Stebbinsville Dam could face removal
Stebbinsville Dam timeline
1973: Peter Burno buys the Stebbinsville Dam from the city of Stoughton. He uses it to generate power for his company, Wisconsin Edison Corp.
April 1998: The state Department of Natural Resources inspects the dam. Its report calls the dam "unsafe and dangerous to life, health and property." The DNR orders Burno to keep the dam open.
May 2004: Chains holding open the dam gates apparently fail, backing up water during heavy rain. Burno reportedly digs a trench to relieve pressure on the dam, and the surging water rips out 60 feet of dirt around the end of the dam. The damage threatens a county bridge and forces officials to close Stebbinsville Road.
June 2004: The DNR orders Burno to perform a dam failure analysis and either repair or remove the dam.
August 2006: North American Hydro applies for a preliminary permit to study the viability of a hydroelectric plant at the Stebbinsville Dam. The company later decides not to pursue the idea because it's not convinced the dam is safe, said William Pickrell, chief operating officer.
November 2006: A Rock County judge fines Burno $1,000 for obstructing navigable water and orders him to repair or remove the dam.
July 2007: Burno applies to abandon the dam.
PORTER TOWNSHIP Shelly Schieldt has spent much of his 74 years on a farm next to the Stebbinsville Dam on the Yahara River.
And though the dam needs much repair, he doesn't think the government should turn its back on this alternative source of energy, he said.
"We need the power plant for electricity," he said.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has accepted an application to abandon and remove the 90-year-old dam. It says the dam is unsafe and the owner has made no effort to repair it.
The owner, Peter Burno, Stoughton, said he's being forced to abandon the dam because the DNR wants it gone.
The dam hasn't operated in at least 11 years. In 1998, the DNR issued a report ordering Burno to draw down the water behind the dam, calling it "unsafe and dangerous to life, health and property."
In the years since, the DNR and Burno have gone through a public battle over the dam, culminating in 2006 with a court order for Burno to pay $1,000 and either repair or remove the dam.
Burno applied to abandon the dam in 2007. He said the dam is safe but the DNR is forcing him to abandon it.
The plant could generate about 2 million kilowatts of electricity a year, eliminating the need for about 300,000 gallons of crude oil, Burno said
That's why Schieldt, the dam neighbor, would like to see someone repair the dam, though he agrees with the DNR that it needs a lot of work.
"It's a public health hazard and an eyesore, so it either has to come out or be fixed," Schieldt said.
He's collected signatures from more than a dozen neighbors on a petition encouraging the DNR to save the dam. The petitioners have collectively pledged about $2,000 to Burno or a future dam owner if he or she generates 5,000 kilowatts of power by the end of 2014.
The pledge is "just to show our good faith," Schieldt said.
But the DNR doesn't have a choice if Burno doesn't repair or sell the dam, said Rob Davis, DNR water management engineer.
"We're just reacting to a permit application that we received to abandon and remove the dam," he said. "Unless there is an owner who steps forward to buy the dam and to bring it back into a safe condition, we don't have any choice but to move forward."
Davis said he's not sure the dam would be financially viable for anyone, though he didn't have an estimate on repair costs.
North American Hydro, the company that operates the Indianford and Centerway dams, showed interest in the dam in 2006 but decided not to pursue it. Burno did not convince the company the dam was safe, said William Pickrell, chief operating officer.
The DNR estimates it will cost $75,000 to $90,000 to remove the dam. It plans to seek grants to pay for the removal, Davis said. It hasn't set a timeline but hopes to start work this summer, he said.
Dam neighbors won't notice much difference when the dam is gone, he said.
"Other than the concrete structure being there, we don't think it's going to be much different than what it's been for the past 11 years," he said.