E.O. Olson Trust designates funds for water quality projects
WORTHINGTON — Directors of the E.O. Olson Trust unanimously approved a $25,000 contribution to Nobles County Pheasants Forever during a meeting Tuesday morning in Worthington.
The funds will go toward the P.F. Chapter’s latest land acquisition in Bigelow Township, in which 147 acres of marginal land will be seeded to prairie grasses and flowers to boost wildlife habitat and protect Worthington’s wellhead.
The trust is the latest in a number of partners to contribute to the overall cost of the property. Funds are also coming from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Worthington Public Utilities, Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District, Nobles County Pheasants Forever, the Reinvest in Minnesota Critical Habitat Program and the national Build a Wildlife Area program.
Nobles County Pheasants Forever President Scott Rall told the E.O. Olson Trust board that the parcel was “probably the last substantial parcel that was highly vulnerable” in the Worthington wellhead protection area.
Rall said with just three and a half weeks between the time the parcel was advertised for sale and the auction, the board couldn’t be approached for the funds in advance. The E.O. Olson Trust last partnered with the local Pheasants Forever Chapter in 2009 on Pheasant Run 20-21 (the Hallstrom property, also in Bigelow Township). At that time, the trust also contributed $25,000 toward the land purchase.
“We don’t come to you for each and every (acquisition) we do,” Rall said, pointing out that this latest acquisition will be Pheasant Run 32. “This property is the largest we’ve done down there.”
Ultimately, the land will be managed by the Minnesota DNR. A controlled burn is planned yet this spring, trees have been cut down and a couple of old gravel pits will be leveled off to improve the property.
“There’s no ongoing maintenance to anyone,” Rall said.
With ownership transferred to the DNR, the county will receive an annual payment in lieu of taxes that is nearly double the property taxes that have been paid on the land. Rall said the prior landowner paid approximately $2,600 in taxes for the parcel, while the PILT payment is estimated to be $5,100 to $5,200 per year.
Also on Tuesday, the trust approved a request from the Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District to spend slightly more than $1,000 left over from a 2013 contribution of $5,000 to place more floating islands in the E.O. Olson Regional Stormwater Pond on the Minnesota West campus.
Four floating islands were installed in the pond last year, and the watershed district plans to add more this spring.
“We’re putting in two more islands this year and the Lake Okabena Improvement Association will put in two islands,” said OOWD Administrator Dan Livdahl, adding that the LOIA-purchased islands will either be placed in the stormwater pond or in Sunset Bay.
“The islands did really well last year,” he told the E.O. Olson Trust board. “We’re waiting to see how well the islands did through the winter.”
While explaining that the islands are still experimental for the watershed district, Livdahl said they are effective in picking up nutrients that could otherwise fuel algae growth.
“To be most effective, we should have 5 percent of that wetland covered with islands,” he said, adding that if four islands are added this spring — creating eight islands in all — just 1 percent of the pond will be covered.
The islands are costly, both because of the special biomat used and the flowers that are seeded into it.
If the watershed district were to purchase enough floating islands to cover 5 percent of the pond, Livdahl said the cost would be roughly $150,000 to $200,000.
“Long-term, if this works out and we have the money, we’ll keep going,” he added.
Livdahl also reported on the use of Bioverse products in Whiskey Ditch and the Glenwood Heights stormwater pond. The products will again be used this year as an experiment to see how they work to reduce the severity of algal blooms.
With no other requests before the trust, board member Bob Demuth Jr. asked if there were any major projects approaching that may require it to set some reserves aside.
Worthington Mayor Alan Oberloh, another trust member, said the two major projects on the horizon include reconstruction of the ditch (Okabena Creek) north of the Oxford Street lock, parallel to Diagonal Road; and replacement of the dam on Lake Okabena.
“The dam is crumbling,” Oberloh said, adding that the Corps of Engineers, which initially constructed it, is hoped to be a partner with the city in the reconstruction.
“We need to hit the Corps and the State of Minnesota for (a request of) some big dollars,” Oberloh said. “I think the project that would happen sooner would be the area along Diagonal Road.”
Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.