WHITE BEAR LAKE — The decision to ban motors on East Goose Lake has been pushed to January.

After two opposing camps delivered reasons for why the impaired lake should be treated with aluminum sulfate (alum), which requires a temporary ban on motorized boat traffic, and why East Goose shouldn't be treated, City Council decided 4-1 at its Oct. 22 meeting it needed more time to gather information.

The lone exception was Councilman Dan Jones, who said he was ready to “end the residents' misery” and vote no to an ordinance prohibiting use of motorboats on the lake.

The second reading, when council normally approves or denies an ordinance, was originally scheduled for Nov. 26.

Dawn Tanner, program development coordinator for the Vadnais Lake Area Watershed Management Organization (VLAWMO), told council an alum treatment is the most effective way to reduce phosphorus levels in the lake, listed by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency as most impaired in the watershed. East Goose is also the headwaters for Lambert Creek, which flows into Vadnais Lake, the source of St. Paul's drinking water.

“We know the lake is valued for recreational use, but it is also impaired for recreational use,” noted Tanner, adding she wouldn't let her daughter swim in East Goose Lake.

The shallow lake has a sad history, Tanner said. From the 1930s to the late 1960s, the city's sewage was pumped into the lake. While the discharge has dispersed, highly concentrated nutrients remain in the sediment. Nutrients also enter Goose Lake from the surrounding landscape.

VLAWMO has been monitoring East Goose for at least a decade. “It has a legacy of pollution,” Tanner maintained, “and can't fix itself without intervention.”

Alum improves water quality by binding to phosphorus in the sediment and deactivating it. Boat traffic would disrupt the sediment, preventing the alum from working, because the lake is shallow. Maximum depth is 7.4 feet.

Both East and West Goose lakes are significantly above state standards for phosphorus and chlorophyll. East Goose is currently at 2.6 times the 60 micrograms/liter standard for phosphorus. As the accompanying chart shows, phosphorus levels have been dropping. Tanner believes the lower number is due to dilution from two years of heavy rainfall. East Goose also contains four times the state standard for chlorophyll (20 micrograms/liter), which is a measure of algae in the water.

“These two lakes are sick,” Tanner told council members. “They are turbid, algae-dominated lakes. Improving the east basin would improve the west basin. Treating East Goose with alum would be 32 times more effective (at removing phosphates) than the next best option.”

If the alum treatment went forward, the cost would be $170,000. VLAWMO has submitted a grant application to the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) to fund the treatment. Asked when they'll know if the grant is approved, Tanner said late January.

Pointing out that VLAWMO's request to ban motors before knowing the treatment will be funded is “putting the cart before the horse,” asserted Lindsey Carpenter, a Goose Lake resident who presented the homeowners' side of the issue.

Carpenter and husband Kurt are avid water skiers. Both are show skiers and members of the Midwest Ski Otters, a water ski club that performs on Little Goose (West Goose) Lake during the summer.

“Alum is not the right fit for our lake,” contends Carpenter, who said the lake is “getting better. We've even had loons.”

There are 19 homeowners on East Goose, four ski boats and one pontoon. Banning them would be a “taking of property use,” stated Carpenter, who is a personal injury attorney for Meshbesher & Spence. “We chose this lake for recreational use. We're the ones here long term,” she said. “The ordinance is premature.”

If approved and if funding is granted, the lake would be dosed with alum fall 2020.

Homeowners applauded when Mayor Jo Emerson questioned whether a compromise could be found. “That's the stickler,” she said. “I drive by there every day and rarely see a boat. But to restrict boating seems pretty severe.”  

Carpenter agreed, saying the ordinance “would be devastating” to Goose Lake residents and the action “much too drastic.”

Other Ski Otter members spoke during the public hearing, unusual for a first reading of an ordinance, but allowed this time. One unidentified man worried the ban would spread to West Goose and impact the ski team that has performed in White Bear since 1995.

Kristi Skillings said taking away the residents' rights “wouldn't be happening on White Bear Lake.”

A Ski Otter for 25 years, Skillings said her two children have also grown up skiing on West Goose. “We've ingested a lot of water and we're still healthy,” she declared, adding she's also worried West Goose will be next to see a boating ban.

VLAWMO's Tanner pointed out that BWSR wants assurances the alum treatment will be successful before it extends funding. Bottom line: If boating isn't banned, the lake won't get treated.

Councilman Kevin Edberg wanted to know if there is a contribution of phosphorus downstream. “Does it get in the Vadnais Lake chain?” he asked. “The water utility does test and finds algae blooms in east Vadnais Lake,” Tanner replied. “There is a future risk.”

Councilman Doug Biehn didn't see the hurry to get an ordinance passed if there are no downstream consequences. Councilman Bill Walsh said he was ready to vote “no” in November; to which Jones asked, “why not kill it now?”

Edberg was not ready to vote either way. “I'm convinced alum is the right treatment; but I question removal of boats on the lake,” he said. All but Jones agreed to table.

The ordinance would restrict motorized boating for at least three years, with potential for extended restrictions. That would allow two alum treatments over two years with a rest year in between.

The city is authorized by state statute to adopt surface use ordinances for lakes located entirely within its boundaries. Surface use regulations must be approved by the commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Findings listed in the first reading noted that the state is required to undertake steps to clean up a body of water classified as impaired. A lake classified as being impaired is an assessment of how well the lake supports fishing, swimming and other beneficial uses.

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