GOSHEN — The Simonton Lake dredging project is wrapping up, but county storm water officials have expressed concerns ahead of a site visit from state agencies.
The bulk of the work to improve the depth and clarity of the 301-acre lake near the Michigan border was carried out last year. Areas of the lake gained 4 to 6 feet of depth after more than 13,000 cubic yards of sediment was removed from certain sites.
Work continued this summer to address some channels and private areas of the lake. The next project to tackle will be cleaning Lilly Creek.
The $1 million lake dredging project started with a diagnostic study in 2011, which found that two-thirds of the lake were less than 5 feet deep and half the water was only 4 feet or less. Dredging began with the pinched area in the center of the lake, where a weir was built to keep the water level high enough for boats to pass through.
Phil Barker, Elkhart County surveyor and a member of the county storm water board, told the rest of the board this week that he recently visited the lake to check on the progress of the latest phase. He was concerned with several things he saw.
Those included one of three basins that water was pumped into being nearly full of sand. He said there was about 6 feet of sand in the 8-foot-deep basin.
There was also a ditch dug along an overflow outlet leading to Lilly Creek, where there was supposed to be a grass waterway with check dams, according to Barker. As designed, he said, the waterway was supposed to allow overflow water to be filtered and soak into the ground.
Jim Hess, manager of the county Soil and Water Conservation District, confirmed that the project wasn’t allowed to start until after the grass waterway was built. He believed the unauthorized channel was dug about three days before the project was complete.
Barker said they have a site walk-through scheduled for Thursday with state permitting agencies, including the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and the Department of Natural Resources. He said some fines could be issued as a result.
“They’re gonna come out and they’re gonna see this. I don’t think they’re gonna like it,” he said.
It remains to be seen just who the fines could be handed down to, board members said. They also expressed uncertainty over what they should do in response.
Hess said he would discuss it with John Heiliger, the coordinator for the county’s municipal separate storm sewer system program, and decide what action they needed to take. At the very least, he said, it would keep the project from being closed out.
Storm water board member Mike Yoder also suggested sending the overseers of the Simonton Lake project a notice that they’re in violation of their storm water pollution prevention plan.
“If the state agencies ask, I want us to be able to say, ‘Well, we just found out about it so we’re pursuing our options,’” he said.