Counties cooperate on dam fixWashburn County has a dam problem, and residents in the town of Wascott in Douglas County could be helping to foot the bill.
By: Shelley Nelson, Superior Telegram
Washburn County has a dam problem, and residents in the town of Wascott in Douglas County could be helping to foot the bill.
The Douglas County Board on Thursday considers creating a special assessment district in cooperation with Washburn County to make about $1.1 million in repairs to the dam that creates the Minong and Cranberry flowages.
About 60 percent of the property owners who are affected by the dam that creates numerous waterways live in Wascott, said Douglas County Supervisor Mary Lou Bergman.
With the dam owned and located in Washburn County, she said there are only two alternatives — pay for the dam to be reconstructed or draw down the waterways and remove it.
“Washburn County determined that they didn’t have the money to fix it, so if it’s going to be fixed, it would have to be a joint effort,” Bergman said. She said while there was some opposition in the town of Wascott initially; however, it is the property owners who are going to be most affected by it.
“My suggestion to those people right up front was to go one mile out of Gordon on County (Highway) G and look at what happened out there when they did the draw down out there … it was devastating,” Bergman said. “The big open water, the nice fishing spot, the beautiful place to look at became a mud hole with stumps, sticks, hardly enough water there to float a canoe.”
She said the impact of drawing down the flowages permanently could be devastating to property owners, property values and tourism — the bread and butter for rural Douglas County’s economy.
The dam, built in 1938, has been declared a high hazard because of its poor condition by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
Several cracks were noted and the DNR determined the hydraulic capacity of the dam couldn’t withstand a thousand year flood, like the one that occurred in the Twin Ports last year.
Reconstruction of the dam is expected to begin later this year, with the draw down to accommodate the work expected to begin at the end of April.
Even the temporary draw down for the reconstruction project is going to have an impact on business in the southern Douglas County town, Bergman said.
The draw down will bring the lake level down about five feet lower than normal elevations, said Washburn County Highway Commission Jon Johnson.
“The Cranberry Lake area will be affected considerably,” Johnson said. He said he anticipates there will still be water in the middle of Cranberry Lake but shallower areas will be drained down during the summer, as construction is going on at the dam.
The project plan calls for refilling the flowages in November, Johnson said. He said the county is going to work with the DNR to limit flow during the dry season in late summer and early fall to help with refilling the flowages.
The $1.1 million construction project, awarded to Staub Construction of Marshfield, Wis., will be paid for in part by a $400,000 grant from the Wisconsin DNR and a $100,000 contribution by Dahlberg Light and Power, which uses the dam for hydro-electric generation.
The balance will be paid by property owners directly affected by the damn through a special assessment.
To determine if Wascott property owners are affected by the assessments, Johnson said a map was created highlighting the property owners along the flowage who will help foot the bill for the costs.
Douglas County Administrator Andy Lisak said the county’s role in creating the special district is largely to provide legal resources it has to represent the Wascott Town Board’s decision to participate in the project.
However, the cooperative effort could serve as a model as Douglas County faces a similar problem with its Mooney Dam on the Eau Claire River in Gordon.
The county is only beginning to assess the problems that prompted the DNR to list it as a high hazard, Douglas County Forestry Director Jon Harris said. However, like Washburn County, he said, the majority of the bodies of water and property owners affected by the dam in Douglas County — the Eau Claire chain of lakes — are located in Bayfield County.