Editor’s Note: The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has scheduled a contested case hearing on the Little Hope dam for 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, June 3, at the Waupaca Area Public Library.
The Red Mill, the Little Hope Millpond and the Little Hope Dam across the Crystal River have been a historic part of the Waupaca community for over 150 years.
The village in the area of the Red Mill was proposed when local residents lobbied for a new railroad route that would follow a stage coach route from Appleton to Fremont to Little Hope to Rural and on to Stevens Point. When the railroad chose a route north of the Waupaca River through Waupaca and Weyauwega, locals then renamed the new village Little Hope as they felt there was “little hope” the village would survive.
Still the Red Mill operated as a working grist mill operated by water power for more than 100 years. In 1954, the Nelson family donated the dam and the land east of County Road K to Waupaca County. The land on the east side of County K became Nelson Park in the Waupaca County park System.
For the last 60 years, Waupaca County has been responsible for the operation and maintenance of the Little Hope dam. Waupaca County neglect and failure to follow accepted operations standards resulted in a slowly deteriorating dam and accumulation of silt behind the dam. When the county accepted responsibility for the dam, area youth used this millpond for swimming, fishing, boating, hunting, and even water skiing; but no longer.
In 1962, Waupaca County repaired the dam by rebuilding the dam gates. No further substantial repairs or maintenance were performed by Waupaca County for the next 50 years.
The County Park and Rec Committee was never given a fair and unbiased report of the options available to the county for grant and financial assistance to repair or replace the dam, never given a fair and unbiased report about options to repair or replace the dam and was never given fair and unbiased information about the consequences of removing the dam. The local residents were only asked to financially contribute to the dam under Waupaca County’s continued (mis)management without any commitments for financial participation by Waupaca County. State statutes allow the dam to be transferred to either the town of Dayton or the Little Hope Lake District.
The questions of ownership, management, responsibility, and financial contributions are questions that should be answered by the elected Waupaca County Board representatives of and the elected local lake district representatives. Administrators for Waupaca County are blocking elected representatives from the Town of Dayton or the Little Hope Lake District from talking to the elected Waupaca County Board members, citing pending legal action. Yet it is the Waupaca County employees who are forcing a Wisconsin DNR hearing or a court challenge to resolve the continuation of the Little Hope Dam. Waupaca County officials have blocked every attempt by the millpond’s local officials to contact elected Waupaca County Board members.
Waupaca County surveys in the past showed millpond residents and area residents strongly support the repair or replacement of the Little Hope Dam, and survey respondents indicated that it was Waupaca County’s responsibility to repair or replace the dam. But Waupaca County instead has proceeded to request dam removal regardless to the consequences to the local community.
The Little Hope Lake District property owners approved elected commissioners committed to working towards replacing the dam and millpond by a 6-to-1 ratio. The current board of commissioners approved requesting that the DNR order the transfer of the dam to the Little Hope Lake District so the dam can be rebuilt. Grants and plans for dam construction and maintenance can only be done by the dam owner, so the first step is to move the unwilling ownership from Waupaca County to the Little Hope Lake District.
Common sense would say this is an obvious solution for Waupaca County, but the gag order engineered by county employees have kept the county board members from discussing solutions.
Waupaca County still has the option to withdraw its petition to remove the dam, and instead negotiate a transfer of the dam to willing local officials. Forcing the DNR or the courts to make a ruling ignores the elected officials’ responsibilities to resolve issues before them, and will add to residents and Waupaca County’s legal costs. The current County Board cannot go back to change the county’s mistakes over the last 60 years, but negotiating a transfer would be a win for the County and a win for the local community.
Chris Klein is chairman Little Hope Lake District Board of Commissioners and the town chairman of Dayton.