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Proposed Laurel lagoon raises concerns from residents

By Staff | Feb 14, 2020

T-R PHOTO BY LANA BRADSTREAM Laurel City Council member John Bloom, attorney Maria Brownell of Ahlers Cooney Attorneys in Des Moines and Mayor Evan Folk on Monday listen to the concerns and questions people have regarding a proposed lagoon.



The city of Laurel is proposing a new lagoon and some outside residents are not happy about it.

Tom Bowman, fire chief for the city of Ferguson and owner of Fire House Aquatics, said the area the city wants to put the lagoon is outside of city limits. The property is owned by Lynn Zesch and his son Kim Zesch. The mailing address is 2936 Taylor Ave., Gilman.

The Times-Republican called numerous city of Laurel officials and officials connected to the project, but no one returned calls by press time.

However, the Times-Republican did get a copy of the notice of intent on whether to commence the project and whether or not to acquire the agricultural land belonging to the Zesch family.

“The project . . . consists of construction of a wastewater treatment facility for the purpose of treating wastewater collected in the cities of Laurel, Haverhill and Ferguson consistent with the standards . . .” the intent reads.

“The wastewater treatment facility would consist of a three-cell controlled discharge lagoon with basis sized to store and treat cumulative wastewater flows from a 180-day time period, which system would have very low maintenance and operation costs.”

Section 3 of the notice of intent addresses how the city will acquire the property:

“If the project is approved by the city, an appraiser retained by the city will determine the compensation to be paid for property or property interests that are needed for the project. The city will offer no less than the appraised value and will attempt to purchase only the needed property by good faith negotiations. If the city is unable to acquire property interests needed for the project by negotiation, the city will acquire those interests by condemnation.”

Lynn Zesch said he was left in the dark about the project and is now trying to catch up on everything that is happening with it.

“I want nothing to do with it,” Zesch said. “I told them two years ago I was not interested in selling the land for a lagoon.”

The Oct. 8, 2018 Laurel City Council meeting minutes reflect the city was talking about the lagoon project back then and council members discussed the pros and cons of using eminent domain if negotiations with land owners fail. At the March 11, 2019 meeting, it was reported that efforts to acquire land north of Ferguson for the lagoon had been exhausted. The June 10, 2019 meeting minutes stated that negotiations regarding the final site under consideration were unsuccessful. All council members voted in favor of proceeding with the process of using eminent domain.

The city sent Kim Zesch a letter, but mailed it to Lynn Zesch’s house. The letter states that the city of Laurel sent notice of a Jan. 13 public hearing regarding the intentions.

” . . . with no comments made, the council passed a resolution to proceed with the lagoon improvement project at the site listed in the notice,” the letter states. “The city of Laurel is in the process of designing the necessary lagoon and has contracted with Garden & Associates of Oskaloosa, as the engineering firm for this project. A surveyor with G&A will be on site to determine the parameters for the project and area tentatively planning on Jan. 30-31, 2020, to conduct this survey. The city is also in the process of acquiring an appraiser and will relay this information as it becomes available.”

The letter was dated Jan. 17 and signed by Laurel city clerk Lynne Gummert.

Not selling

Zesch said it does not matter how much money the city has. He is not selling his land and destroying his farm.

Not only does Zesch not want to sell his property, he does not like the location of the proposed lagoon. The 27-acre lagoon will split his farm in half.

“It will destroy my farm which is a Century Farm and a Heritage Farm,” he said. “It has been in my family for 127 years. It will be right in the center of my territory and it will be a really sad thing if this happens. It will be devastating to me. I have lost quite a bit of sleep thinking someone wants to destroy what I have worked for all my life.”

Zesch, 90, a retired farmer, said other families that live in the area will also be affected and will have to deal with the smell of the lagoon when the wind blows a certain direction.

It would also have a negative impact on Bowman as the owner of Fire House Aquatics.Not only does Bowman sell colorful fish for aquariums, but he also sells bait which he collects from the nearby creek. That water source is right next to the proposed lagoon site.

“It’s kind of stupid to put it at the edge of the creek when there is sewage pumped in there,” Zesch said.

Being close to the creek and dealing with the smells are not the only causes of concern. Bowman and Zesch said the lagoon is in a floodplain.

“That property floods every spring. The whole area is under water,” Bowman said.

The flooding would spread content from the lagoon to property outside of the boundaries. Bowman said his neighboring pasture in which he keeps horses would end up with human feces on it.

Bowman wants as many people as possible to know about what is going on.

A regular Laurel City Council meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Monday at City Hall, 102 N. Main St. The lagoon improvement project is on the agenda with a note that the council welcomes comments from the public, but will limit those comments to four minutes per speaker.

Bowman made sure to tell customers who stopped by Fire House Aquatics on Saturday about the upcoming meeting.

“We hope to get enough people to speak at the meeting and let them know how detrimental this is to the area,” he said.

City of Laurel reconsiders proposed lagoon location

The motion was made and unanimously approved after a Monday meeting held at the joint City Hall and Community Library building in which roughly 40 people gathered to speak against or for the project.

There was standing room only and mayor Evan Folk did his best to control people talking over one another. When the meeting started, the audience was informed speakers would have four minutes to talk about the proposed lagoon project and it’s location on land belonging to Lynn Zesch of Gilman.

Zesch, 90, was present at the meeting. He told the council that he hoped they would reconsider finding another location for the lagoon or improve the current lagoon. Unlike other speakers at the meeting, Zesch was not given a time limit.

The retired farmer did not want to sell his land for a lagoon and the idea of eminent domain being used was bothering him. Not only was Zesch concerned for his 127-year-old farm but also for the nearby Green Castle Recreation Area. Zesch’s family sold the land for that park to the county at a reasonable price because they wanted people to enjoy it.

“That’s the jewel of Marshall County,” he said.

Terry Thompson, also of Gilman, would have been affected as well as the lagoon would have been east of his home. He said the smell and the noise of the lagoon would have been troublesome and just the presence of it would decrease the value of their property.

“I do not agree with the need of eminent domain to take someone’s farmland,” Thompson said. “It’s been in their family for over 100 years. I think there are other options to look at and discuss and not use eminent domain.”

Thompson asked why the current lagoon location is not being considered for expansion. He was told the current lagoon does not meet the requirements set forth by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

Many audience members clapped in appreciation of points that were spoken by those in opposition to the project. They were quick to defend Zesch and businessman Tom Bowman, they pointed out the smell and the noise of the lagoon and that the county roads would not sustain the traffic from the construction.

More applause rang out at the end of the discussion when the council voted to reconsider the resolution.

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