In a contentious, packed joint meeting of Door County’s Parks & Facilities and Land Conservation committees on Jan. 10, all but one committee member voted to forward the option of a two-year drawdown of the Forestville Millpond to the county board for its consideration on Jan. 22.
The only nay vote came from the only citizen member on the Land Conservation Committee, Mike Vandenhouten. All the other members of both committees are county board supervisors. Vandenhouten said while he appreciated all the work that has gone into the plan and that it probably is the best option, he would rather see the millpond dam removed and let the Ahnapee River return to its natural state.
Dan Austad, chair of the Parks & Facilities Committee, which has oversight of the project, began the meeting by saying he had just received a petition of about 30 pages signed by people throughout the United States and a group of letters from concerned citizens.
Before opening the meeting to 30 minutes of citizen comments, he pointed out that whatever happened at the meeting would simply be a recommendation by the committees to the county board. He also asked speakers to keep it short and not be redundant.
Don Freix of Fish Creek – a frequent public-meeting “squawker” or “agitator,” as LCC Chair Ken Fisher refers to those who speak during public comment – was first up. He called the drawdown plan a “shortsighted and environmentally irresponsible solution” and said that the decision was made too fast. He said it should be sent back to committee and put on the upcoming agenda for Door and Kewaunee Legislative Days, when area residents petition legislators in Madison on issues of concern to the area.
Robert Sijgers, who has a home on the millpond, said he didn’t believe the county really engaged stakeholders such as himself and wondered how the two-year drawdown was arrived at when it was not even listed as one of the 10 original options.
“We demand more accountability from our officials,” he said.
Sijgers said the newly formed Friends of the Forestville Dam support the dredging option but oppose any drawdown.
Lora Jorgensen, a Village of Forestville trustee and a board member of the Clean Water Action Council, said it would be irresponsible of the county to allow the sediments and nutrient runoff to simply flow downstream to Kewaunee County and eventually Lake Michigan.
“Southern Door is the gateway to the rest of the county. It’s time to start treating Southern Door with equality,” she said, adding that residents are prepared to fight this in court if necessary.
Village of Forestville President Terry McNulty said he believes there is “an alternative agenda” behind the drawdown, and he plans to get other agencies involved.
“I don’t want this to be a marsh again, and I’m afraid that’s what the alternative agenda is,” he said.
As downstream residents in Kewaunee County, the next two speakers voiced opposition to the plan. Nancy Utesch pointed out that a group of volunteers has been taking water samples in the Ahnapee River for three years and asked that other alternatives be more closely examined.
“When manure is applied to a field, it is a nutrient. When it leaves that field and goes to somebody else’s land, it is a pollutant,” said Dick Swanson of Algoma. “You’re sending pollutants downstream because you don’t want to spend the money to dredge it. It makes no sense that the people who put the pollutants in there aren’t even here. When are you going to address that question?”
Rep. Joel Kitchens defined this as “a local issue, especially when dealing with property values.” He said drawdowns have been done elsewhere in the state with temporary and minimal impact.
“The main concern is that we were asked to do something because the mill pond is dying, and it’s eventually going to end up as marsh,” said Parks & Facilities Chair Austad. “We methodically went through this.”
Austad also pointed out that a study of the millpond was conducted 22 years ago, and nothing was done then.
“People were critical of the county board in 1996 when they did nothing,” said Supervisor Roy Englebert, who also serves as chair of the Town of Forestville. “Now I understand why with all this controversy.”
Supervisor Susan Kohout said she understands the panic of those who live on the millpond and said, “There is no perfect answer. This is probably the best of the bad choices. I don’t know any way around it.”
Land Conservation Committee Chair Fisher said while the committees appreciate citizen comments, “agitators out there don’t want to listen to the facts.” He objected to the notion that the committees had not done due diligence. He said they have consulted experts, and one of them – the DNR – would prefer to remove the dam and return the Ahnapee to its original flow.
“We told them the people won’t stand for that,” he said, adding that the original option of a one-year drawdown would not do as good of a job as a two-year drawdown.
“We’re doing the right thing,” Fisher said. “Nobody will get hurt here – better-quality water, better fishing, better for everybody. It is the best thing to do, and we are looking out for your welfare.”
The Door County Board meets at 10 am Jan. 22.