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A proposed Phelps Mill fish passage project remains under consideration

A proposed Phelps Mill fish passage project remains under consideration. Tom Hintgen/Otter Tail County Correspondent.

Assistant County Highway Engineer Chuck Grotte and representatives from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spoke to county board members regarding a DNR public meeting held May 5, 2017, when a proposed Phelps Mill fish passage project was discussed.

Board members called for a transparent process to inform the public about project options, history of the project, condition of current structures, past meeting summaries, funding sources, and timeline.

In order to be as transparent as possible, a motion was offered and unanimously carried to establish an area on the county website where all information regarding the proposed Phelps Mill fish passage project will be communicated to the public.

All comments on the project will be managed by the Assistant County Highway Engineer.

Discussion took place regarding the need for a resolution to approve some type of Phelps Mill fish passage project to secure the federal funding that has been set aside for the project. After additional research, a resolution will be presented to the county board at their June 27, 2017, board meeting.

History of the proposed project

Earlier, the DNR proposed to the county board a modification to the Phelps Mill Dam, in the conceptual stage.

The latest concept included removing a portion of the dam, near the walking bridge, to allow for a rock rapids with recreational opportunities for kayaking and canoeing.

A portion of the dam would remain in place, closest to the mill.

The original plan called for an abutment on the west side of the dam to be modified to allow for fish passage over the dam.

DNR representatives, speaking to the five-person board of commissioners, maintain that the new and proposed project, if it meets public approval, would likely provide a facility requiring minimal maintenance.

They added that service life of the new structure would far exceed that of the current dam. The project would redirect water flow away, from the foundation of the mill, thus helping to maintain the strength of the mill.

Cost of the project, exceeding $1 million, would be paid by state and federal grants.

DNR officials have met with staff of the Otter Tail County Historical Society, noting the history of Phelps Mill and its importance to county residents.

Similar projects, including removal of dams and establishment of rock rapids, have taken place in recent years at Dunton Locks Dam near Detroit Lakes, Crookston Dam, Knutson Dam at Cass Lake, Dawson Dam and the Montevideo Dam

Each of the five commissioners said they looked forward to gaining input on the proposed Phelps Mill project at upcoming public meetings.

Otter Tail County purchased the mill and surrounding land near Phelps Mill as a recreational site in 1965. A decade later, in 1975, Phelps Mill was listed on the National Register of Historic places.

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