The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is proposing a modification to the Phelps Mill Dam, currently in the conceptual stage.
The county board of commissioners, which would have the final say on the matter, pledged Tuesday, June 14, to make no decision until county residents express their opinions at upcoming public forums which will be announced later this summer.
The latest DNR proposal is an update from a proposed fish passage project at the dam at Phelps Mill Park in Maine.
The latest concept includes 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 discussion has changed from fish passage to restoration of Phelps Mill,” said Commissioner Doug Huebsch of Perham.
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 said that the proposed new project, if it meets public approval, would likely provide a facility requiring minimal maintenance. They added that the 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 project, exceeding $1 million, would be paid by state and federal grants. DNR officials planned to meet with staff of the Otter Tail County Historical Society, noting the history of Phelps Mill and its importance to county residents. They said they also look forward to meeting with county residents at upcoming public meetings before a final decision is reached.
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 county commissioners said they look 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.