By JOHN KLINE
THE GOSHEN NEWS
GOSHEN — Members of the Elkhart River Restoration Association went before the Elkhart County Stormwater Board Monday morning seeking funding for a planned multi-million dollar dredging project for the Goshen Dam Pond.
According to ERRA President David Troup, the ERRA has been active for the past 30 years working to provide a clean environment for wildlife and community recreation within the Elkhart River and Goshen Dam Pond watershed.
As part of that ongoing effort, the group in 2012 received a Lake and River Enhancement (LARE) grant through the Indiana Department of Natural Resources to develop a plan to dredge sediment from the Goshen Dam Pond and to gather public input on how best to go about forming that plan.
During Monday’s meeting, Troup informed the board that the dredging plan is now nearly complete and has received approval from the Department of Natural Resources. As such, Troup said it is now time for the group to begin seeking funding options for the project, which as presented would cost approximately $2 million.
To provide a little background history on the project and its urgency, ERRA board member Bill Rieth began by described how the Goshen Dam Pond, built back in 1856, has never been dredged, leading to more than 150 years of sediment buildup that has rendered the pond nearly unusable.
“For many, many years, the pond has acted as not only something aesthetic and that people have enjoyed with boating and fishing, but largely as a sediment trap for Elkhart County,” Rieth said, noting that roughly two-thirds of the county is impacted by the Elkhart River watershed. “Over the past numerous years, as the sediment has flowed into the dam pond, it is now completely full of sediment. The average depth now is three feet, and it’s not really able to handle much more sediment. So after 150-plus years, we’re hoping now to return it back to what it once was as a community asset and as this large scale sediment trap.”
According to the proposed plan, the goal is to dredge approximately 34 acres of the pond to an average depth of six feet. Such improvements, Rieth said, will benefit the pond and the surrounding community in multiple ways, including but not limited to:
• Enhanced fishing through improved fish habitat;
• Better boating through restored navigable waterways;
• Improved water quality in the pond and the Elkhart River downstream;
• A healthier and cleaner river;
• Reduction in nuisance aquatic plants and algae blooms; and,
• Enhanced aesthetics.
And perhaps the most important aspect of the project, Rieth said, is the fact that dredging the pond will help in the long-term restoration of the pond and the Elkhart River.
“Currently one of the major obstacles facing the Elkhart River is the onslaught of sediment it accumulates through run-off and erosion activities,” Rieth said. “Removal of sediment from the Goshen Pond will increase its ability to filter sediment and help the downstream reaches of the Elkhart River.”
While the group’s long-term goal is to dredge as much of the dam pond as possible, Rieth said the $2 million cost estimate for the project provided Monday will allow the group to get started on dredging the hardest-hit areas of the pond to at least restore some of its lost water capacity and sediment trapping ability.
“So this is really a large scale project,” Rieth said, “perhaps the largest project that has ever been considered by this board.”
Along those lines, the group’s initial funding request for the board was quoted at $750,000, a figure which most on the board immediately balked at as too high, particularly when the approximately 80 to 90 home owners located adjacent to the dam pond — residents the board said are most likely to benefit from a newly dredged pond — were only being asked to provide $150,000.
“I’m not against it,” said board member Blake Doriot of the project, “but $750,000, that’s a hard sell.”
As an alternative funding suggestion, board member and Elkhart County Commissioner Frank Lucchese suggested that the board would be more willing to provide some type of match to the funding raised by the surrounding property owners, possibly up to around $250,000.
In addition, board member and County Commissioner Mike Yoder suggested that the board may also be willing to pledge some funding to the project’s contingency fund which could be used to fund any unforeseen additional expenses that may affect the project.
In the end, the board voted to table the request until their next meeting in order to give themselves time to review the request and all the potential funding options available to them.
“I think what you can take away from this is there is some support for giving some money,” Yoder said of the request. “It looks like it’s going to be a match in the neighborhood of $250,000, and maybe we toss around this idea a little more of obligating some funds to your contingency fund.”
For more information on the ERRA and its mission, visit the group’s website at www.elkhartriverrestorationassociation.org.