Melrose dam project gets key study approved

2012-12-12T16:31:00Z Melrose dam project gets key study approvedby Matthew Perenchio | Executive Editor La Crosse Tribune
December 12, 2012 4:31 pm  • 

Construction of a new Melrose dam that will lead to the restoration of Douglas Mill Pond has gotten a boost after a key study was approved.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources recently OK’d a dam failure analysis, which was important to keep the project moving forward.

“That was win or lose,” said Ruth Jean, president of the Friends of Douglas Creek Watershed and Melrose Mill Pond group spearheading the project.

“If they didn’t approve it, we weren’t going to be able to build a dam.”

The study looks at what would happen if the dam would fail during a regional storm event and cause flooding locally and downriver. This is important for safety and trying to mitigate damage, and it’s also incorporated in local zoning, according to DNR water regulations and zoning engineer Mark Stephenson.

Stephenson also said a dam failure analysis is central when trying to obtain grants for this type of project, which the nonprofit group is trying to do.

“Of the requirements for obtaining grants, one of the key points is having a dam failure analysis,” he said. “This is based on the design and what would happen in a flood situation if you had a dam in there and it fails, so (the project) cannot be adopted without it.”

The estimated $1.5 million project to flood Douglas Creek and restore the now-empty 19-acre pond is in its third year. Preliminary designs look to build a 33-foot tall arch-shaped dam to replace what’s left of the 1885 wooden plank structure at the Hogg Street bridge. Making a hydroelectric dam also is being considered.

Douglas Mill Pond was drained when the dam was partially removed in 1990 after the DNR found the dam to be unsafe. The DNR regularly inspects the dam, and there are no immediate safety concerns.

“It really doesn’t impound any water, so there’s nothing there that causes me any worry,” Stephenson said.

Jean said progress on the project has gone well, and the group is where it expected to be by this time. She said restoration of the pond would be a recreational benefit to the area.

“We’re looking very fruitful,” she said. “I see us continuing to go forward, and we’ve jumped through a lot of hurdles.

“I think we’re doing very, very well.”

Final approval of the project would need to be OK’d by the village of Melrose and the town of Melrose — since the pond would abut properties in both municipalities — and the DNR. The friends group has pledged it will seek grants and fundraising dollars to fund the project and no taxpayer money will used.

Jean said she wasn’t at liberty to divulge how much the group so far has raised or has earmarked for the project, but one of the next “final hoops” is to raise the necessary funds.

“We do have some funds raised, and we’re in the process of searching for grants and looking for grants in 2013,” she said. “We’re searching for a lot of different sources, and we hope some of those come through.”

Jean also said the group is considering a 2013 summer fundraiser, which would mark the 125th anniversary of the completion of the dam.

Friends of Douglas Creek Watershed and Melrose Mill Pond also has been working with property owners who own land bordering the pond bottom asking for approval to re-flood their land to the previous water-level height. Jean said 90 percent of the landowners have signed land-use agreements in favor of restoring the pond.

One property owner has even committed to donating land for a park, although details could not be released since specifics haven’t yet been finalized.

“We have a couple (adjacent property owners) that aren’t sure what they want to do ... but there are very few people that don’t support this,” Jean said. “I haven’t had one person say, ‘Absolutely no — I don’t want this.’

“It’d be nice to have everyone on board, and we’re hoping to have 100 percent. There are some people that have apprehension because they think this will go on village taxes, but we’re not using tax money.”

Ayers Associates, the engineering firm working on dam designs and grant writing, is expected to make a presentation at the Melrose Village Board’s January meeting.

Friends of Douglas Creek Watershed and Melrose Mill Pond has created a Facebook page that can be accessed at www.facebook.com/#!/melrosewidamproject.douglascreekwatershed. The group also is working on launching a website.

Copyright 2015 La Crosse Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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