The Department of Natural Resources plans to raise the hazard rating of the Little Hope dam.
A higher hazard rating would nearly double the cost to build a new dam, according to Bill Sturtevant, a DNR dam safety engineer.
Waupaca County Parks and Recreation, which operates the dam, had estimates for its replacement ranging from $400,000 to $425,000. Those estimates were based on a large dam rated as a significant hazard.
A high-hazard dam would cost between $750,000 and $1 million to build, according to Sturtevant.
Sturtevant was among the engineers, biologists, hydrogeologists and other specialists who testified during the DNR’s contested case hearing Tuesday and Wednesday, June 3-4, in Waupaca.
The town of Dayton, the Little Hope Lake District and mill pond residents petitioned the DNR for a hearing on the county’s application for a permit to abandon and remove the dam. They want the DNR to deny the permit.
Prior to his appearance at the hearing Wednesday, Sturtevant inspected the Little Hope dam.
“It is very likely that this is a high-hazard dam,” Sturtevant said.
He noted that it is not the dam’s condition that determines its hazard rating, but its potential for loss of life if it fails.
If the dam fails, Sturtevant said the Red Mill is directly in the floodway and its foundation “goes all the way down to the water.”
“The windows of the first floor are only a couple of feet above water,” Sturtevant said. “I would be extremely surprised if that building didn’t get wet in the event of a flood caused by the failure of that dam.”
Sturtevant said he is recommending a high-hazard rating primarily because someone lives in the Red Mill building.
The Red Mill’s former owner, Don Schmidt, still resides in the building as part of an agreement with the new owners, Todd and Sheila Lembcke.
“If there was no resident in the Red Mill and no other homes in the floodway, it would change the hazardous rating,” Sturtevant said.
Sturtevant also discussed why the DNR changed Little Hope’s classifcation from a small dam to a large dam.
That classification change resulted in the DNR ordering an emergency drawdown in a letter to Waupaca County Parks and Recreation Director Roger Holman on Sept. 4, 2012.
In the same letter, the DNR also ordered the county to decide by Dec. 1, 2012, whether it would “reconstruct, transfer, or abandon/remove the dam.”
Sturtevant said a dam is classified as large if it has a structural height of 6 feet or more and impounds at least 50 acre-feet of water.
“This dam’s about 7 feet high,” Sturtevant said, noting that the height of the original dam had been raised over the years. “As a dam is raised in height, it will hold more water.”
The dam’s structure also includes downstream walls and the embankment adjacent to the Red Mill.
“Highway K is part of this dam,” Sturtevant said.
The first indication that the Little Hope dam may need to be reclassified appeared in an Aug. 8, 2011, report from Ayres & Associates, an engineering consulting firm, to the county.
The report notes that the Little Hope mill pond has a water surface area of approximately 25 acres.
To be under the 50 acre-feet limit for a small dam classification, the mill pond would need an average depth of less than 2 feet.
“It is probable that the impoundment has more than 50 acre-feet of storage and should therefore be classified as a large dam,” the report said.
The DNR changed Little Hope’s classification after a safety inspection on Aug. 28, 2012.
DNR staff also “noted seepage coming out of the left embankment.”
A bathymetry survey condcucted by county staff with the Land and Water Conservation and Land Information departments found that the average storage capacity of the mill pond to be 25.1 acre-feet and the maximum storage to be 78.8 acre-feet.
Ryan Braithwaite, the attorney representing the lake district, asked Sturtevant if a small dam could be designed to replace the large dam.
Sturtevant said a dam could be designed to reduce the size of Little Hope’s impoundment and water surface area. The cost of a small dam would be in the $300,000 range.
Among its options, the DNR told the county it could transfer the dam.
Under state law, a municipality is not allowed to transfer its dam to a private entity. It must transfer a dam to another municipality.
On May 1 of this year, Dayton Town Chairman Chris Klein sent the DNR an application to transfer the dam from the county to the Little Hope Lake District.
Prior to sending the transfer application to the DNR, Klein did not contact the county.
During his testimony Tuesday, Holman accused Klein of malfeasance.
“He can’t make the application because he doesn’t own it,” Holman said, accusing Klein of falsifying a document.
Normally, the existing owner applies to transfer a dam to a new owner and signs the document as the applicant.
Klein signed his name as the applicant and as the new owner.
Attorney Paul Rosenfeldt, who represents the mill pond property owners challenging the permit, argued that Klein did not sign the document on behalf of the county, but on behalf of the applicant for the transfer, namely the lake district.
“Can you transfer property that you don’t own?” asked Jeffrey Boldt, the administrative law judge overseeing the hearing. “I’ve never heard of a buyer trying to transfer property without the permission of the seller.”
Scott Koehnke, a senior water management specialist with the DNR, testified about the application on Wednesday.
“I sent an email back to Mr. Klein that said you don’t have authority to sign an application for transfer of county property,” Koehnke said.
The May 6 email that Koehnke sent to Klein indicates that the DNR cannot accept his application.
“There was no processing fee submitted, you are not the current owner of the dam, you are not duly authorized by the current owner or their agent, there was no submission of financial capability, proof of insurance, detailed engineered reconstruction plans, dam break analysis, proof of district status, ability to operate a minimum of 10 years and there was no support provided by the County Highway Department regarding an easement associated with CTH K,” the email said.
Koehnke suggested in the email that Klein consult his attorney.
Sturtevant testified that a dam transfer application requires the signatures of both parties.
He also said the municipality taking over ownership of the dam would need to demonstrate the financial ability to pay for building the new dam and maintaining it for at least 10 years.
“We want to know that the money is there,” Sturtevant said.
Ted Warpinski, the attorney representing the town of Dayton, questioned Sturtevant about whether the DNR could actually deny the county’s application to abandon the dam.
“Is there really an option here?” Warpinski asked.
“You can’t force a dam owner to maintain a dam in perpetuity,” Sturtevant said.
Because there is a 120-day waiting period between the hearing and the judge’s decision, Sturtevant said interested parties have an opportunity to find alternatives to abandoning a dam.
Warpinski then asked if the permit could include conditions.
Sturtevant noted that the permit could include conditions for erosion control, water diversion, and removal of sediment upstream of the dam.
A plan to restore native vegetation along the shoreline could also be among the conditions of the permit.
The DNR originally scheduled the hearing for two days. However, not all the parties were able to present testimony by the end of the day on Wednesday.
As of press time Tuesday, no date has been set for continuance of the hearing.
Next week, the Waupaca County Post will begin a series reviewing the environmental, economic and political issues raised at the hearing.