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U.S. Army Corps of Engineers tours lagoon site on Red Cedar River

By LeAnn R. Ralph

COLFAX  —  From the time the Colfax wastewater treatment lagoons were built in the 1960s, the Red Cedar River has been working on carving away the bank between the lagoons and the river.

And now, at the closest point, only 100 feet separates the two.

In August, Ron Verdon, president of the Tainter-Menomin Lake Improvement Association, presented a an erosion and habitat assessment report to the Colfax Village Board.

TMLIA received a lake planning grant to help pay for the study, which was completed by Inter-fluve, Inc. in conjunction with a variety of partners, including the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Dunn County Land Conservation, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and UW-Extension.

The study identified more than 60 erosion sites along the Red Cedar River between the Barron County line and Tainter Lake, including the Colfax lagoons.

After Verdon’s presentation, the Colfax Village Board approved a resolution asking the United States Army Corps of Engineers for help in stabilizing the river bank.

Three representatives of the Army Corps of Engineers from the St. Paul district visited Colfax to tour the lagoon site December 3.

After looking at Verdon’s pictures of the erosion — even before going out to the river — the representatives for the Army Corps said that stabilizing the river bank would be a top priority for them in the Army Corp’s next grant cycle.

The grant cycle for the Army Corps of Engineers runs from October 1 to September 30.

And while there is no guarantee that the project would receive federal funds, because the river threatens the Colfax wastewater treatment system, stabilizing the river bank is essential, they said.

If Colfax receives federal funding through the Army Corps of Engineers, the federal government would pay 65 percent of the cost and Colfax would pay 35 percent.

In November, the Colfax Village Board’s public works committee recommended that the village start a bank restoration fund with an initial allocation of $10,000.

The village’s 2015 budget has a line item for river bank restoration with the recommended starting amount, Scott Gunnufson, village president, told the Army Corps.

In the past, the Colfax Village Board has received estimates of nearly $500,000 for design costs and construction to stabilize the banks to keep the lagoons from washing into the river.

More recently, one estimate from the engineering firm of Short, Elliott and Hendrickson (SEH), estimated the cost at close to $300,000.

Another estimate after the study conducted by the Tainter Menomin Lake Improvement Association places the cost at around $180,000.

The village board also has been told in the past that there was no grant money available to help with the project.

Representatives for the state Department of Natural Resources have said, too, that the village’s wastewater treatment permit would only allow vegetation to be planted as a way to strengthen the river bank.

Unfortunately, the river has already claimed countless trees and shrubs near the lagoons, so it is not clear what kind of vegetation could hold the river bank if the roots from 40-foot tall trees have been unable to keep the bank in place.

The river near the lagoons is littered with trees that were once part of the river bank.

Not long ago, one of the fence posts for a fence running between the lagoons and the river was firmly in the ground, noted Rand Bates, director of public works.

But a gully encroaching from the river side, which is growing a little wider every year, has now also grown deeper because the fence post is no longer in the ground and is being held up by the barbed wire stapled to it.

The representatives for the Army Corps asked if Bates had ever observed any drainage from within the river bank, which would indicate that the lagoons had been breached.

Bates said he had never seen anything along the river that would indicate the lagoons were leaking.

For now, it is a matter of waiting to see if Colfax can receive funding through the Army Corps of Engineers for help in stabilizing the river bank.

The Army Corps would design the project and would hire the contractors to do the work.

Fixing the erosion sites to slow down sediment entering the Red Cedar River and Tainter Lake could accomplish two goals: reducing the amount of phosphorus that fuels heavy algae blooms in Tainter Lake every summer and removing sediment that is causing the delta at Champney Park to advance by 35 feet per year.

Verdon said he is encouraged by the steps the village has taken and by the visit from the Army Corps of Engineers.

If Colfax can take the lead and find a way to stabilize the river bank, other landowners may be more willing to look into finding solutions, he said.