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Board to decide Feb. 24 if county should proceed with dam projects

A trio of dam projects had members of the county’s forestry and recreation committee looking at timelines and finances during a meeting on February 7.

In addition to planning for the ongoing dam replacement projects at Chelsea Lake Dam and Camp 8 Dam, forest administrator Jake Walcisak also brought forward the need to replace the sluice gate at Miller Dam (Chequamegon Waters Flowage).

Last month, committee members approved hiring a diver to come and inspect and attempt to repair the dam. Walcisak contacted the specialized diving operation and received an estimate of it costing just under $18,000 for the diver to come up with no guarantee they could fix what was broken.

Walcisak consulted with engineers from Ayres Associates who are working with the county on other dam projects, and they recommended replacing the current 50-year-old cast iron sluice gate with a new stainless steel sluice gate and in the meantime keep the gate closed. The sluice gate is below water level and is used to lower the water level in the dam. If it were to lock in the open position, it could result in a dramatic lowering of water levels in the flowage while increasing flows downstream.

Walcisak said it is not surprising that the gate is failing at this time given the structure’s age. A new gate would have a similar service life of 50 to 80 years and will have an estimated cost of $151,536.

Walcisak noted that this was the engineer’s estimate and that the actual dollars could come in lower. He said the engineers recommended taking action on this dam right away noting it could not wait two years for the next state grant cycle as was originally planned.

“Miller Dam is the most popular dam in the county,” said committee chairman Chuck Zenner. “This is way more important than the other ones.”

“This one has got to be fixed,” said committee member Gary Beadles.

The good news, according to Walcisak, is that it would actually rank the highest for getting the points for state grant funding because of its size and hazard rating. If approved, the grant would reimburse the county for 50% of the cost of the dam.

With Miller Dam needing work, plans to replace the dam at the Camp 8 recreation area were met with more hesitancy. The current price tag for the Camp 8 dam is about $322,000. Of that estimated amount $24,000 is for equipment mobilization and $40,000 is for dewatering.

According to Walcisak, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will only allow the water level to drop six inches per day. He estimated that because of this it would take over a month of a diesel pump running to reduce the water level in the flowage to where it needs to be for the work to take place.

Walcisak noted that the project ranks well and based on prior years would have the points needed for the 50% state grant. However there were questions on if the amount of money was justified for a 15-acre impoundment.

Walcisak noted Camp 8 was intentionally developed as a recreation area 50 years ago and that between 45-50 campsite registrations are recorded between Memorial Day and Labor Day each year.

According to Walcisak, if the county were to not do the project, its cost would be about $30,000 for the engineering work done to this point.

Committee member Gene Knoll asked if the dam could be held off until the next funding cycle.

“It is very poor quality,” Walcisak said, explaining that the corrugated pipe controlling the outflow from the dam is failing with a number of holes in it and that it does not even keep water level at where it should be for the flowage.

Committee members also received an update on the Chelsea Lake Dam with the change that rather than being on the banks, the intake structure will have to be about 20 feet out into the lake to avoid bank erosion. The total cost of the Chelsea Dam project is estimated at $240,000 with about $209,000 remaining to be paid out depending on construction costs.

This project also ranks well on its chances of receiving 50% grant funding from the state.

Walcisak noted that the county currently had $286,000 in the forestry reserves designated for dam maintenance. This money comes from logging revenues in the county forest. With no construction expected to take place until 2021, additional logging revenue could also be added to that account. “That is one timber sale,” Beadles said of the $44,700 shortfall in the account.

“We have enough money to almost do all three,” Walcisak said of the the current balance, assuming the county is successful in getting the state grant.

County finance director Larry Brandl cautioned that since the state grant is a reimbursement, the county would have to front the approximately $650,000 construction cost and wait to be repaid by the state. “That is a lot different than $286,000,” he said.

Brandl said that depending on the grant program, it could sometimes take more than a year for reimbursement to come through. Walcisak said that in his experience with state grants for forestry it is about six months between when bills are submitted and the grant funds are transferred.

