Waupaca County has just four months to decide whether to replace or remove the Little Hope dam.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources set a Dec. 1, 2013, deadline for the county’s decision on the dam.
Prior to the county board voting on the dam’s future, the county’s Park and Recreation Committee will make a recommendation when it meets at 1 p.m. Monday, Aug. 19, at the courthouse.
The committee has scheduled a public hearing on the dam for 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 5, in the lower level of the courthouse.
A committee meeting Monday, July 15, provided some indication of the type of testimony which can be expected at the public hearing.
Support for restoring dam
Dayton residents, whose homes previously had scenic views of Little Hope Millpond until the DNR ordered its drawdown in October 2012, now see long stretches of muck between their lawns and the edge of the Crystal River.
They complained that the muck, caused by the sediment left behind when the pond was drained, is both an eyesore and a detriment to the local environment.
“I don’t see how muck and stinging nettles are an improvement,” said Rob Richardson, noting invasive species are moving into the new shoreline habitat while species long native to the area are moving out.
“Sandhill cranes, gone. Frogs and toads, gone,” he said.
Bryan Herro lives on the Crystal River downstream from Little Hope. He brought water and soil samples to show the committee how removing the dam has caused pond sediment to wash down stream and cause environmental damage
“The Crystal River formerly had a sandy bottom filled with snails,” Herro said. “Now, it’s an oily muck.”
Stephanie Schmidt discussed how the muck around Little Hope has made it more difficult and dangerous for families to kayak or canoe along the Crystal River.
Whitney Golding, daughter of the late Bruce Golding, said the Little Hope Millpond and the Red Mill represented an important childhood memory for her and her sisters, a place where they played, brought friends and grew up.
Her grandfather, who lived on the north edge of the pond, helped maintained the dam in the 1940s, prior to the county taking control of it.
Those who supported replacing the dam posted before-and-after photos of Little Hope outside the county boardroom. They reminded the committee the pond has drawn tourists to the area for decades and has been a part of local history for more than 160 years.
Opposition to saving millpond
One person spoke against replacing the dam at Monday’s committee meeting.
Tom Miller, who lives on the Crystal River, in Parfreyville upstream from Little Hope, said dams should be removed and rivers should be restored to their natural condition
“The state has a history of restoring rivers,” Miller said, pointing to Nelsonville, Baraboo and Merrill, where dams have been removed and rivers restored.
“Come to Parfreyville Road and look at the restored river bank there,” Miller said. “The wildlife is not leaving, it’s returning.”
Miller also noted replacing the dam will be significantly more expensive than removing it.
“There’s not enough money in the coffers of the county or the state to pay for replacing the dam,” Miller said.
Report on dam
Although no public hearing had been scheduled Monday, citizens came to voice their concerns, because the meeting agenda included review and approval of a report on the dam.
Presented by Roger Holman, the county’s parks and recreation director, the report covered the dam’s history, compared the environmental impacts and the relative costs of its removal or replacement and the potential impact of the dam’s removal on property values.
Those who support replacing the dam accused Holman of wanting to remove the dam for nearly a decade and questioned the objectivity of the report prepared by his department.
“It’s like the Internet. You can find support for any position you have,” Richardson said.
The report itself makes no explicit recommendation regarding the dam.
“Replacing a dam typically costs three to five times more than the cost of removal,” according to the report.
The report estimates it would cost between $50,000 and $125,000 to remove the dam, while it would cost between $406,000 and $425,000 to replace it. Some of these costs may be funded by state grants.
The DNR has two grant programs which provide funding for dam projects. A dam removal grant would provide up to $50,000 of the total costs.
The DNR’s Municipal Dam Grant Program provides cost-sharing for engineering and construction costs for dam repair, modification or removal, up to a maximum of $400,000.
According to the parks and rec report, the municipal dam grant could cover 50 percent of the first $400,000 in costs to replace a dam.
If the DNR approved a municipal dam grant for removing the Little Hope dam, it could cover 100 percent of the costs, the report says.
“Discussions with the WDNR staff have indicated that the county’s chances of receiving a dam replacement grant are low, while the chances of receiving a dam removal grant are high.”
Costs not covered by the state grant would be the responsibility of county taxpayers.
Environmental Impact of dam
Forming from its outlet at the Chain O’ Lakes, the Crystal River flows 11.4 miles into the Waupaca River.
It is home to 22 species of fish, two of which are the greater redhorse, listed by the state as a threatened species, and the banded killifish, listed as a special concern species.
In addition to Little Hope, there are two other dams on the Crystal River, forming Cary Pond at Churchill Street in Waupaca and the small pond in the village of Rural.
“Dam removal throughout the Crystal River would benefit greater redhorse by improving habitat connectivity to spawning and wintering areas,” the report says.
The report indicates dams on the river limit the ability of other species of fish to move from summer to winter habitats, while dam impoundments increase water temperatures, thereby limiting habitat for wild trout.
“Little Hope Pond supports a very limited fish population,” the report says. “Past surveys have documented mainly bluegill, largemouth bass, northern pike, bullhead and sucker species in low numbers.”
Students in this year’s Waupaca County Leadership program, under the guidance of local University of Wisconsin Extension educators, conducted a study of how removing Little Hope dam would impact local property values.
Their study was incorporated into the parks and rec report.
After the pond water recedes back to the original river channel, the newly exposed land, or relicted area, may or may not belong to the adjacent property owners.
If the legal description sets the property line at the center or edge of the river, then the relicted area belongs to the current property owner.
If the legal description sets the property line at the edge of the millpond or flowage, then the relicted area belongs to the heirs of the original owner. If the heirs cannot be found, then the relicted area goes to the state.
According to a parcel map of Little Hope, based on county deed descriptions, about a dozen properties would lose their water frontage because their boundaries are described as the edge of the millpond or flowage.
“Where the property owners lose the actual frontage along the water body … a typical outcome is that the state will quit claim this property to the adjoining property owner,” the study surmises.
In other areas, the relicted area becomes public greenspace.
A 2006 study conducted in Madison, and quoted in the local study, found “removing a dam does little harm to property values in the short run (two years) and serves to increase property values in the long run.”
The local study also noted, “There is an undefined amount of uncertainty with potential home buyers regarding dam removal – especially when the removal is new and the newly exposed land has not had an opportunity to return to its natural condition.”