A pond behind a dam southwest of Herman, seen between the powerline and blue grain bin, has been rising over the past few months. Residents said the dam is supposed to be dry, but a clog in a drainage pipe is preventing the water from draining properly. Who is responsible for the dam's maintenance is unclear.

Village residents worried dam could fail

Herman resident Joel Loftis is worried about the status of a small dam near Herman and what would happen to people's property if it should break.

"It's an old structure, it needs some TLC," he said.

Located on property owned by his family, Loftis said the dam near County Road P21 just south of Herman School Road is supposed to be a dry dam that slowly drains water after a rainfall. But after a wet spring, summer and beginning of fall, the pond behind the dam is filling up with water due to a partially clogged drainage pipe. The pipe follows CR P21 and the Herman School Road through the village under U.S. Highway 75.

In an August 2006 story, the Enterprise reported that the dam was constructed in 1935 when a group of farmers and Herman residents built the dam themselves to protect the village from flooding. Dam maintenance occurred in the early 1950s, late 1970s and in 2006, the article said.

The maintenance in 2006 was in part to clear the drainage pipe. The work was cost-shared between the Village of Herman and Washington County. But the regular maintenance of the dam isn't any governmental body's responsibility since the dam was informally constructed.

"Here's what worries me," Supervisor Jay Anderson, District 5-Blair, said during Tuesday's Washington County Board of Supervisor's meeting where the board discussed the dam. "I grew up in that area. I've never seen water behind that dam but maybe once, and it was only a couple feet deep. I've been driving by it now — there's an ungodly amount of water that I don't think that that was ever built to handle."

An easement does exist to allow for outside entities, other than the owner of the property, to perform maintenance work on the dam. The easement, however, doesn't specify that it's any specific entity's responsibility or duty to perform maintenance.

Supervisor Lisa Kramer, District 2-Kennard, said the county has a similar easement for a private road in the county. But the county doesn't maintain the road because there could be a liability issue if something were to happen while work was being completed.

"An easement, as I understand it, gives you the ability but not necessarily the duty to," Kramer said. "Therein lies the difficult question to answer."

Washington County Highway Supt. Bill Hansel said he had been contacted about the dam's drainage pipe being plugged. He said he went and looked at the dam and confirmed that the pipe was plugged. But he said he didn't want to move forward with any work on it since it's on private land and could set a precedent. If the county performed the work on private land, he said he wondered if more people would ask the county to complete work on their property.

"It seems like we need more information to actually move forward," Hansel said. "I'm not denying it's a problem, but we don't know who's problem it is at this time."

County Attorney Scott Vander Schaaf said the dam has a complicated paper trail record, and, while he's started reviewing the matter, he doesn't have a full legal opinion formulated for the county board.

Vicky Kellogg, county clerk for the Village of Herman, said the village board hasn't yet made a decision regarding the dam.

Bill Shamburg, who rents land near the dam, said he's watched the water rising in the pond for the past several months. He said the pond is several feet in depth as of Tuesday, and, while some water is running through the drainage pipe, it's not releasing water faster than it's being filled.

"It's just about full," he said. "It'd be a disaster if it broke. The reason they put it in there is to save Herman. South end of Herman, every time we got a rain, it flooded."

Anderson proposed having someone look at the dam to establish what the cost of any maintenance needed would be. He said if it was only a few thousand dollars, such as it was in 2006, then the county could look at a cost-share agreement with the village.

"If that thing breaks and water rushes down there, it's going to wipe out parts of our road, and it's going to wipe out people's grounds, and we're going to be held responsible for it … That's how it's going to be (viewed) with the people that are involved," he said.

Kramer, referencing the unbinding responsibility easement, said she would like to know what the Village of Herman's opinion is on the matter before taking action.

The board did not take any action during its meeting.

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