Committee members approved resolutions formally applying for the grant funds for the dam projects. They will be put on the February 24 county board agenda for action.

Highway Shop

A proposal to build a new highway shop near the Westboro wayside and include space for the forestry department was met with mixed reactions.

The county is looking at options to replace the aging and undersized shop and salt storage facility that is currently on CTH D in Rib Lake.

Preliminary plans call for relocating it to land that is currently in the county forest along the highway. The plus of using that land is it would eliminate having to buy land somewhere else. However, Walcisak noted getting the land used for something other than county forest is not without some work.

He explained that the county would have to vote to withdraw it from the county forest which would require a two-thirds vote of both the committee and the full county board and include a review by the DNR. He said the process takes about six months. In addition, he said the parcel in question has an esthetic easement on it dating from 1976 to “protect the visual appeal of the wayside.”

“It is a lengthy process to withdraw,” Walcisak said.

Even with the time frame involved, Walcisak said he felt the idea of moving at least part of the county forestry department functions to the proposed building is worth considering based on the amount of time saved. Currently the forestry office and equipment is based in Medford. Walcisak estimated it took him and assistant forestry administrator Jordan Lutz about 30 minutes each way to get to the forest to do work. He noted that over the course of a year this amount of windshield time added up. By moving the office closer to the forest, he said they could be more efficient and get additional work done in the forest and in managing timber sales. Walcisak projected moving the office would save 7,000 miles in driving time, and with other efficiencies could result in the forestry budget being reduced by $6,000 a year.

Walcisak noted that the situation is a unique one with the proposed building having a 45-50 year service life. “This opportunity will not come around for 45 to 50 years,” he said, noting that while it would not be fiscally responsible to build a single-use forestry building, it would make sense to look at sharing space in a larger structure.

“What is the likelihood of it being built?” Zenner asked.

Highway committee chairman Scott Mildbrand said that it was far from certain that the county would move the highway shop from Rib Lake to the Hwy 13 site, noting that members of the committee who are from that part of the county are concerned that it would negatively impact services to the far northeastern part of the county.

There was also some question about the actual condition of the Rib Lake shop buildings with the next highway committee meeting on Feb. 18 scheduled to take place in Rib Lake to tour the structure. Mildbrand noted that if the new building was built, he personally would have not have a problem with storing equipment for forestry and other departments there. He was less favorable to moving part of the forestry office there.

Mildbrand said in his mind the main reason for a new shop either in Rib Lake or by the wayside would be to take pressure off the Medford facility and push back having to invest significant amounts of money into that facility.

Highway committee member Rollie Thums was also chilly to the idea of moving forestry functions to the proposed new highway structure. He said there would still be travel time from Hwy 13 to other parts of the county forest which extend to the Price and Lincoln county lines. “You are looking at saving 15 minutes,” he said, suggesting that spending the money on additional space would not be worth it. It was estimated that the forestry portion of the building would cost about $130,000.

County finance director Larry Brandl was also opposed to the idea of moving the forestry office because of the lack of infrastructure including internet access in that area. He said this lack of access should be a “major concern” for the county.

Walcisak noted that his idea would be to have their administrative staff person remain in the courthouse in the current shared office with the zoning department. Walcisak noted that there has been a change in the department since he became administrator with being in the field more and actually working in the forest setting up sales and working with loggers versus time spent in the office.

No decision was reached at last week’s meeting and the issue will continue to be discussed.

In other business, committee members: Received an update on the use of an aerial drone by the department in monitoring logging sites, identifying disease areas where trees needed to be removed, and in monitoring wildlife. The drone was also used as part of the inspection process for Miller Dam.

Approved the close-out for sale 669 to Czarnezki Forest Products. The estimated value of the sale was $44,920 with the final total revenue for the county of $94,452.53.

Approved setting all the county forest road gravel locations to include the gravel needed as part of the county highway department’s gravel bids. It is hoped the additional purchasing power of the highway department will result in better prices for gravel for the forest roads.