Dam’s fate on committee’s agenda

Emmitt B. Feldner of The Review staff

PLYMOUTH – The Mill Pond dam will be a major item on the plate for the newly-formed Mullet River Corridor Study Committee.

The committee held their first meeting Wednesday. They heard from consultant Andrew Bremer of MSA Professional Services on the scope of the committee’s study and the services MSA will provide, and from Don Albright and Dick Schneider of Kapur and Associates, the city’s consulting engineers.

While the committee will be looking at the entire river corridor from the north end of the city to the south, Albright and Schneider focused on the status of the Mill Pond dam.

Albright explained that his firm has submitted a dam break analysis report to the state Department of Natural Resources. The department is currently reviewing the report.

“Every dam owner in Wisconsin had to do this,” Schneider said of the report to the DNR.

“Since there are so many (dams) in Wisconsin, I don’t think the DNR really thought about how much work this would be for them,” he added.

“We expect to get some kind of comment back this year,” from the DNR, City Administrator Brian Yerges added.

Both engineers indicated that the news might well not be good for the dam’s future.

“Right now, the dam does not meet spillby way requirements,” Schneider told the committee. “The DNR can waive that, but we just have to wait to hear from them.

“At this point, it is considered a high-hazard dam,” by the DNR, he continued. “I don’t see the DNR getting their head in the noose liability wise and waiving the requirements and rating it low-hazard.”

The problem, Schneider explained, is that the DNR requirement is for a determination of the impact of a catastrophic dam failure.

In the case of the Mill Pond dam, that would create a flood that would inundate most of the buildings on the south side of Mill Street in the downtown district.

While that matches the 100-year floodplain for the Mullet River as defined by federal authorities, Schneider pointed out that there is a distinction between a floodplain and a floodway that would be created by a catastrophic dam failure.

While buildings in a floodplain can be rebuilt if there is a flood, buildings in a floodway cannot if there is a catastrophic dam failure under state and federal rules.

“Resale is going to be a problem because who is going to buy a building if you can’t do anything to it,” because it is in a declared floodway, Schneider said. “Simply put, a floodway is very problematic for existing buildings.”

“It’s not that the dam’s going to fall down, that’s not the issue,” Albright said. “It’s just a matter of the impact downstream.

“The DNR doesn’t want dams anywhere,” Albright summarized. “That’s not just Plymouth, that’s everywhere. They prefer to return streams to their natural state.”

They both noted that the proximity of the Mill Pond dam to downtown – and the large number of buildings and development in its floodway – will be a big factor in any DNR ruling.

Other dams on the Mullet and other rivers in the county – such as the Waldo Mill Pond dam on the Onion River or the Brickbauer dam further downstream on the Mullet – do not include that large a property value in their floodway and are thus rated less hazardous by the DNR.

Bremer said the committee will be conducting what amounts to three different studies – the Mill Pond and dam, existing bicycle routes and increasing their connectivity, and the future of the downtown parking ramp and other projects in that area.

“That (the dam and pond) is probably going to have the most attention,” Bremer predicted. That will be the first area the consultant will focus on, he added.

“Our task is not have MSA providing you with recommendations,” Bremer told the committee. “We’re trying to provide information for the community to make a decision. We will be trying to develop a succinct report that can clearly delineate advantages and disadvantages,” to any course the city might take.

The second phase of MSA’s work, the bicycle path, Bremer said, will be much smaller in scope than phase one.

The third phase will include the impact of possibly removing the ramp to the parking deck on the east end of Mill Street (but not the deck itself, Bremer emphasized), along with possibly burying overhead electric lines downtown and restoration/replacement/removal of the retaining wall along the Mullet River adjacent to the tennis courts.

Bremer said he would be looking for committee members to do some visioning for all those issues at their next meeting in April.

He presented a plan of action that would call for four monthly committee meetings. That would be followed by a public information meeting in June or July with presentation of the committee’s final report in July.

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