Pinedale Town Council votes to request removal of old Fremont Lake dam
The old dam was built in 1903, one year prior to the founding of the town of Pinedale. This photo was taken on June 2, 2011. Fremont Lake water level has been drawn down to create storage for anticipated spring runoff.
The new dam was built in 1993. This dam has never been completely topped with water since it was built. In 2009, high water rose to levels of 2 feet over the top of the spillway and there was some water erosion damage to the sides of the structure. The irrigation canal outlets are not designed to handle flood water runoff.
View looking just upstream of the new dam. Photo taken Thursday, June 2, 2011.
Some people say the old boards and concrete are a liability issue in the event someone gets injured walking on the old structure.
by Dawn Ballou, Pinedale Online!
June 3, 2011
The Pinedale Town Council held a short-notice, special meeting Thursday evening, June 2nd to consider support of removing the old dam on Fremont Lake. The meeting was held at the Town Hall at 5:00 PM and was open to the public. The media was notified Thursday morning of the meeting.
Attending the meeting were Mayor Stephen Smith and Councilpersons Nylla Kunard, Dave Hohl, and Chris House. Councilman Michael Kudar was not present.
Mayor Smith said the meeting was being held because the issue was time-sensitive and there was not enough time to resolve the issue if they waited until their next regular meeting on June 13th. Record snowpack in the mountains is expected to begin melting soon, which may create flooding concerns for the integrity of the newer Fremont Lake dam structure and for possible downstream flooding should the dam be overtopped by runoff.
Smith said the Council’s purpose was not to decide to remove the dam, but rather to see if the Council would support the idea of writing a letter to the Forest Service asking to allow the Town to remove the dam immediately because it was compromising the ability of the new dam to regulate the level of the water in Fremont Lake. The decision to approve or deny the request to do the work is in the hands of the Forest Supervisor of the Bridger-Teton National Forest, which administers the land on which the dam is located.
Smith said the record snowpack in the mountains is expected to begin to melt within the next couple of weeks. If the Council agreed to the letter, the Forest Service would consider allowing immediate action. If the work is not done before the spring melt and high runoff comes, expected to start within two weeks, removing the old dam would be a moot point
The request is being made in consultation with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Forest Service, Sublette County Emergency Management, the Pinedale Town Attorney, the Sublette County Commissioners, Sublette Road & Bridge, local ditch managers and other cooperators.
Pinedale Town Engineer Eugene Ninne said removing the dam would allow them to drop the reservoir 12 to 18 inches gaining 7500-acre feet of additional storage to put runoff, which would attenuate and flatten out the discharge flow.
Pinedale Town Councilman Dave Hohl said the issue was not how much snowpack was in the mountains, but how fast it melted. He asked if the new dam, built in 1993, could handle the high flood runoff? Hohl said he was on the Pinedale Town Council at the time the new dam was put in and part of the discussion for leaving it instead of removing it was because of mule deer migration concerns. The old dam allowed Pine Creek to be at a lower level for deer to cross the stream between the two dams.
Local rancher Paul Hagenstein said his recollection about leaving the dam was because some people who had homes near the outlet wanted to have the water level raised near there so they could make a marina. He said he felt the old dam was a safety hazard and liability issue due to old boards and the concrete which could cause someone to get hurt.
Questions were raised about several agreements which were made concerning the old dam which no longer appear to be being followed, including a "Fremont Lake Users Association Operating Agreement" on the use of the dam, and an agreement from the 1930s or 40s in which the Town of Pinedale committed to upgrade and maintain the old dam, which it has not done.
Engineer Jack Doyle, who is familiar with the dam, said there were some concerns about the integrity of the new dam and its ability to handle very high runoff which might top the new dam. While the new dam has never been topped before, high water two years ago caused some washout around the end supports of the dam. He said there are eight bays on the old dam, and not all would have to be removed to achieve the result they are looking for.
Pinedale Municipal Judge Ruth Neely asked what was the position of the other four entities that have cooperator status on the dam regarding this issue (Wyoming Game & Fish, Highland Irrigation Ditch, Wyoming State Engineer, US Forest Service)? Mayor Smith responded that he did not know. None of those entities had an official representative present to give their position input at this meeting.
Mayor Smith said if the Forest Service agreed to the Town’s letter of support request, they hoped to do the removal work within four to five days under an emergency declaration, with help from Sublette County crews.
There was no public opposition to the proposal voiced by any of the few audience members in attendance.
Councilman Chris House made a motion to allow Mayor Smith to write a letter of support on behalf of the Town Council asking the Forest Service for permission to immediately remove all or a portion of the old dam on Fremont Lake. Nylla Kunard seconded the motion. The vote was unanimous in favor. The meeting was then adjourned.
Editor’s Note: Sublette County Emergency Management officials want the public to know that if they have concerns about possible flooding or how to protect their property, they can contact their local fire department or the Sublette County Sheriff’s Office to get free sandbags and information. County officials are actively monitoring and preparing action plans for any possible flooding in the county and they encourage citizens to contact the Sheriff's Office or their local fire department if they have any concerns.