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Lanesboro dam found to be damaged by recent floods

Fri, Mar 20th, 2009
Posted in Government

A just completed study of the Lanesboro dam has found "several locations of severe deterioration in the limestone blocks of the dam with excessive amounts of material missing."

The long awaited assessment was requested by the City after the floods of June, 2008. They hired Bonestroo Engineers to undertake the study after it appeared that flooding may have damaged the dam itself as well as the scouring hole.

The findings of the extensive report; a structural condition assessment, determined that there has been damage from recent flood events and that "immediate repairs are required to restore the structural integrity of the 140 year-old dam." The dam is classified as a "high hazard" dam, meaning that, because of the proximity to downstream residential areas, the failure of the structure or mis-operation of the facility "will probably cause loss of life."

The report draws on information gained from three other structural assessments made since 1978 and makes specific recommendations for repairs that are needed now. It calls for repairs totaling over $900,000. According to Lanesboro City Coordinator Bobbi Vickerman, the city will be looking at which repairs need to be done and can be done, not necessarily all of them or the most expensive one (referring to one repair estimated at $760,000.) Jerod Wagner, Lanesboro's Utility Operator, said they will be meeting with Bonestroo engineers early in March before any decisions or recommendations are made.

The historic dam has provided water power since it was built in 1868 and electric power since 1895. The unique stone construction provided power for early flour mills. It was converted to generate electricity in 1895 and continues to this day - it has generated electricity for Lanesboro for 114 years.

Masterfully hand built with unique stone construction, the 1868 dam was built by the original Lanesboro Townsite Company. It is unusual in that the spillway is in the form of an arch, constructed of large limestone blocks with no mortar.

Hydro-electric power is increasingly seen as an important energy source. The dam is important for several reasons; as a source of "green" energy, as a popular spot to fish, to put in a canoe or kayak, or simply to take in the beauty of the falls and the Root River.

According to Wagner, the hydro-generator produces between 10 and 20% of the town's power, depending on the season. When electrical usage is lower in the fall or winter, for example, the percentage is higher.

He explained that until 1945 there were no electrical transmission lines in or out of the town of Lanesboro. All of its power was produced by the dam and hydro-generator.

The present hydro-generator is a 210 kilowatt model made in 1954 from James Leffel Co. of Springfield, Ohio. Currently, with greatly increased power usage, Lanesboro is connected to receive power from large producers such as the Dairyland Power coal plant of Alma, Wisconsin.

Steve Klotz of Lanesboro Area Fisheries believes the dam's impact on fish is minimal due to the operators diligence in maintaining adequate water levels at all times. "The real concern is safety." He also noted a buildup of silt and sediment in front (upstream) of the dam.

The number of aging dams in the eastern United States is growing rapidly to the point where many will be removed, especially those that no longer serve any practical purpose.

Removal is generally much cheaper than repair. Dam removal will generally always improve fish passage and bring environmental restoration of streams and rivers. This (dam removal) has been done with beneficial effects on several rivers in Minnesota, including the Cannon, Kettle, Lac Qui Parle and the Red Rivers.

The Lanesboro Dam, however, is still highly functional as an increasingly important alternative energy source. The area landmark is also a visual jewel and historic treasure.

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