The Waupaca County Finance Committee denied claims for damages filed by nine Little Hope residents.
The claims seek a combined total of $406,000 in compensation for lost property values due to the county’s decision to remove the dam at Little Hope and eliminate the mill pond.
An additional $73,500 is sought to pay for cleanup costs.
One family is seeking $50,000 for the suffering and treatment costs associated with allergy and asthma they say was caused by the drawdown of the pond.
The claims represent the first step in possible litigation against the county.
“We still have the opportunity to resolve this out of court,” Chris Klein told the Finance Committee when it met Wednesday, March 12.
Klein, who chairs Dayton’s town board and the Little Hope Lake District, said, “Efforts to negotiate with the county board have been stymied by a gag order.”
After the county decided to go to court regarding the legality of the Little Hope Lake District, Klein said county supervisors have been prohibited from communicating with him about the dam.
He asked that the county take control of the dam out of the hands of Parks and Rec Director Roger Holman.
Klein accused Holman, who was named along with Waupaca County in the claims for damages, of having a personal stake in the dam’s removal.
“This matter should be resolved between the two governmental bodies and not in court,” Klein said.
Corporation Counsel Jeff Siewert said the legal costs associated with the claims, should they go to court, would be covered by the county’s insurance.
He said the insurance company’s attorney had advised that the claims be denied.
County Supervisor Jack Penney said the county should consider selling the dam to either the town of Dayton or the Little Hope Lake District.
“If they’re willing to buy it, it would relieve us from any litigation,” Penney said.
Siewert said any consideration of selling the dam would be premature because there are questions regarding whether the lake district was properly established.
Siewert is currently working with another attorney to prepare a request for a summary judgment from the circuit court regarding the legality of the Little Hope Lake District.
He said if the court rules that the lake district was properly established, then negotiations can move forward.
Holman said the Parks and Recreation Department is currently moving forward with plans to remove the dam permanently.
The next step in the process will be for the Department of Natural Resources to schedule a public hearing.
Chuck and Juel Krueger are among those who filed the most recent claims against the county.
The Kruegers’ property abutted the Little Hope Mill Pond until the dam’s planks were removed in October 2012.
“The removal of the planks caused a dramatic reduction of the water level and size of the mill pond,” according to the Kruegers’ claim for damages.
Chuck Krueger told the County Post that what was once a pond in his back yard has been replaced by at least 20 yards of muck.
“We don’t dare walk out there,” Krueger said.
Invasive weeds began growing in the muck, aggravating his allergies and asthma, Krueger said.
“It’s aggravating and it’s costly,” Krueger said, adding that he is taking over-the-counter medications for his allergy problems.
The Kruegers are claiming $50,000 in damages for the respiratory problems they believe are associated with the dam’s removal.
The Kruegers also claim that the loss of pond has resulted in their property value dropping by $46,425.
All nine of the most recent claims were filed by Paul Rosenfeldt, an attorney from Fond du Lac.
“It’s the lawyer’s intention to take it to circuit court,” Krueger said.
Krueger favors the lake district taking over the dam.
He also believes enough hydroelectric power could be generated at the site to pay for the cost to restore the mill pond.