June 27, 2007

Drowning Raises Questions About Safety at Foster-Arend Pond

By Jeffrey Pieters, Post-Bulletin, Rochester, Minn.

Jun. 27--Six of the seven drowning deaths in the last 16 years at Rochester's Foster-Arend pond occurred outside the area where swimming is allowed.

Thirty-five-year-old Emmanuel McFarland of Hudson, Wis., who drowned at the pond on Monday, was one of those.

His drowning was the first at Foster-Arend since Rochester adopted an ordinance in 2004 making it a misdemeanor to be in the water outside the designated swim area. Violators can be fined up to $1,000.

Apparently, no citations have been issued, according to police records officials and the city attorney's office. None of those departments, nor Olmsted District Court, keeps records that can be searched for this type of infraction.

Rochester Police Sgt. Rob Miller said officers stop by Foster-Arend "when we can." He said officers have found ropes and tire swings hanging from trees in non-swimming areas, as well as picnic tables that have been dragged down the path leading to the non-roped off pond area. Officers take down the ropes and swings and haul the tables back.

"We do what we can to keep people out of the area," he said.

News of the drowning death set off an immediate reaction in the city's Park and Recreation Department. Director Ron Bastian had a day full of meetings with fellow city staff members "seeing if there's things that could change, should change" at the public pond.

After the drowning in 2004, a special task force recommended posting signs in multiple languages warning of pond dangers, which include drop-offs and some cold-water zones.

The Park Board will discuss the matter at its next meeting, July 10.

"How do you monitor (the pond), short of having uniformed officers on patrol boats?" Bastian said. "I guess the bottom line is, if there was an answer, we'd already be doing it."

On Tuesday, the Foster-Arend parking lot and beach were full.

"I'm not concerned, but it is unfortunate," said Mary Alcott, who brought her 4-year-old twins, Harrison and Emma, to the beach. "It can happen in a swimming pool with a lifeguard there, just as easily. A lifeguard is not going to save my kids. I am."

Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN writer Janice Gregorson contributed to this article.


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