By ?SHARON ROZNIK
CAMPBELLSPORT, Wis. (AP) — Henry “Heinie” Straub used to catch a lot of bullhead and walleye fishing at the Mill Pond in Campbellsport.
For years it served as the site for an annual fisheree sponsored by the local Jaycees.
But that’s in the past. The historic 1846 Mill Pond dam is being taken down, inch by inch, in an effort to restore the Milwaukee River to its natural state.
Work on deconstruction of the old wooden dam began Aug. 4, with contractors Solutions 101 LLC, Oshkosh, slowly removing small portions of the structure. The work is slow going due to the need to control the water level drop off, said Carrie Ann Hewitt, project manager from the engineering firm of Bonestroo.
“We can only take it down so many inches per day. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources doesn’t want water to flow downstream too fast and cause problems with sediment being transported,” she said.
It will probably take about a month to draw down the mill pond area. Then the experts will wait and see what kind of natural course the river takes.
“It’s almost like opening a present,” Hewitt said. “We don’t know what we’re going to get.”
Since 2009, the village of Campbellsport has been working with Bonestroo of Waupun to obtain money for the project to rehabilitate the stagnant water area that has built up around the dam. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration came through with $684,519 in grant money, which includes paying for a study on the fish population in the Milwaukee River at that location.
Village President Patrick Twohig said NOAA chose to fund the Campbellsport project to document the physical and biological changes that take place in a river when the dam is removed. The study will benefit similar projects nationwide.
Hewitt said Bonestroo staff counted fish and plant species and collected data to provide a comparison of the river’s biology before and after the project. The DNR provided an additional $50,000 in grant money for the project. The goal is to increase opportunities for fish migration and diversity, and increase acreage of natural wildlife habitat.
Other grant-funded activities include a stream impediment survey for tributaries to the Milwaukee River upstream of the dam, and public outreach and education activities.
The Mill Pond has not been used for recreational purposes for a number of years due to weed growth and silt build up. The dam was originally built to provide hydro-power that operated a sawmill along the river. In 1927 it ceased operation.
A referendum during the 2009 spring election favored removal of the dam by a 268 to 83 vote. The alternative called for upgrading the dam at a cost estimated at $400,000 to $500,000.
Twohig said it made more sense to take down the dam.
“There hasn’t been a lot of fish. It’s basically been a stagnant pond in the drier months. If we retained the dam we would never get the chance to see the pristine body of water that once existed,” he said.
When work first began no one knew what they would find, Hewitt said.
“We weren’t sure if the dam was concrete or timber. It turned out to be a wooden crib-structure filled with rocks. Huge boulders were placed in front of it,” she said.
Straub was a vocal advocate for keeping the dam and instead cleaning up the river. He said the river used to be clearer in that area until a portion of Highway 67 that runs along the river into Campbellsport was reconstructed.
“The dam is historical and well-constructed. It’s a benefit for people living downriver to prevent flooding, so it will be interesting to see what happens,” he said.
Hewitt said the Milwaukee River flows toward Kewaskum from Campbellsport. A bedrock ledge could still provide a small waterfall where the dam is located, she said.
Portions of the rock face will be retained and stockpiled around an information sign placed at a pullout location along Highway 67. The sign will provide historical information, Twohig said.
“The park below the dam will be maintained. What we end up with is based on how the river decides to establish itself,” Twohig said.
Information from: The Reporter, http://www.fdlreporter.com