Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, says that funding for a proposed new channel between lakes Geneva and Le Homme Dieu appears to be gaining traction in the Minnesota Senate.
“I think it’s got a good chance this year," he said. "I’m working especially hard on it."
He toured the location in August with members of the Senate Capital Investment Committee, which plays a key role in determining which public building projects to fund. Members of the Lake Geneva Lake Association provided boat rides so committee members could get a good glimpse of how tight the existing channel is.
‘“There was only an inch on either side of the pontoon and we wouldn’t have gotten in there at all if it hadn’t been for the low water,” Ingebrigtsen said.
Residents along Lake Geneva tried last year to obtain funding, but were put off, as other projects were in line ahead of it. The channel between the two lakes, built in 1956, has proved inadequate as boats have grown in size. Boaters have reported bumping heads along the channel ceiling, as well as getting stuck and having to remove windshields to pass through.
Advocates say a new channel would allow much freer movement through the chain of lakes, and benefit the restaurants and resorts along the shores, as well as anglers and other boaters.
Craig Loos, president of the Lake Geneva Area Association, said he testified in front of the Senate Finance Committee in March at Ingebrigtsen's behest, and then later in front of the House Finance Committee at Rep. Mary Franson's, R-Alexandria, request.
“Apparently there were like 200-plus sites around the state,” Loos said. “They chose 13 sites to tour a couple of weeks ago and we were one of the 13, thanks to Sen. Ingebrigtsen.”
Ingebrigtsen said those numbers sounded right, and that the project has moved up in the priority list.
More funding comes available, he said, as older projects get paid off. Lower interest rates are also leading to refinancing which will free up other dollars for capital projects. This year, the state is moving to refinance U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, for which it paid $348 million, which will shave seven years off the loan, Ingebrigtsen said.
Ingebrigtsen said there are multiple local capital investment projects seeking funding from the state, either for expansion or repairs, including at Alexandria Technical and Community College, Pope-Douglas Solid Waste and the Perham-to-Pelican Rapids trail in Otter Tail County.
The channel from Lake Geneva to Lake Le Homme Dieu goes under Highway 29. The concrete passage between the two lakes, where it runs under Highway 29 north of Alexandria, is about 8 feet, 8 inches wide and 8 feet tall, and advocates would like it expanded to 20 feet wide by 12 feet tall, the size of the channel between Lake L'Homme Dieu and Lake Carlos. The project had an estimated cost of $1.8 million to $2.5 million, although Loos said that figure has not accounted for rising construction costs.
A section of Highway 29 from 3rd Street to McKay Avenue is slated for significant work, but not until 2029, according to Brian Bausman, project manager with the Minnesota Department of Transportation. The boat channel is north of that, but it might be possible to save money by hiring one contractor to do the work, he said.
“It would certainly help cut the costs,” he said.
Doing them as separate projects, however, would enable the boat channel to be widened sooner.
Loos said that he has tallied 1500 home owners on the chain of lakes, plus three restaurants, 12 resorts, three Bible camps, one marina and one state park. A widened channel would benefit all of them, he said, as well as Lake Victoria, which connects to Lake Geneva.
“Clearly the largest family owned resort other than Arrowwood is Geneva Beach Resort,” he said. “They have lots of guests. Even though they love Lake Geneva and the resort, often they complain that they can’t get their pontoon boat or recreational boat into the chain to enjoy the water, the beaches and the restaurant.”
Geneva is considered one of the best bass fishing lakes on the chain, so visitors having improved access into Geneva is a huge benefit, Loos said. And the payoff would spill over into the local economy.
“Most home owners on Geneva including myself have indicated that if the channel goes through, they will buy larger boats," he said. “It’s a huge benefit to the chain homeowners but gosh, the visitors that come into Douglas County and spend time on the chain is significant because of the uniqueness of going from one lake to another.”