Saturday, March 9, 2013

Winter WIll Now Go from the Village of the Dammed! (Not a Typo)

Our Village Snow Prognosticator AKA The Snow Witch has spoken.

(The village Snow Witch, is picture here, in blue, talking with Dr. Darrel Apps, Happily Ever Appster daylily hybridizer fame, this day working at a fund raiser for the local Kiwanis.)

As of Wednesday we were due only two more snowfalls. If this weekend's storms barreling down (up?) on us in the upper Midwest deliver them, we will be done with this snow. That doesn't mean we won't have a cold, wet spring, but snow accumulation will be at an end.

This is great news, of which we are all glad to hear, here in our sleepy little village. Passersby mention it to one another at committee meetings, and on Facebook, and in line at the convenience store, and at the local bait, tackle,and gas.

We are done.

Deep sigh of relief.

All the gardeners can sharpen their hoes. Yard masters can check spark plugs on mowers. The Village Maintenance Dude can checkout issues regarding road repair.

And as has happened since the beginning of the Great Recession, a fresh crop of "For Sale" signs has burst into bloom around the village. (I think approximately six, of the 315 habitable addresses.) Fortunately, none on my block. The closest lies between my house and the high school. The house on the corner that was for sale has a buyer, the married child of a long-time residents of the village who live two blocks the opposite direction.

Also, sold this late winter, two distressed and razed properties the village had owned. Additionally, a 10,000 sq. ft. retail building, a Family Dollar, will begin building on the site of the old fire station, close to our downtown.

Spring will not be without its challenges. My 80-yearold father cannot find his drill, which is probably 125 years old, that he uses to tap maples. To be fair to him, a good half dozen people may have used and moved it. It looked like this and was the first drill I ever learned to use, mu father explaining it was an inclined plane wrapped on a cylinder which is how drill bits and tractor tires are both adaptations of simple tools. The microchip and internet are just not in my father's tool set.

This year promises to be a much better year for the local specialty item my father brings to the table. If I am lucky I will receive two or three whole pints of real beautiful golden 100% maple syrup harvested and boiled down by my dad. Last year with the unseasonably warm temperatures in February and March the maples burst into bloom in less than a week. I had to beg for the one I received. The sap turning bitter once the thermometer reads 60 during the day and doesn't get down to 30 at night. It's probably all that chlorophyll running rampant feeding new leaves.

Also the Village faces a challenge to what we on the Village Board feel is our economic and center and soul, our Mill Pond. Dammed by at least 1864, and possibly earlier; it is the reason for our village's existence.

This picture was taken last March 20, 2012. It wasn't a hardship to ask them to wade in the waters which had been warmed by unseasonably warm weather.

Any of the restaurants on the Mil Pond side have decks opening on the pond. One establishment is talking of renting paddle boats this summer. I've always thought a windsurf rental and lessons business, or even offering beginning sailing lessons might be fun on the pond covering 17 acres.

And we want to continue to be the "Village of the Dammed".

Several small communities here in Wisconsin have been forced by economics and the not-so-gentle pressure of the Wisconsin DNR to lower water on impoundments and abandon and remove their dams.

It appears about once every fifty years, the Village Fathers (and Mothers!) are faced with the challenge of whether to keep the Mill Pond or let it go.

The damming of springs and a small inlet stream (it is one of the headland impoundments of the Pine River watershed) allowed grinding of grain for around a century. For about 40 years it also generated electricity for the village.

Since the catastrophic dam failure and draining of Lake Delton in The Dells in 2008, legislation has been passed giving the DNR teeth to chew down dams not own by a entity with the resources to make enormous capital improvements. The DNR sees no value in something that may cause litigation for property damages or loss of life. Our dam came back with a "Significant Hazard" rating leaving us scratching our collective head. Damage to what? The failure of the dam would empty a portion of its 49 acres-feet of water into a marshy park-like area. This is just over the volume of water to fill three Olympic sized swimming pools. Never underestimate the power of rushing water, but really?

