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Residents say Friendship dam operator should have acted sooner

Operator defends actions with flooding Saturday

Residents say Friendship dam operator...

FRIENDSHIP, Wis. - Residents on an Adams County lake have questions Monday night after lake levels rose high enough to force a dam operator to open gates and flood a park and a creek on Saturday.

The dam on Friendship Lake is privately operated by Chuck Pheiffer, who tells News 3 that he's operated the small hydroelectric dam for more than 30 years and did everything right over the weekend.

Residents who live on the lake, including Chairman of the Lake District Bob Berry, are questioning why lake levels were allowed to rise for more than a day without Pheiffer letting more water through the gates.

Berry took pictures of just how high the water was on the Friendship dam berm before the gates were opened Saturday. He says he and other residents on the lake are wondering why it happened so suddenly.

"In my personal opinion it's just negligence on the operator's fault for not watching the weather, not heeding warnings that the Little Roche-a-Cri Creek would be flooded because of all the rains," Berry said.

The storms that carried the bulk of the rain came Thursday night, and residents say the lake levels were already high by Friday evening, well before the dam was opened Saturday morning.

Pheiffer declined an on-camera interview with News 3 but said he did address the lake levels Friday, adding that if residents had concerns they should have contacted him.

There's a history with this dam operator and the lake district. The residents claim Pheiffer has manipulated lake levels to get them to buy the dam, which he's been trying to sell for more than $1 million. Instead, the district has notified Pheiffer they would buy the dam for just more than $110,000 using eminent domain to condemn it and take it over.

"I wish we had control of the dam because it never would have happened because we would have been keeping an eye on it," Berry said.

Pheiffer told News 3 this was just part of "a conspiracy to steal the dam." 

Legally, the lake district says Pheiffer has to decide whether to dispute the legal filing by Aug. 1. Pheiffer would not comment on what he intended to do by that date.

A spokesman for the Department of Natural Resources tells News 3 that the dam operator is also under an order to provide them with an emergency action plan, and the DNR has not yet received that plan. Court filings show the DNR filed to force the operator to either drain the lake or repair the dam last summer. They put that order on hold while the Lake District tried to obtain the rights.

News 3 also learned that there is currently no emergency plan for the area if the dam were to break. The Adams County Emergency Management director said Monday that she's been working with Pheiffer for the last six months to develop that plan, and had a pre-scheduled meeting with him about it Monday morning. 


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