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Dam is peeling

MINONG– The drawdown of the Minong Flowage to replace the surface concrete that is peeling off has been postponed from this spring to August 1.

A second drawdown is planned later to get rid of as much Eurasian milfoil as possible.

The first drawdown is because the gunite – a wear shield over the face of the dam that the water flows over – is flaking off, said Frank Scalzo, Washburn County highway commissioner.

In 2013 the dam was added on to, and at that time the gunite was fine. What has prompted the delayering now is a mystery.

"What caused this all of a sudden, I really don't know, but it's fallen off and it needs to be repaired," Scalzo said.

The 1,587-acre flowage with its 24 miles of shoreline spans a portion of the towns of Minong and Wascott. At its deepest it is 21 feet, though 14.5 percent is less than 3 feet. A dam built in 1937 for hydropower impounded water from the Totagatic River and from Cranberry Creek which flowed south from Cranberry Lake. A pair of boat landings and the Totagatic County Park are public access points.

The lake will be dropped a foot to repair the dam.

"In some areas, that's pretty significant, especially in some of the bays," Scalzo said. "It drops the water quite a bit. You're dropping it a foot at the dam, but you take a bay that's half a mile up the lake, you're going to drop that significantly."

The drawdown had been planned for last fall, but uncooperative weather – too much rain and too cold – caused its postponement until spring. Scalzo said he had been leaning toward drawing down be

June. In that scenario, the repairs would have started in the beginning or middle of June.

Then [reason for postponment til fall].

"The water level is going to be down for no more than two weeks to do these repairs," Scalzo said. "Once we get that gunite off the face of the dam, we will do a further inspection to make sure there's no other damage."

The drawdown could even last less than the two weeks, and Scalzo expects the flowage's recovery to be fairly quick, with water flowing from Colton Dam, Nelson Lake, and the backwaters of Gilmore Lake helping to refill it.

The county is responsible for six dams: Minong Flowage, Pokegema Lake, Spooner Lake Dam, Slim Creek Dam, Long Lake, and Birch Lake.

"Thank goodness, they're all good," Scalzo said. "All the dams get inspected every other year. The reports are great on all of our dams. Minor repairs and maintenance, that's all we have to look forward to there."

Eurasian milfoil

The flowage's shoreline owners and visitors are not unfamiliar with drawdowns. The lake level was dropped 5.5 feet in 2013 to add on to the dam so it could stand up against a 100-year flood. Two-thirds of the dam is new.

That drawdown showed that much of the Euraisan milfoil, an invasive plant, would die over winter when stripped of its protective water cover, and plans are underway to use a deep drawdown to expose the plants and let freezing and desciation decimate them.

"Eurasian milfoil, you can freeze it and it's done," Scalzo said. "I don't know that you'll ever get it all. This is something you might have to look at and do it in another four or five years, when the milfoil comes back."

The highway department has permission from the Department of Natural Resources to draw the lake down 5 feet in a bid to kill the Euarsian milfoil along the shoreline. The department has been working with the Minong Flowage Lake Association for the past year, trying to ensure that all of the stakeholders support it.

The majority do because they recognize the milfoil will degrade the lake and its uses, including fishing and swimming, Scalzo said.

"Washburn County has got quite an investment in that in the Totogatic Park up there, and they're doing this big expansion. Are people going to want to come to a lake that's full of milfoil? That's something to look at. So I think the drawdown will be a good thing. This last winter would have been an ideal winter because we didn't have snow in the beginning, so the frost would have really killed the milfoil."

The DNR has studied the project to make sure it would not harm the fish or the habitat for other inhabitants such as the turtles and frogs, Scalzo said.

The process could start in September and run until the ice is out in the spring. Doing it before the ice is out could cause the ice around the stumps in the lake to float, pulling the stumps out with it.

An unknown, however, has stymied plans for now: It is unclear how the lowered water level would affect Renewable World Energies' production of electrical power at the dam during that period – and who should pay for any reduced capability.

"Dropping the water level that far, we don't know how much energy they're going to be able to generate throughout the winter with the water down like that, because they'll generate electricity all winter long," Scalzo said. "But with a drawdown, and to maintain that drawdown, we don't don't know how much water we're going to be able to allow to go through to generate electricity. So Renewable World Energies is going to want to be compensated for that loss of electricity, which they sell to Dahlberg Electric."

The county will not be responsible for those losses, he said. "It's going to have to be the lake association that's going to have to do something."

A guarantee that money would be available to cover the lost revenue would have to be in place before the county would proceed, Scalzo said.


Big-time school projects reviewed

SPOONER– Is it enough to put Bandaids on the aging Spooner Middle School building for now? For how long? With what end goal in mind? And for how many millions of dollars?

Those are the types of questions that arose when the Spooner Area School District's ad hoc Referendum Facilities Committee met recently and did a walk-through of the building to see what repairs and updates need to be made. The committee members are evaluating potential projects in each of the district's three buildings and will prioritize them so they can recommend to the school board which should be put on a referendum to the taxpayers.

In the meantime, the district has hired School Perceptions to draft a survey that will give the public a chance to weigh in on what projects they would support in a referendum. Currently a tentative date for a referendum would be next April, well after the survey would be completed and multiple information sessions and tours of the buildings would be held.

The idea of building a new middle school onto the high school emerged even before the committee began the walkthrough, as an alternative to the possible spending of $7.86 million for the projects outlined in the to-do list.

"I would just go one step out and say if the intent was to replace the building," school board member and committee member Paul Johnson said, "we're dealing with a whole new topic that is years down the road, I believe, and not just six months down the road because this is a whole new idea for the community that no one knows anything about, and that

is going to be a tough sell."

