout planned from U.S. 41 to Second Street, between Pizza Hut and the U.S Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame.

Aaron Johnson, MDOT Ishpeming service center manager, told the council that construction on the project is slated to begin in March, weather permitting, and is expected to be completed in October.

Johnson said that while the community should expect traffic delays, MDOT plans to have one lane open in both directions at all times with alternating closures to Second and Third streets.

He said the second roundabout project within the city connecting Second and Third streets is moving forward, as well.

Lisa Bowers can be reached at 906-486-4401.