The group seeking to restore Douglas Mill Pond says what’s left of the Melrose dam will likely fail and should be removed soon, although the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources says otherwise.
Officials from the Friends of Douglas Creek Watershed and Melrose Mill Pond say dam and diver inspections they’ve had done show the remains of the dam “are in very poor condition and have a strong probability of failure.”
Arlen Stern, treasurer for the group that’s trying to build a new dam, said those inspections show it’s expected the village will soon be ordered to remove the old dam and repair upstream damages, which could cost $500,000 or more.
“We’ve had a diver go down there and the inspections show it’s not in good shape,” Stern said. “Something will have to be done soon.”
However, DNR water regulations and zoning engineer Mark Stephenson said that’s not true and doesn’t believe there are any safety concerns.
“There is no failure imminent — I see no evidence of that,” said Stephenson, who’s charged with inspecting dams in Jackson County. “I haven’t issued an order (to remove the dam) and I don’t plan on doing so.”
The wooden plank dam at the Hogg Street bridge was completed 125 years ago, but in 1990 it was partially removed after the DNR found it to be unsafe, leading to the draining of Douglas Mill Pond.
Friends of Douglas Creek Watershed and Melrose Mill Pond formed in 2009 with the goal of getting a new dam built and restoring the empty 19-acre pond.
The DNR conducts thorough dam inspections about every 10 years, and the next inspection for the Melrose dam is scheduled for 2014. Between inspections Stephenson said he assesses dams annually, including two visits to Melrose this year.
“Unless something’s happened in the last month, there’s no concern with the dam,” he said. “It’s not even impounding water. It’s stable.
“It’s pretty much the same as it was in the ’90s when most of the timber was taken out.”
But Stern said their inspections have shown there’s a 10-foot wide hole at the bottom of the dam that jeopardizes the stability of the structure. He said the DNR will discover this during their next formal inspection.
“When they do their next dam inspections it’s going to show this,” he said.
The restoration group has spent about $170,000 on studies, inspections and designs for the project that’s estimated at $1.5 million. Preliminary designs look to build a 33-foot tall arch-shaped dam, and making it hydroelectric also is being considered.
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.