City councilors and members of the community met at the March 6 council meeting to discuss the possibility of an engineering study for the Flandreau dam.
The study was an object of discussion during a January meeting. Barr Engineering had presented a proposal to perform a more in-depth engineering study than the Corps of Engineers at a slightly lower cost of $47,000.
“We like their approach as outlined in the scope of their work,” Whitman said. “We also like their experience in dealing with low-head dams.”
To show the city’s interest and investment in the study, Whitman and Mayor Mark Bonrud told Barr the city could put $5,000 into the study, but that the rest would have to be funded by other entities.
City council members voiced concerns about spending that sum of money without knowing more information about the project that could result from the study and what that cost would be.
At the meeting last Monday, Ron Koth from Barr Engineering was in attendance to answer any questions and respond to concerns of council and community members.
“We just want to listen to people and what they want to have there and come back with options to address those considerations,” Koth said. “These projects are not something that happen in a very rapid fashion. People get to spend time thinking about it.”
He said there would be a five-year timeline easily before any construction would even begin at the dam site.
Some concerns of community members are if the crest height of the dam would be lowered and how any changes to the dam would affect fishing along the river.
According to Koth, a rock arch can be designed to maintain crest height without a problem. Crest height can be maintained or set essentially wherever the decision is set.
In October, the Corps of Engineers organized a meeting in Flandreau with potential stakeholders in the study including South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks, U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, East Dakota Water Development District and Barr Engineering.
At this meeting, Koth said Game, Fish and Parks indicated that fish were not a concern, if a study and upgrade of the dam were to proceed.
Elizabeth Wakeman, who attended the March 6 council meeting on behalf of the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe, asked Koth if they would protect the wetlands in that area.
“That’s one of the things we’ll look at when we go through the alternative evaluation process,” Koth said. “We’ll identify what each alternative would have impacts to.”
Alderman Bob Pesall made his hesitation clear, stating he needed more information. He had questions about if the city would be held liable for injuries, what the city’s insurance company would say and if spending the money for a study would ultimately lead to economic benefit to Flandreau.
He wanted some hard facts and figures before committing the city to spend their share of the funding commitment.
“Outside the people in this room, virtually everyone I’ve talked to about the subject is passionately against modifying the dam in any way,” Pesall said.
Bonrud said the discussion of updating or replacing the dam always takes place after injuries or a fatality, but the dam is never repaired.
With a study, he said they could find out different ways to make the area safer as well as looking forward to the possibility of campsites and recreational activities.
“I think the $5,000 will at least get us a point to where if we can make the dam safer and get enough partners to go in, we’ll let the city and our constituents know we will finally get into this and see if this is a doable project or not,” Bonrud said.
Alderman Bart Sample said he definitely thinks the city can do something there to benefit everybody and get rid of the safety hazard.
“I think we have a responsibility to do that,” Sample said. “My concern is where does that come out of the budget. When we start pushing a million dollars [for a project], where does that come from in the city budget?”
Alderman Ron Smith said he shared the same concerns about where the money is going to come from even with the partners.
“I don’t have any problem spending the money to do the study to get it kicked off, but I have serious concerns on how far we’re going to be able to take it,” Smith said.
The council members, as well as some county residents at the meeting, agreed that to have an idea of what can be done, an engineering study is necessary.
“Obviously we don’t know what it’s going to take to get to that point, but we have to do a study to where we have something concrete and know what alternatives are out there,” Alderman Dan Sutton said. “To get the answers we want I think we have to do the study.”
Councilors approved to enter into an agreement with Barr Engineering, which would only involve seeking funding partners at this point.
As a result of the October meeting, the city received funding commitments from East Dakota Development District for $13,000 and Game, Fish and Parks for $5,000, options that should still remain.
However, city administrator Don Whitman said if the city doesn’t raise the other $42,000, the study will not happen.
If the funds are raised for the study, during the whole process public meetings will be held and community members will be able to share their thoughts and concerns and what they would like to see change or not change as far as the Flandreau dam is concerned.