The Winona City Council held a discussion on restoring native plants in multiple parts of the city. However, one parcel in particular — located in West Lake Park —  sparked the interest of City Council member Jeff Hyma, who argued that adding vegetation to the wetland could be a detriment to the surrounding neighborhood.

The City Council passed a resolution last month to apply for a pilot grant from the Minnesota Board of Soil and Water Resources. The grant would provide funds to seed native vegetation in four different areas of the city.

The grant would fund up to 75% of the costs, or around $10,800, for restoring native vegetation in four areas: a wetland in West Lake Park west of Sioux Street, a shoreline buffer behind the Misato cherry trees in East Lake Park, another shoreline along the southeast corner of the East Lake Winona and Unity Park, and 4.5 acres of the bluff prairie above Woodlawn Cemetery. The sites were determined by city staff and the Winona County Soil and Water Conservation District as prime candidates for the grant.

Hyma, the representative for the city’s Second Ward, including West Lake Park, tried to make an amendment to the motion, which would have allowed the council to have a second vote in the future to approve the final sites for the grant. Hyma argued that the wetland site of West Lake Park would create a hazardous environment for the residents of the area — including himself.

Hyma was also hesitant to designate the site as a wetland, as it would preclude the site from being used for other development. City staff pointed out that the site had already been designated as wetlands many years prior to this proposal coming forward. City Manager Chad Ubl later added that he’d like that area to remain green and open.

Hyma argued that adding native plants to the site would retain water, which in turn would attract bugs to the area. Hyma doesn’t believe attracting bugs is in the city’s best interest.

Hyma also pointed out it could also affect the health of people using the park. “The problematic aspect in that playground area and in the outfield [is] ducks, waterfowl, defecation, and little kids playing in the water,” Hyma said. “It’s not healthy. I think there’s a health component as well that goes into this.”

City Council member Pam Eyden made a pitch for the wetlands, saying that wetlands do a lot of good. She explained that wetlands act as a filter for runoff making its way into Lake Winona. The wetlands would help with meeting the city’s goals of making Lake Winona cleaner, Eyden added.

City Council member Jerome Christenson said that while that portion of the park serves as a duck pond in the summer, it otherwise looks just like a scraggly lawn the rest of the year. “Aesthetically, having natural vegetation that thrives under those conditions would be an improvement to the park,” Christenson said.

Hyma told the council that he wanted to amend the motion to allow for a second vote on the sites, as it would provide constituents an opportunity to provide input on sites. “I’m very hesitant to agree to something and lock anything in that hasn’t been discussed publicly within the neighborhood, or had the opportunity to,” Hyma said at the meeting. “I’m not trying to hold anything back, but I do believe in public input, and I don’t know that it’s happening in regard to this. This is the first I’ve heard of this.”

Hyma made a motion to amend the resolution to allow a review of the sites prior to a final decision, but it ultimately failed because no other City Council members supported it. 

The original motion to apply for the four areas was then unanimously passed. City of Winona Natural Resources Sustainability Coordinator John Howard said that if the Winona County Soil and Water Conservation District receives the grant in May, the city would have work plans for the four sites by June.