Winton power dam discussed at WICOLA meeting

by Nancy McReady

It’s been seven long years, but the collaborative team working on the Winton Hydro Project re-licensing has finally come to a settlement agreement. <BR><BR>The project area includes waters from Birch Lake and running on through White Iron Lake, Farm Lake, South Farm Lake, Friday Lake and Garden Lake to Fall Lake. <BR><BR>The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved the settlement agreement on April 15, 2004. The renewed license is for 40 years.<BR><BR>The collaborative team included Minnesota Power (ALLETE), the U.S. Forest Service, the Department of Natural Resources, White Iron Chain of Lakes Association (WICOLA), and Conservationists with Common Sense (CWCS). <BR><BR>Additional agencies and non-government organizations were invited to partake in the process but declined. The team met monthly, sometimes bi-monthly in the early years of the process. <BR><BR>Concerns of each agency and organization involved were discussed. Some of the concerns included project operation, water drawdown affecting area lakes, erosion, fish and wildlife resource enhancements, recreation resources, and other related subjects.<BR><BR>Minnesota Power Senior Engineer, John Niemela gave a presentation on the Winton Hydro Project, better known as the Winton Power Dam, at the annual WICOLA meeting Sunday, August 8.<BR><BR>The Winton Power Dam was built in 1923 and was first licensed for generating hydroelectric power in 1924. The site has two turbines with the capability of generating four megawatts of electricity. There is room for a third unit for more generating power, but that has never been implemented.<BR><BR>Niemela’s presentation included terms of the re-licensing agreement. <BR><BR>• Target lake levels for Birch Lake and Garden Lake to be maintained throughout the year by ALLETE according to a seasonal curve.<BR><BR>• Funding of two new streamflow gauges.<BR><BR>• Prepare, implement, and fund an erosion control plan with requirements for the protection of actively eroding shorelines.<BR><BR>• Fund measures to protect, mitigate, and enhance terrestrial and fisheries habitat.<BR><BR>• Prepare and implement a heritage resources management plan to protect National Register eligible properties, American Indian traditional cultural values, and heritage resources on USFS lands.<BR><BR>• Prepare and implement a water quality monitoring and sampling plan to monitor water quality that may be affected by the change in project operations including a summer drawdown and a smaller winter drawdown. Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) will be involved in water quality monitoring.<BR><BR>• Prepare and implement a public safety and human health plan to evaluate public safety at proposed and existing recreational sites, and to provide adequate public sanitary facilities.<BR><BR>• Prepare and implement a recreation plan, and provide funding to the Forest Service and the MDNR for prioritizing and improving recreational developments within the project area. <BR><BR>The recreation plan may be of greatest interest to area residents, as well as to visitors. <BR><BR>Some of the requirements of the recreation plan to be implemented over the next few years include a new Winton Falls viewing facility, allowing people to view the only large waterfall in the area. <BR><BR>A parking lot will be built off the Fernberg Trail just past the Garden Lake Bridge. <BR><BR>Parking will also accommodate use of the relocated portage from Garden Lake to Fall Lake, which will be moved from the west side of the dam facility to the east side.<BR><BR>The existing Garden Lake boat launch area has always been a problem for people because of the strong current swirling at the rocks. <BR><BR>This will now be turned into a shore fishing area, and the boat launch area will be moved further to the southwest, away from the swift current.<BR><BR>Other improvements for public safety at existing recreation sites include the relocation of the wayside rest on Highway 1 near the Birch Lake dam. <BR><BR>Presently the site is to the east of the dam on the south side of Highway 1. The wayside rest will be moved to the west side of the dam, on the north side of Highway 1, where there is already a parking lot.<BR><BR>Future plans also include possible lease of project area lands on Garden Lake.