Even what is on the todo list already will be a tough sell, Johnson said.

Luke Schultz of CESA, who is helping coordinate the referendum process, told the committee that he knew the question of building a new school could come up, and he ran the numbers, mainly for class and office space since some high school rooms – such as music, shop, and cafeteria – could be shared.

The low-end cost, he said, would be in the ballpark of $18 million and on the higher end, $24 million. That compares to the almost $8 million of total suggested repairs and improvements being considered at both the elementary and middle schools (plus a smaller amount for the high school).

Superintendent David Aslyn said the high school was designed with the construction of the middle school there as a possible contingency.

Approximately $9 million worth of improvements were made to the middle school during the same referendum that built the high school about 10 years ago.

The small gym goes back to the 1940s, and other parts of the middle school were constructed in the 1950s.


The largest chunk of the proposed projects for the middle school would be relocating the offices, conference room, nurse's room, and related spaces to what is now the back of the school, near the playground and basketball court.

The main reason would be to create a secure vestibule and entryway to help prevent any unauthorized access to the building's interior. Students would enter through a set of doors there, and once school is in session, all the exterior doors in the school would be locked and the only entrance would be through the office.

That renovation would cost $2.9 million.

A related component would be rerouting student pick-up traffic by parents to that end of the building, with a half-loop from and to Elm Street. Staff parking would move to the other side of College Street.

A less expensive option, $1.7 million, for creating a secure entrance would be to shift the offices over to where the after-school room and part of the lobby are in left front of the Antholz Gym.

Again, entrance to the school once the doors are locked would be through the office.

The third option presented would cost $237,600 and would consist of a small reception area immediately next to the existing entrance. It would be staffed by one or two people, with bulletproof glass installed.

Currently the office staff does not have clear sight lines to seeing who is entering the building.

No plans were suggested for the vacated office space, though enlarging the commons/cafeteria area was mentioned.

The building is "secure, but it could be safer," said Principal Michelle Kabdi.

"There are some challenges because it's an old building," said Aslyn. "And we try to upgrade to meet current conditions and concerns."

Many schools have the same conditions, and that is a reason for the increase in referendums, Schultz said.

The district used a grant recently to install cameras and other security upgrades at the schools.

More projects

Some of the other more costly projects are demolishing the small gym because of its structural deficiencies (it currently cannot be used at all), $700,000; reroofing the Antholz Gym and fifth-grade wing, $280,000; and replacing flooring in most of the classrooms, including some asbestos tiles, $345,000.

A $280,000 project would be replacing windows. Some cannot be cranked out without literally falling out of their frame, and some windows are bolted shut, creating a hazard if people need to escape out the window in an emergency.

Schultz said the district has done an "awesome job" in past few years upgrading mechanical components. Four condensing units are "past age" and need to be replaced.

In the Antholz Gym, the floor needs to be replaced (it can be sanded down to bare wood one more time) and the existing bleachers removed and replaced by one 800seat set. The showers in the locker room need to be brought up to handicap accessibility compliance.

Committee member Chris Thompson recounted the glory days of Spooner hosting many tournaments in the gym and reminded the committee that the gym is very important to the public.

"But nostalgia is one thing. Money is another," said committee member Pat Shifferd.

The bleachers, flooring, lockers, repainting, and tile replacement on the wall total an estimated $483,000.

"In addition to the fact that this gym really has some lineage," Aslyn said, "we have far more demand for gym time and gym space in this district than we're able to accommodate with all of the facilities in the district."

Part of the idea of rehabbing the gym, seating, and locker rooms is to meet community access needs, he said.

Most of the gym's courts are in use daily, including weekends, often until past 8 p.m.

The committee reviewed a variety of smaller projects, also.


Asked about building longevity, Schultz said buildings should last 50 years, but maintenance including roofs and mechanical components should last 20 years.

"If you're taking good care of it, obviously stuff lasts a lot longer," he said.

Aslyn said the suggested significant upgrades come with sticker shock, and though some people called them Bandaids, he said they are planned with longevity in mind, not a short-term year or five-year period.

"But, you know that at some point the useful lifespan of this building will come to an end," he said.

Storm: Could bridge come tumbling down?

TOWN OF MINONG– Washburn County is keeping a close eye on Lakeside Bridge in the town of Minong, fearful that a major storm could take it out.

"If we start getting some heavy rains, that's one of the first places I will go and check," said Frank Scalzo, the county's highway commissioner.

The bridge was built in the mid-1920s on the former Hwy. 53, now Lakeside Road. Flooding in 2016 scoured it, eroding sand, dirt, and rocks away from the abutment.

Scalzo said it is unknown how deep the footings are on the pier, so whenever a highwater event occurs, he measures the scouring with a 25foot pole to make sure it has not worsened. If it does, he would have the authority to close the bridge.

When the Colton Dam washed out in during the widespread flooding in 2016, the water at Lakeside was to the top of the bridge, at the 15-foot height instead of the usual 3 or 4 feet. Ironically, had the county known that the storm had scoured the bridge, the county could have been reimbursed for some of the repair costs through the federal disaster aid. That bridge had been inspected earlier that year, so it was not until 2018 during its next regular every-other-year inspection that the damage was discovered.

"I've been working on trying to get grant money to fix it," Scalzo said. "I've searched

avenues like you would not believe and made more phone calls. I can get funding for it. But I can't get funding for it right away. We probably won't get funding for that for four to five years under a bridge maintenance program through the state. It's federal dollars, but state-managed."

"I'll keep on top of the grant dollars, and hopefully we'll get some money," he added. In the meantime, he expects to get an estimate on projected costs this spring.

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