By BARRY ADAMS
Wisconsin State Journal
MAZOMANIE, Wis. (AP) — Jim Craney has a panoramic view of Lake Marion from the hillside home he built in 1969.
Craney, who spent 38 years in facilities management at UW-Madison and grew up in Mazomanie, can watch the sun rise and bicyclists pedal below on Highway KP and the adjacent half-mile paved trail that opened in 2016 and connects to the village’s downtown.
It’s not uncommon for Craney to spot picnickers, hikers and dog-walkers who trek the lake’s 1.3-mile perimeter while the Mazomanie Music Conservancy holds concerts at the lake every Tuesday evening in August.
“This is really a heavily used recreational facility,” Craney said. “Every day there are people there.”
But kayaks, canoes, anglers and radio-controlled boats have been absent. The handicap-accessible fishing pier isn’t being used for its intended purpose, either.
Instead, the pier, donated and installed in 1990 by the Wisconsin River Sportsman’s Club and lying on the site where Craney’s grandfather operated an icehouse more than 100 years ago, provides a convenient perch to watch unfold part of a story that, if all goes as planned, could come to an end by this fall.
The Wisconsin State Journal reports that after years of debate and controversy, absence of water and failed repairs, Lake Marion is about to become whole again.
A $547,724 project to seal the lake bed from leaks is scheduled to begin in late May or early June. The repair work will allow the lake to be filled to a maximum depth of 10 feet and be stocked with bluegill, crappie and bass.
“It’s going to be a huge relief,” said Peter Huebner, the village administrator. “I’m excited about it. I really think we have it figured out this time.”
The lake was instrumental in the early development of Mazomanie and for decades had been central to the social, recreational and economic life of the village, which is in northwestern Dane County.
The lake was formed in 1855 as the Milwaukee and Mississippi Railroad laid its tracks and then built a dam on Black Earth Creek to supply power for the Lynch and Walker Flouring Mill. In 1885, the village set up a municipally operated electric utility which made it possible for Mazomanie to have electric street lights before any of the surrounding villages, including Madison. The power grid also helped the local manufacturing industry, which then included two flour mills, a creamery, brewery and factories that produced reapers, fanning mills, cabinets, telephones and knitted goods.
According to report released in 2010 by the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at UW-Madison, the lake was regularly stocked with fish, beginning in 1876. The stockings through the years included 10,000 German carp in 1893, followed by 300,000 walleye in 1898. Bass were added in 1903 and 1908. In 1939, the lake was stocked with 10,000 bullhead fingerlings and declared a fish refuge.
In the early 1960s, what is now the state Department of Natural Resources tried to use the lake for fish rearing and ultimately created three distinct segments for raising different-size walleye, northern pike and muskie. But leaks that lowered lake levels forced the DNR to abandon the lake as a suitable rearing station. The agency sold the property to the village in 1983.
The current troubles began for the village in 2007, when the DNR found that the dam was structurally unsound. The village could have replaced or repaired the dam but instead chose, in 2010, to abandon the dam and redirect the creek, a $400,000 project that was covered by a grant from the state, Huebner said.
But with the creek no longer feeding the lake, the leaking became worse and the lake continued to lose water. The village tried compacting the lake bed’s soil and spent $204,000 to install a high-capacity well and pump to fill and maintain lake levels, but the efforts failed and the lake has been unusable.
“If it rains, we might get a puddle in the lake,” Sue Dietzen, the clerk-treasurer for the village of 1,660 people, said last week.
The village tried to solicit bids in early 2017 to repair the lake’s soil liner, but only one bid, at over $700,000, was received. That was too steep for the village. The village rebid the project later that year. In January, it accepted a bid from Krause Excavating in Markesan.
“We have a lot of debt coming off of our books in 2019 so this will get added to it and the taxpayers will be paying the exact amount they were paying before for debt,” Huebner said. “That’s been the goal all along — not to impact the taxpayers.”
The project will use a liquid polymer emulsion from Seepage Control, an Arizona company that specializes in lake and pond repairs.
Once vegetation is scraped from the lake bed, the polymer, called ESS-13, will be mixed with the soil and compacted, creating a hard surface designed to prevent seepage. The product, according to the company, has been effective on small lakes, lagoons, storm-water-holding ponds, golf-course ponds, fish hatcheries and private water-ski lakes.
“While the product has not been used extensively in the Midwest, it has good success in the western U.S., as well as (in) several projects in the Chicago area,” Brian Berquist, president of Town & Country Engineering in Madison, wrote to the village in January.