County forestry committee talks dams, ends extra deer tags in forest
The county missed receiving grant funding for the Camp 8 dam by 1 point and Chelsea Dam project by 16 points. While there is some debate on if there would have been enough money in the state program to fund the Chelsea Dam project, there is no doubt the Camp 8 project would have qualified for funding.
“We feel we need to be made whole in some way,” said forestry committee chairman Chuck Zenner to representatives from Ayres Associates during Friday’s forestry committee meeting.
County forest administrator Jake Walcisak said the current plan is for the county to put the project on the shelf and reapply for grants in two years when the grant window reopens. The best case scenario is the projects receive funding and the county is able to move forward with them at that time. Walcisak said that even if the county is successful in getting grants in two years there will be inflationary costs that impact the price of the project. Base on current inflation rates, Walcisak estimated the price for the Camp 8 dam to increase by $18,000 in two years and the price of the Chelsea Lake dam to increase by $12,000 in two years. He said at the very least any resolution should cover the inflation expenses and noted the county has yet to hire an engineer to oversee the bidding and construction for the projects.
Bruce Ommen, president of Ayres Associates agreed that his firm made a mistake. “We missed it in the application,” Ommen said. “There are things we should have done differently,” he continued saying that he was not at the meeting to try and make excuses and the company would own up to their mistake. He apologized on behalf of the company and explained their initial offer of not charging for the filing of the applications was a step in that direction.
He said that with the question of if Chelsea Lake Dam would have gotten funding, they felt that for sure Camp 8 would have gotten funded. “From our perspective we are looking at Camp 8 as the real issue,” he said.
County attorney Ruth Ann Koch reviewed the contract language and said that in her opinion Ayres was negligent and is responsible for damages due to that negligence.
Committee member Gene Knoll said he could accept covering the inflationary increase but also questioned if the grant program would be in place in two years. “I am concerned, did we miss our prime opportunity to get this done?” he asked.
Chris Goodwin, water resources manager for Ayres Associates, responded that while they expect the program will be funded in the future, a lot of things can change in the next 18 months.
Goodwin, who oversees the engineers who work on these projects also expressed his apologies to the county. “We screwed up,” he said, but defended the engineers involved stating, “We are not quite as stupid as we appear by this incident.”
According to Goodwin, the company has done about 30 of these grants in the past and had simply not read the instructions because they had done so many in the past. As far as for the future, he said the program was heavily used in the 1990s and then went away between 2000 and 2010 so it is uncertain if it will continue to be funded.
Knoll suggested that rather than trying to come up with a resolution now, they should instead hold off for a few years and see how the grant program works out. Zenner agreed, saying that in two years if the county gets funded they can deal with the inflationary increases if there are any and if money isn’t available they can pursue other options.
Goodwin said that while this is the first time they have made this kind of mistake, the company has had errors in the past on other projects and in each case they worked to identify it and rectify it with the owners.
“When we do make a mistake we stand by it,” Goodwin said, explaining that sometimes it is not as clear cut as this situation.
According to Koch, this type of breach of contract has a six-year statute of limitations for seeking damages and noted the county does not limit itself by waiting. Committee members directed Koch to prepare a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Ayres, the county and the firm’s insurance providers to spell out that the county and Ayres are taking a wait and see approach to see what the actual damages may be for delaying the Camp 8 project. The MOU helps protect the county’s interests if there are staffing or board changes.
In other dam related business, committee members received an update on the Miller Dam sluice gate replacement project. Earlier this summer it was suggested that the water level in the flowage may need to be drawn down in order to do the repair work. Upon seeing this in an article in The Star News, the members of the Miller Dam Lake Association called on the county to pursue alternatives to drawing down the water level given the general shallowness of the lake and the negative impacts a drawdown would have on the fishery there.
Final plans for the project were received in August and Walcisak said they indicate no drawdown would be necessary for the project. “The cart got in front of the horse,” Walcisak said of the concerns expressed by lake association members prior to the plans being completed. He said the good thing that came out of the process was getting reminded how valuable the flowage is to Taylor County tourism as well as to the people who live and do recreation on the waterway. “Luckily we will not be impacting this water resource with the project,” Walcisak said.
The sluice gate repairs are expected to take place next summer or fall and should last for decades to come. The cast iron sluice gate that is being replaced lasted 55 years and the stainless steel one that will be installed has an even longer life expectancy.
Forest damage program
Taylor County will no longer issue bonus deer tags for the county forest.
With concerns over deer concentrations over browsing recently logged areas and preventing forest regeneration, the county had taken part in the forest management program. This is similar to the crop damage programs for farmers to remove excess amounts of deer from their land. Last year the county issued 55 bonus tags with the hope of having 20 deer harvested. Walcisak said there were five deer harvested.
Walcisak suggested as a final option, they could open up the forest for a late rifle season in February and March when the deer are concentrated in the forest. Earlier in the season the deer are spread over a large area.
“I think we should just get out of this business,” Knoll said, questioning the value of continuing the politically unpopular program when there are so few results.
Committee member Mike Bub agreed with Knoll that the program should be stopped because of the amount of friction it is causing with taxpayers for not a lot of results. He suggested the county wait for a few years and do another browsing study to see if the impact was as bad as they predicted it would be.
Walcisak said it is clear by looking at the exclosure locations where fences keep deer out that there is a big difference between the over-browsed areas and the protected areas.
Zenner said he recognized the need to protect the forest and allow for regeneration, but noted the amount of work and headaches that have been involved with little to show for it.
Committee member Gary Beadles agreed that as someone who works in the forests, the time the deer are congregating is in late winter. This has been going on forever, he said, and while a hunt at that time would be good if the goal was to eradicate the deer, such a move would be resisted with few if any hunters willing to do it. “You are going to get hung man,” Beadles said, advising against even considering a late season hunt.
Beadles said the program was worth a try, but that it was time to stop it.
Committee members agreed and directed that no additional tags would be issued this season.
In other business, committee members:
_ Reviewed changes to the county’s ordinance governing regulations for tree stands and hunting blinds in the county forest. The changes will bring it in line with state rules already in place.
_ Rejected a request from a backcountry hunters group to set aside designated non-motorized areas in the county forest as part of the forest plan. Walcisak said this letter was being sent to forest administrators around the state.
Chris Goodwin, water resources manager for Ayres Associates, said he agreed with the county holding off to see if the dam grant program is renewed before settling over the company’s mistake in not following the instructions for applying for grants last winter.
BRIAN WILSON/THE STAR NEWS