More than 100 people attended a public hearing regarding the Little Hope dam Tuesday, Nov. 11, at Waupaca High School.
At issue was whether the majority of Dayton residents supported or opposed saving the mill pond and who should pay for replacing the dam.
More than twice as many people opposed saving the dam as supported it.
According to the town of Dayton’s official tally, 63 people spoke during the hearing.
Among the speakers, riparian owners living within the district favored saving the dam 21-5, while residents living outside the lake district, spoke against the project 30-7.
The town board also received letters regarding the subject. To be considered by the board, all letters had to be notarized.
Of the 32 letters received, 29 opposed saving the dam.
Those who opposed restoring the dam also opposed shifting any costs onto town residents.
“Although I didn’t tally separately, I think it is safe to say that the majority of the lake district residents suggested that the county or the town should share in the costs and the majority of the town residents (that spoke or wrote opposed) thought that the lake district residents should bear all of the costs,” according to Town Chairman Chris Klein.
Several of those speaking against the dam read from a notarized letter that Roger Holman, director of the Waupaca County Park and Recreation Department, sent to the Dayton Town Board. The county owns the dam.
“I’m certifying that the Park and Recreation Committee voted not to replace the dam, voted to remove the dam, and voted to worked towards restoration of the Crystal River,” Holman wrote.
Support for dam
Several speakers who supported saving the mill pond criticized Holman and the county for failing to maintain the dam until it was in such disrepair that it needed to be replaced.
Randy McCarry argued that the mill pond “has been an asset to our community for over 150 years.”
“I think the dam ought to be turned over to the Little Hope Lake District, if it exists, or to the town of Dayton,” McCarry said. “I think the costs should be shared by those who use the mill pond and river and that includes a lot of people who don’t live in the area.”
“I support preserving nature,” said Whitney Golding. “The fact is the dam is already there and nature has already been altered.”
Golding said she did not believe the dam should be the sole responsibility of riparian landowners in the lake district.
“I had 100 feet of waterfront and we were able to put in a canoe and have picnics overlooking the pond,” said Phyllis Hunt. “I can no longer even see the water.”
Rob Richardson, a lake district resident, described how what had once been a pond had become “mud flats overrun by invasives.”
I believe the town should take over the dam,” Richardson said. “The cost of the town not restoring the dam will far exceed the cost of replacing the dam.”
Most riparian owners said they were willing to pay special assessments to help cover the costs for replacing the dam, but wanted financial help from the town.
Chuck Krueger, a riparian owner who is party to a federal suit against the county regarding the dam, said he believes the Department of Natural Resources has grants that could cover up to 50 percent of the costs to replace the dam. He suggested the town and the riparian owners each share half of the remaining costs.
Melissa Garbe, who used to give tours of the Red Mill and the Little Hope Mill Pond, spoke on her own behalf and for her grandparents, William and Jean Minks, who own property in the Little Hope Lake District.
She said her grandparents’ property was no longer assessed as waterfront property since the removal of the dam and the drawdown of the pond.
Opposed to dam
Don Holtebeck, a riparian owner who lives in the lake district, said the former mill pond is not worth preserving. He described it as “a silt-filled, weedy backwater.”
Holtebeck is among several riparian who sued the lake district over the legality of a special meeting held last year. He questioned whether the lake district has the authority to take over the dam.
“The lake district is not yet an official entity,” Holtebeck said.
“From the beginning, the Little Hope dam process had been handled poorly,” said John Hebbring, a Dayton resident who sits on the board of the Chain O’ Lakes Association.
“We have been lied to,” Hebbring said. “When I asked at a town board meeting what the $47,000 in legal fees were spent for, I was told that the town officials were being sued by the county. That was a lie. That suit has not been heard or stated yet. The $47,000 was spent on the lawyer fees that were involved in the contested case hearing that questioned the permit given to the county by the DNR to remove and abandon the dam. The town was not named in the suit.”
“There is no logic or reason or utilitarian purpose to restore or replace the dam,” according to Stacia Fields.
Fields noted that dams are built to store water, generate hydroelectric power or control flooding.
“Old dams are unsafe or no longer serve their intended purposes,” Fields said.
She said removing dams helps restore healthy river ecosystems.
“Since the drawdown, we have seen a return to the river’s natural beauty,” said riparian owner Cathy Miller, adding that she was unable to fish or boat in the mill pond.
Dayton resident David Armstrong said he believes the dam’s removal will result in restoring the Crystal River.
“The muck will dry within the next two to three years,” Armstrong said.
Armstrong also noted that the Department of Natural Resources has estimated that replacing the dam to meet safety requirements could cost up to $700,000.
“I don’t believe any public money should be used to restore the dam,” Armstrong said.
Dayton’s 2015 budget
A Dayton Town Board meeting and budget hearing were scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 18, after the Waupaca County Post went to press.
Dayton’s proposed 2015 budget included $50,000 for removal of the old dam and $35,000 for legal fees.
The agenda included a resolution authorizing the town of Dayton to acquire and maintain the dam.