A judge has stayed the Little Hope Lake District Board election and a claim has been filed against the county over the dam.
The Dayton Town Board and the Little Hope Lake District Board of Commissioners also voted Thursday, Dec. 12, to file a notice of claim against the county.
Waupaca County Circuit Court Judge Raymond Huber stayed the change of board officers on Nov. 26.
“It is hereby ordered that the previous officers continue to serve until such time as the election challenge is decided,” Huber said.
Prior to the Nov. 9 election of three Little Hope property owners, the lake district board was comprised of Town Chairman Chris Klein and Supervisors Glen Newsome and Lee Schroeder.
Huber’s stay was in response to a lawsuit filed by Don and Linda Holtebeck and Cathy Miller.
Their civil complaint alleges that Klein, who also chairs the Little Hope Lake District Board, committed “election fraud” by not allowing all eligible property owners to vote at a Nov. 9 special meeting of the lake district electors.
At the meeting, Klein allowed only one vote to be cast per property, rather than allowing all property owners to vote.
The suit names Klein, Newsome and the Little Hope Lake District.
Ryan Braithwaite, a Milwaukee attorney who specializes in representing municipalities and civil litigation defense, submitted an answer to the complaint on Dec. 12.
In his answer, Braithwaite admits “that voting was limited to one vote per property in the district; as further answer, deny that the rights of Wisconsin voters were disenfranchised or that election fraud was created.”
After the Dec. 12 meetings, Klein said the town’s insurance carrier is providing the attorney.
Claims against county
On Dec. 12, Rob and Susan Richardson filed a claim for $102,225 in damages against Waupaca County and Roger Holman, the county’s Parks and Recreation director.
The Richardsons, who reside in Mount Pleasant, also own a home on Barnhart Drive in the town of Dayton. Their property was located on the Little Hope Mill Pond prior to the dam’s removal.
Noting that the dam was originally built in 1850 and reconstructed in 1965, the Richardsons’ attorney, Paul Rosenfeldt, of Fond du Lac, argues that the county owns the dam and has failed to maintain it.
“During September and early October 2012, the county gradually removed all of the wood control planks from the dam in order to facilitate the county’s repair, replacement or removal of the dam,” according to the Richardsons’ claim. “The county was faced with these options because of a leak which was the result of the county’s failure to inspect and maintain the dam as required.”
The removal of the dam caused the shoreline to recede, leaving behind “a large expanse of muck where once there was water.”
“The muck was quickly filled with invasive weeds, which have aggravated the Richardsons’ preexisting allergies and asthma,” according to the claim. “It has also been a breeding ground for blastomyces dermatitidis, a deadly fungus, which can infect dogs and humans.”
The claim describes the county’s actions as “willful and malicious,” and says the county has refused to do anything to mitigate the inevitable consequences of the dam’s removal.
The claim argues that the Richardsons’ property was valued at $168,900 prior to the dam’s removal. A local Realtor informed them that the home’s market value has since dropped by 25 percent, resulting in a loss of at least $42,225.
“Moreover, the county has told the Richardsons that they should not assume that their property now extends to the new waterline,” the claim says. If that is the case, then the Richardsons beieve their property value will be further diminished.
In addition to the $42,225 in lost property value, the Richardsons are asking to be awarded damages of $10,000 to pay for the clean-up, weed eradication and landscaping of their muck-covered yard and $50,000 for the suffering and treatment of their allergies and asthma.
They are also asking for the court to determine damages for their loss of property rights, punitive damages and litigation expenses.
Filing a notice of claim for damages is the first stop in a lawsuit against the county.
More claims on the horizon
Klein and Newsome held two brief meetings Thursday, Dec. 12, and voted to file claims against the county – first as the town board, then as the lake district board.
Schroeder, who was on vacation last week, was absent from both meetings.
In addition to filing a claim for damages, the lake district board also voted to oppose the county’s request with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to remove the Little Hope dam.
The county has already removed the dam’s wooden planks and metal bars, which resulted in the drawdown. The concrete structure has yet to be removed.
Dayton’s claim against the county will focus on how the dam’s removal may affect the groundwater table near the abandoned landfill.
More than a decade ago, trace amounts of known carcinogens were detected in private wells near the landfill, located on East Road, south of the Little Hope area.
Subsequently, the DNR ordered that monitoring wells be installed around the landfill. Over time, the contaminants leaching from the landfill into the groundwater have been attenuated. However, the DNR’s order to monitor the groundwater remains in effect.
The towns of Farmington, Dayton and Lind are responsible for the costs of monitoring the groundwater which flows through the closed landfill,
Initially, Klein attempted to schedule a meeting of the three town boards which comprise the landfill committee.
In a Dec. 4 email to the town clerks of Lind and Farmington, obtained through an open records request by the County Post, Klein asked if the town board would be available for a meeting with Milwaukee attorney Ted Warpinski and environmental engineer Mark Strobel on Dec. 12.
According to Klein, the landfill committee needed to meet prior to Dec. 17 due to a 120-day deadline for filing a claim of damages regarding the dam.
Klein believes the start date for the 120-day window is the Aug. 19 meeting when the Waupaca County Park and Rec Committee voted to remove the dam.
When Lind Town Clerk Colleen McCoy asked Klein in an email why he wanted the three town boards to meet in closed session, Klein responded that the purpose of the meeting was to meet with legal counsel concerning strategy “with respect to litigation.”
Klein’s Dec. 5 email to McCoy, which was forwarded to other members of the Lind Town Board and to Farmington Town Clerk Sandy Grenlie, indicated that removal of the dam could result in costs for the three towns.
“A permanent removal of the dam will shift the water table in the monitoring area of the East Road landfill and may lead to additional monitoring costs, engineering costs, legal costs and construction costs, as well as re-opening the landfill to further investigations,” Klein noted in the email.
Although the three town boards did not hold a landfill committee meeting on Dec. 12, Klein said that as long as one of the towns filed a claim with the county that would be sufficient to meet the deadline.
Chuck Krueger asked Klein at the Dec. 12 meeting how the Little Hope Lake District, which has yet to have an annual meeting to approve a budget, will pay the costs associated with any legal action.
Klein noted that filing a claim with the county will not cost the lake district anything.
Klein said the decision for more extensive legal action will be made by the board or by district electors at an annual meeting.