Administrative Law Judge Jeffrey Boldt ordered March 26 that the Little Hope dam on the Crystal River in Dayton be removed.
Boldt found that the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources “properly ordered the removal of the Little Hope dam on Sept. 14, 2012, because the dam was unsafe and dangerous to life, health and property.”
He has given Waupaca County, which owns the dam, 60 days to submit an updated dam removal plan.
Boldt noted in his ruling that during the hearing, “numerous nearby residents testified about their love of the Little Hope Mill Pond and recalled powerful events from their lives lived on the Little Hope.”
However, Boldt said, “The dam has become unsafe and no municipality or other persons or associations have agreed to acquire ownership of the dam, nor have the same furnished satisfactory proof of intent to repair the dam.”
Boldt said engineers with both the DNR and Ayers Asociates had raised safety concerns about the dam, which eventually led to the DNR’s order to remove it.
“The only seriously disputed issue of fact relates to any potential impact of the dam on efforts to remediate an old landfill partly owned by the town of Dayton,” Boldt said.
Dayton Town Chairman Chris Klein has argued that removing the dam will change the flow of groundwater near the landfill. He has said the town may have to replace its groundwater monitoring wells around the landfill. The wells were installed after toxic compounds were found in nearby private wells more than a decade ago.
“The landfill is naturally attenuating and appears to offer no significant threat to the area irrespective of possible change in groundwater flow,” Boldt said. “Even the town’s engineer testified that the change in groundwater flow and gradient was only a possibility, not a probability.”
Boldt pointed to expert testimony that the dam’s removal would probably improve the wildlife habitat of the Crystal River.
“In its dammed state, the Crystal River was warm, choked with sediment, and home to fish that favored that sort of environment,” Boldt said.
The average depth of the mill pond was 10 inches, Boldt found.
“Fauna that would likely utilize the riparian corridor resulting from the drainage of the mill pond could include mink, river otter, Blanding’s turtle, woodcock, great blue heron and green heron, among other species,” Boldt said regarding the potential for wildlife along the restored Crystal River. “Moreover, there was testimony that the Crystal River was running clear again, an indicator or actual improvement in the water quality since the partial removal of the dam.”
“I think the judge’s decision reaffirms the Park Committee’s decision,” said Roger Holman, director of the Waupaca County Park and Rec Department.
He noted that the committee and staff thoroughly researched the options regarding the dam, and conducted engineering, environmental and economic impact studies prior to deciding to abandon the dam.
Holman said the administrative law judge’s ruling can be appealed. Opponents of the dam’s removal have 20 days to petition the secretary of the DNR or 30 days to petitoin for judicial review.
“We will have to wait 30 days before coming up with a new timeline for the removal process that we will submit to the DNR,” Holman said.
Holman said the county is ready to work with riparian property owners and the DNR to restore the Crystal River to its natural setting.