By Cynthia L. Miller


BRODHEAD – The recent heavy rains brought an on-going issue to the attention of the Brodhead Common Council.

Meeting for the second time this month, on June 16 council members heard from Rich Vogel, city public works supervisor. Vogel explained the situation at the Decatur Lake Dam, and requested the council to take action.

The public works supervisor gave a detailed presentation highlighting the present situation at the Decatur Lake Dam, the Mill Race and the Headgates; explaining his department is responsible for monitoring water flow over the dam and reporting it to the Department of Natural Resources and adjusting the flow through the Headgates. Providing a brief history, Vogel explained that when the Mill Race transitioned from being a grist mill to generating electricity it came under the jurisdiction of the Water and Light Department. When electricity was no longer being generated, the City took over and responsibility was assigned to the Public Works Department.

Today, that department is responsible for maintaining and monitoring the dam, the ½ mile or so of earth embankment dam leading into the Mill Race, the Headgates, which controls the amount of Race water going into the City, and finally the spillway where the water flows back into the Sugar River.

Vogel further explained that over the years Decatur Lake has become severely silted. In fact, the DNR has designated the lake as impaired. As the lake has become more shallow an increased amount of water goes over the dam, flowing in to the Sugar River, eating away at the shoreline and causing flooding further down the river and the Race.

In an effort to help raise the lake’s water level, the public works department typically installs 8” boards across the dam after the spring rains. “We don’t like to put the boards on until after the spring rains to avoid flooding conditions down the Race,” explained Vogel, who said he now feels like he is caught, “between a rock and a hard place.” Residents living on the lake have been contacting the department, demanding that the boards be placed on the lake. But, according to Vogel, that is too dangerous when that much water is flowing over the dam.

“There is no safety policy for the dam in the case of an accident. Putting the boards on when there is 6” or more water (like there is now) is just too dangerous. We have to locate the holes in the concrete, clean them from debris, install the stakes that will hold the boards, then put the boards in place. With that much water forcing its way over the dam, it’s just not safe,” Vogel explained.

Vogel further told the council that he is being harassed to act, to place the boards across the dam, but there are no clear guidelines as to when this should be accomplished. Following discussion and clarifying questioning, Alderperson Deb Fox commented that Vogel needed to be able to do his job without the harassment. She then moved to adopt a policy that allows the department to place boards across the dam only when less than six inches of water is going over it. The motion received a second by Alderperson Beth Rosheisen and was unanimously approved.

Decatur Lake is located in the Town of Decatur and city attorney Jaime Olson suggested that the clerk of Decatur Township be informed of this policy.