The future of the Echo Lake dam remains in flux as City of Burlington is scheduled Tuesday to discuss an engineering firm’s study of dam improvements or dam removal. (Photo by Ed Nadolski)

City Council to discuss engineer’s study at Tuesday meeting

By Ed Nadolski

Editor in Chief

Burlington’s City Council on Tuesday is set to have a long-anticipated discussion on a recently completed study of options for the future of Echo Lake Dam.

The Common Council – scheduled to meet as a committee of the whole at 6:30 p.m. – will have a chance to comb through the recommendations, which include three options for expanding the dam’s spillway to meet a 2025 deadline to improve the dam imposed by the Wisconsin Department of Natural resources and a one option to remove the dam and restore the area that is now Echo Lake.

Officials are not scheduled to make a decision on the recommendations on Tuesday.

The study, dated Nov. 5, shows that when all anticipated costs and likely grant sources are factored into the equation it would cost about $1 million more to remove the dam and improve the drained lakebed for recreational and other uses than it would cost to improve the dam’s spillway under the DNR mandate and dredge Echo Lake.

The spillway improvement options range in cost from $1.55 million to $2.65 million, according to the study prepared by the municipal engineering firm Ayres. The estimated cost to remove the current dam and improve areas in the lakebed is $6.1 million. Simply removing the dam and completing basic stream and wetland rehabilitation is estimated to cost between $1.5 million and $2 million.

While the cost of additional rehabilitation is the largest part of the proposed removal option, the cost to improve Echo Lake adds significantly to the dam retention options.

By retaining the dam and improving the spillway, the city would likely face the additional cost of dredging Echo Lake to remove sediment and improve the lake’s recreational prospects. Preliminary estimates put the cost of dredging at about $2.5 million, according to the study.

That means spillway improvement costs combined with dredging the lake would range from $4.05 million to $4.65 million.

The cost of any of the options, however, could be significantly altered by city officials through trimming or increasing the scope of dredging in the case of dam retention or environmental rehab in the case of dam removal.

The other factor influencing the city’s decision will be the availability of grants to help fund whatever option is selected.

According to Ayres, the city would be eligible to receive a maximum $1 million grant for spillway improvement. If the city decides to remove the dam, it could be eligible for up to 100% reimbursement for the first $1 million of cost.

However, with the removal option, the cost of the restoration and improvement to the drained lakebed is not eligible for reimbursement under the Municipal Dam Grant program, according to Ayres.

For comparison purposes, the most expensive spillway improvement option combined with dredging would cost $4.1 million assuming the city is successful in obtaining the maximum grant. Dam removal and lakebed improvements would cost $5.1 million with the maximum grant factored in, according to the Ayres study.

Ayres cautions that grant money is not a certainty, but notes that the spillway improvement option “should score well on the application.”

On the other hand, Ayres concluded, “…We know from experience that dam removal projects score well on the application and are usually grant award recipients.”

Ayres also notes that the city may be able to find other grants or funding sources to help improve the drained lakebed if the dam removal option is selected.

Download a copy of the Ayres dam study at the following link: Dam Feasibility Study

      For complete coverage of Tuesday’s meeting and more on the dam study, see the Nov. 18 edition of the Burlington Standard Press.