I do understand the DNR's POV. I do, for personal reasons, familial reasons. (That Director, Awareness-to-Action Campaign, Schuylkill Watershed Specialist, and author of "A River Again", my sister...) We also have a view of our own. That view has allowed us to make decisions with the basic premise the dam and its effect, the Mill Pond, will always be in place.

Reasons Against Removal:

Invasive species (largemouth bass, crappy) will have access to Class A Trout streams, possible contaminant (arsenic, pesticides, and herbicides)will flow into those same streams, economic effects to our downtown, flooding downstream if the dam is not present to control run-off during periods of heavy rainfall as the high water marks for the Pine River are unknown during any period of white settlement and habitation in this area as the dam has been existent since at least 1864, any contaminants in run-off draining into to pond from farmland stays in the pond basin, that there has been at least one if not two incidents of catastrophic dam failure without loss of property or life (our rating should not be "significant hazard" and silt wash out is unlikely or low because the small inlet stream and surface run-off flows through a boggy marsh allowing sediment coming in to settle out, and that we have been working closely with Trout Unlimited to restore/enhance the surrounding area as ecologically as possible and that the possible historic stream bed may run through the foundation of one of the historic buildings (the mill) in the village (to say nothing of the TID dollars we have allocated to that property owner.

And possibly, most importantly:

Until, if ever, the local Fire Department or any assisting fire department near the village has access to a high capacity well, the dammed Mill Pond is our only quick-fill option for fighting fires in and around the village!

This has probably not been a concern for many of the surrounding area dam owners. I doubt there is a point on any part of the Pine River nearby that would have the rapid draw capacity needed without the hazard of drawing in sand through your foot value. The high capacity wells at the DNR's Fish Hatchery may have an access point, but it is very debatable we would be granted 24/7 access of the sort on short notice we would need to guarantee.

For some reason (fish virus, I believe), the DNR is held access to their multimillion-dollar Cold/Cool Water Hatchery very close. I don't see them granting access, even assuming there is an access point, to the gated part of their facility.

This impoundment is not the dumping ground the Delaware and Pennsylvania's Schulkyll was. It has it own estuary and marshes. It is beautiful now, as it is. It is not filled with water weed and algae bloom. We don't manicure all its shoreline. We pick up the trash.

So there you have it. The battle that needs to be fought. We have chosen.

And, today, since I will be feeling like a shut-in with forecasted snow and sleet, I will treat you to pictures of my seedlings and grow room, probably tomorrow!


  1. Sounds like the DNR approach is to err on the side of extreme caution. Is there any way a neutral party could do an assessment of the potential damage of a dam failure? Is your Assemblyman or State Senator of any help?

  2. We have engaged that engineering firm to do just that. We have also contacted our State Assemblyman. Hopefully this will turn out as we wish. I have seen (thanks to my sister) many favorable before and after pictures of beautiful restorations after dam removal. I am afraid the before and after would not be so kind. I had our community librarian do a search of any of the archival material and first settler accounts of the village area hoping for some offhand comments about what the area looked like before the dam. All I have come up with is there have been failures of previous dams that did not appear significant, and no mention was made of damage to property or life.

    The area downstream of the dam was much swampier, and given the elevation change, possibly there was a natural falls, because unlike some dams where the stream was re-channeled into a sluice way for construction such a man-made sluice way was not made here.

    Also as there are so many springs located around it (not even taking into account the artesian spring across the state highway). An early local fish hatchery was dug out from one of these springs, concrete laid and villagers were hatching out their own trout long before the State decide to begin their large hatchery here.

    As the mill was built, settlers started seeing the area around the mill as a commerce hub. A hotel, bank, post office, millinery, a couple general stores, a trolley, a blacksmith, a high school, five churches, a hardware store, even an opera house, and a number of other small stores popped up. We don't have that level of commerce today!

    Previously settlement in the area was more to the south and east and consisted of farms. Fifty years after the stream was dammed, there was a bank robbery and the village finally incorporated in order to tax to raise money to bury the outlaw killed in the attempt.