Dredging efforts move forward

Nebraska firm hired to do engineering work at lakes Elkhorn and Kittamaqundi


Pearl Atkinson-Stewart, the Columbia Association's board representative for Owen Brown village, has for years pleaded with the association to start dredging Lake Elkhorn, the 37-acre manmade lake in her community.

Lake Elkhorn and Lake Kittamaqundi, in Town Center, long have been overwhelmed by algae and sediment that threaten to turn them into marshland if left untouched.

"I really wished they would go and get it completed because the more we wait, the more expensive it gets," Atkinson-Stewart said.

So she was pleased by recent word that dredging plans - at least the initial phases - are moving forward, now that the board has hired a Nebraska engineering firm for the project.

The dredging awaits permits and certification from county, state and federal agencies, according to Chick Rhodehamel, Columbia Association vice president for open-space management. A starting date for the dredging is to be determined, but the target completion date is April 2009, according to the final budget document.

But Rhodehamel also has cautioned that the association is "dealing with federal, state and the county, and they all have a process that is unique to each project."

Columbia has three lakes. Elkhorn, in Owen Brown, was built in 1974 and only a portion near the pier has been dredged. Kittamaqundi, a 27-acre manmade lake in Town Center, was dredged in the 1980s. The 22-acre Wilde Lake was dredged in the 1990s for a reported $1.4 million.

For the past few years, the Columbia Association has wanted to dredge lakes Elkhorn and Kittamaqundi, which are less than a foot deep in certain areas, Rhodehamel said. However, funding was cut because of other priorities and costly capital projects, the association has said.

Meanwhile, the soupy mixture in the waters was not the only thing that kept growing.

Rhodehamel told The Sun in 2003 that the preliminary estimate to dredge Lake Elkhorn was about $1.5 million. That has jumped to a projected $5 million through the 2008 conditional budget. And the estimate for Lake Kittamaqundi is $5 million for fiscal 2007 - up from the $2.8 million initially budgeted.

At a board meeting last month, Rhodehamel fielded questions about options for sites to dump silt and other dredging waste and ways to reduce the cost of the project.

Rhodehamel said the price for dredging has increased because of rising fuel costs and competition for land to dispose of dredging materials. He told the board the recent sampling of sediment in both lakes was uncontaminated and could yield more options for disposal sites.

Wolfger Schneider, then a board member from Harper's Choice, asked Rhodehamel if it would be possible to use some of the sediment and other materials dredged from Lake Kittamaqundi to help rebuild the island that separates the lake from the Little Patuxent River. During heavy storms, the river - which runs alongside Lake Kittamaqundi - can rise over its banks and spill into the lake.

"My thinking is that some of the sediment could be used to build up the environment," Schneider said. "Move it and build up the island, and it would be good to make it a destination place for residents to use."

Rhodehamel cautioned that it might be illegal to intentionally move sediment that could reinfect another waterway.

Randy Lappert, president of the Swan Point at Lake Elkhorn condominium association, a community of 150 residences near the lake, said the lake is a draw for many in the area and that keeping it clear of algae and sediment is important.

"Folks want to make sure their property values are not affected by the lake because this is a critical element in our community," Lappert said.


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