Mill Pond, dam future a question for us

ONE COULD SAY THAT “a river runs through it” for many, many communities – even right here in Sheboygan County. In early settlement days, nascent communities were typically established on the banks of rushing waterways, like the Mullet River.

The river or stream – the Mullet, the Sheboygan, the Onion, the Pigeon and others like them – provided power for mills and other industries, either from natural falls or currents, or man-made ones created by dams and mill ponds.

But over the years, newer, cheaper, more efficient and more reliable forms of power came along and the dams and ponds became quaint reminders of the past and picturesque centerpieces for bustling cities and villages.

These days, dams and the ponds they create have become bones of contention for many.

In an effort to restore waterways to their original states – or at least closer to it than they have been in ages – pressure has been exerted to remove dams. Locally, that has happened in Franklin on the Sheboygan River and here in Plymouth on the Mullet River in Meyer Park.

Where dams continue to exist, the state Department of Natural Resources is evaluating them for safety and soundness.

The DNR recently completed its analysis of the dam on the Onion River in the heart of the village of Waldo and rated it a “significant” risk – not low-risk but not high-risk, either.

The village is currently working on taking the steps necessary to comply with DNR directives to ensure the safety, stability and continued existence of the dam.

Last week, Plymouth City Administrator Brian Yerges told the Redevelopment Authority that the DNR is conducting an evaluation of the Mill Pond dam. “We’ll probably get a letter that says basically that we have 10 years to upgrade our dam,” Yerges said of the likely outcome of the DNR study.

That will be a key component of the city’s plans for a comprehensive study of the entire Mullet River corridor, which it expects to begin this year.

That study will cover a wide variety of issues, from utility upgrades to recreational facilities to enhancement of the Riverwalk to potential future development and much, much more.

But the Mill Pond and dam will likely be at the center of that study, as it is in many ways the center of the city.

Maintaining the dam and pond will likely not be an inexpensive proposition. Like any structure or feature that dates back more than a century, keeping it vibrant and keeping up with current standards and requirements will not be easy.

Still, there are many different groups and people with an interest in the Mill Pond and dam, both public and private.

Plymouth would not be the same city – not as charming, not as attractive, not as welcoming – without them. But as Yerges told the RDA, ultimately “It will have to be a community decision what we want to put our funding toward improving.”

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Edward Jones