Perch Lake dam project goes back to the drawing board

The Sparta Public Works Board suffered a little sticker shock last Wednesday after opening bids for the long-anticipated Perch Lake dam project.
Bids for work on the dam, which originally was slated to begin next month, came in well above what engineers projected, forcing city officials to rethink the scope of the project.
The city received two bids for the work, which includes replacing the stop log system with gates and installing a spillway between the lake and Farmers Valley Creek.
The bids came in at $1.3 million and $1.5 million. The original estimated cost of the project was $600,000, with the DNR absorbing $200,000 of the cost. With the higher bids, the city's portion would go up significantly beyond the $400,000 it has budgeted for the work.
The Board of Public Works voted to reject the low bid and send it back to the engineers to formulate an abbreviated version of the project.
Public Works Director Mark Van Wormer said he believes the reason the bids came in so high is because of the demand for this type of work created by damage to dams and levies from last year's flooding and construction related to Foxconn.
The DNR-approved plan called for the dam's old stop log system to be replaced by gates and the construction of a spillway on the south side of the lake.
The project has been in the works since 2015, when former Public Works Director Lynn Jerome secured DNR grants to perform the upgrades. Van Wormer inherited the project, which has been delayed twice while waiting for DNR review of the plans.
The original scope of the project included replacing the old stop-log system, which was dangerous because it required two people to manually remove the logs with a hoist to increase the flow of water over the dam. That typically has to be done during flood conditions.
The gates were to be automatically operated under the new design. However, Van Wormer suggested doing the bare minimum required by the DNR, including reducing the number of gates to be installed. The spillway between the lake and creek would still need to be constructed along with some concrete work.
The DNR also required the city to put in a spillway to accommodate a 100-year flood event.
The new spillway is to be located between Fisherman's Park and the number-6 tee box on River Run Golf Course. It will be built of concrete but will be covered with sod and grass once established.
During times of flooding, the spillway will direct water from the lake into Farmers Valley Creek. Van Wormer said repairs to the power house, including a new gate to replace its stop-log system, could be eliminated.
The city leases the power house to a private individual who uses it to generate hydro electricity he sells to the power company. The lease is up in 2025, but Van Wormer doesn't believe the operator will continue to use the plant much longer.
"There are ways we're going to be able to save money on this project and still meet the DNR requirements," said Van Wormer. "But we're going to have to go back to the drawing board."
He said the project could be re-engineered and re-bid this winter with construction beginning in 2020. He also told board members that the DNR inspected the dam after last year's floods and it is operating as it should.
When the project is finally underway, it will require a drawdown of Perch Lake. That leaves a certain window of opportunity because it is considered a breeding ground for Blanding's turtles and wood turtles, both endangered species.

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