Members of the Wilmington town council.
Wilmington’s town council discussed the Lake Everest dam; the pending purchase of the “town” t-ball field; a recently activated cell phone tower; a new employee at the town’s youth center and other topics at the board’s monthly meeting May 8.
There has been a dam in the center of this town since around 1800, when the AuSable River was first harnessed to power a series of mills. After the existing dam was destroyed by flooding in the 1930s, the current dam was built by the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression. Local businessman Frank Everest was among those who wanted to raise the river’s level to improve recreational opportunities and attract tourists.
The Town of Wilmington puts flashboards on top of the dam in the summer months to raise the river’s level between the flume falls and the dam.
Hurricane Irene damaged the dam significantly, Wilmington Supervisor Randy Preston said at the May 8 meeting. Preston reported that the town has selected a contractor, RCL Construction, based in Peru, to repair the dam, but added that the weather has blocked work from starting.
Preston noted that significant reconstruction was done to the dam nearly a decade ago. He said that it functioned better before that work was done.
“They replaced the gate structure on the dam, and the structure they removed had a six-by-six and a four-by-four gate system, and we never had a problem lowering the level of the river to put the flashboards on in the spring, or take them off in the fall.”
“When that construction happened,” Preston said, “they put in a four-by-four gate, and I have a copy of the letter to the town board from the engineer that said it would not work in all applications. If there’s over five inches of water going over the dam, the gate isn’t big enough to work. It irritates me to no end that something like that happened.”
A 2005 letter from the engineer who worked on the dam, Frank Christie, states, “The main reason the gate is not bigger is because of cost.”
“I pointed out that the new gate will draw the lake level down under most circumstances but it would not draw down during periods of high water,” Christie wrote. “To provide a gate that could draw down the lake level during extreme river flows would have cost an additional $75,000 to $100,000.”
The town paid for the project using a $155,000 20-year bond and about the same amount of grant money. The project cost about $300,000.
“There was no reason for that to happen, and the explanation I was given from my predecessor (Jeanne Ashworth) was that they were doing it to save money,” Preston remarked at the May 8 meeting. “Well, in the long run it cost, because it has never functioned correctly.”
The supervisor said the town was awarded money from FEMA to do post-Irene repairs to the dam.
“If we were able to lower the water the way we should be, it would be a couple week job, but because the gate is undersized, we’re struggling, playing the game with the weather, hoping we can get this done. Obviously, if we don’t have this done by Memorial Day, people are going to be upset with the town board. So, it’s a frustrating situation, and it was needless.”
Reached by phone on May 14, Preston said, “I’m not going to say that some type of repairs didn’t need to be done (a decade ago), but they took out two larger gates and put in one smaller gate and we’ve had nothing but trouble ever since. It’s been a constant, ongoing problem.”
Former supervisor Jeanne Ashworth said, “We had a competent engineer and we had faith in him — he was about the best dam engineer that we could find. I know there has been a lot of controversy about the size of the gate, because it’s a lot smaller than the original design. I’m not sure why the repair was designed the way it was. I said, ‘Is this four-foot gate going to be OK?’ and he said, ‘I know this river; this is going to be adequate.’’’
“Unfortunately, we went with what the engineer said,” Ashworth said. “That’s all I can say. We’re not all dam engineers. I didn’t design a four-foot gate for the dam. You have to go by what the experts say. Why would we spend $100,000 more? After it was built we had to lower the river and it worked OK. It’s not going to go down in a day, but it does go down.”
Preston said it will several rain-free days for the post-Irene repair work to get started, and that it will take “at least two weeks with little rain to get the work done.”
“We can’t control the weather,” he said. “At this rate we’re not going to be able to put the flashboards on until June or July. The project is basically on hold until it stops raining. We’re just not able to do it. We really have no choice.”
Preston is looking for grant money to install another gate in the dam. He hopes the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority will consider using the dam to generate power; perhaps adding a second gate to the dam could be part of that process, he said.
The dam was used to generate power in the early 1900s.
Sears hired to work at youth center
Board member Rarilee Conway reported that Kate Sears has been hired by the town to work part-time at the town’s youth center. Sears operates a sewing shop next to the Little Super Market.
Cell phone tower installed
Board member Steve Corvelli said there is now a functioning cell phone tower in Wilmington. He said he has worked with Verizon to bring a tower to town for “six long years.” The tower is near the entrance to Whiteface Mountain ski center. Corvelli said it has significantly improved cell service in Wilmington and along the road to Lake Placid.
Town to buy t-ball field
Preston said that Wilmington has received a grant from the New York State Office of Parks and Recreation to buy the field that has been used by the town’s t-ball teams for decades and that the grant will cover 75 percent of the cost of purchasing the property.
“We contacted the owner (Edward Liabach, of Long Island), and he said he was open to the sale of it should we be successful with the grant,” Preston said.
The field is about an acre-and-a-half and has been appraised at $60,000, the supervisor said.