Monday, November 2, 2009

That Dam History

I have recently been doing some research on the La Farge Dam Project. That story is an important one for the history of La Farge, that I am currently working on. In fact if you trace the dam history from its origins after the great Kickapoo River flood of 1935 up through the present use of the dam project land as the Kickapoo Valley Reserve, one could argue that it is the most important or salient aspect of the village's history. Much has been written and many studies have been done on the early years of the project; from its inception by Congress in 1962 through the halting of the project in 1975. I have been focusing my recent research on the years after that time, from 1975 through the 1990's, when Governor Tommy Thompson sent in Al Anderson from UW-Extension to look for some answers to the dam project controversy. The creation of the Reserve, of course, is what happened in the end, but it has been very interesting looking at the other options that were looked at in the 1970's and '80's.
The main function of the La Farge Dam Project, which included levees at Soldiers Grove and Gays Mills, was for flood control. Yet after the dam project was stopped, although the discussion seemed to always be focused on flood control, nothing was ever done in all those years to give the valley any effective system to deal with the great river floods. Soldiers Grove headed to the hills after the great flood of 1978 and relocated their business district and Main Street in Solar Town. Gays Mills is starting the same process now after being ravaged by great river floods of the Kickapoo in August, 2007 and June of 2008. Through all of this, the unfinished dam sat north of La Farge, a possible aid in dealing with floods, yet never utilized for its original purpose.
Not that there weren't plenty of ideas brought forward in various forms to finish and use the dam. There was the smaller lake proposal (800 acres instead of 1,800) floated by the Corps of Engineers within a couple of years of having the original plan stopped. That COE concept was loudly rejected by state and federal officials and environmentalists due to the same water quality problems that had plagued the original lake proposal. Then there was the dry dam proposal, which said complete the dam so it could be used solely for flood control. That idea in various forms was bounced around for more than a decade and was supported by various governors, senators, congressmen, and county boards to no avail. One idea that I learned about in my latest research was a plan championed by Congressman Steve Gunderson to have a dry dam built, which would later be turned into a wet dam, when water quality issues could be resolved. Various hydro-electric options were forwarded over the years to make the finances for the dam more feasible, all to no avail.
For years, the majority of La Farge citizens held out for the original big lake proposal, which probably did not help some of the alternatives presented during those turbulent times. A local group of these proponents, Kickapoo Land Owners United Together (KLOUT) was formed with two basic goals: get the dam project finished in its original form or return the land to the former land owners. Court injunctions were filed by KLOUT members for return of the land to the former owners, again to no avail.
This history of the dam project after the original project was stopped had long lasting consequences for La Farge and the rest of the Kickapoo Valley.

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