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Belleville officials say dam is safe; structure being evaluated

August 22, 2018

A pedestrian bridge is washed out at Belleville Community Park as the nearby dam overflows after Monday's record rainfalls. Village officials said there is no cause for concern about widespread flooding in the area.

Water from this week’s prodigious rainfall continued to flow over the Belleville dam Wednesday, but officials in the southern Dane County community say there is no threat to public safety.

“It’s doing what it’s supposed to do,” village Administrator Brian Wilson said of the spillway. “Frankly if it did breach we don’t think there would be any more flooding than there is now.”

Wilson said an engineer from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is coming to check on the earthen structure Wednesday, though it may be difficult to evaluate until flood waters recede.

The DNR has assigned the dam a low hazard rating based on downstream development. Built in 1918 and owned by the village, the dam contains the 112-acre Lake Belle View, which has a maximum depth of about 7 feet, according to the DNR. The dam was last inspected in 2012, according to DNR records.

Parts of western Dane County received up to 15 inches of rain Monday and Tuesday, triggering widespread flash flooding.

The swollen Sugar River breached the dam around 3:30 Tuesday afternoon, according to Gary Ziegler, chairman of the village’s Emergency Management Committee. He said village officials have no concerns about the dam.

“This was more than a 100-year flood here. This was more like a 500-year flood,” Ziegler said. “After it breached the dam, the water drained into the lake like it was supposed to and it drained out and into the river on the east side of the lake like it was supposed to.”

Residents of eight homes on East Pearl, Evart and East Main streets and East Avenue on the east side of the village were ordered to leave the area Tuesday after the water breached the dam, but no businesses were forced to close, Ziegler said. Much of the water in the flooded areas had receded by noon Wednesday.

“My house isn’t under water but it was all around the house and we’re OK now,” said Kevin Therkelsen, who lives on East Pearl Street. “I think the worst is over, unless we get a bunch more rain on Friday.”

Therkelsen, 48, who has lived in Belleville his whole life, said he’s never seen water from the Sugar River rise as high as it did on Tuesday. “We’ve never seen Highway 69 closed between Paoli and Belleville before, and we’ve never seen Highway 92 closed between Belleville and Dayton,” he said. “It is unbelievable.”

Wilson said there are concerns about possible damage to bridges over the Sugar River. A pedestrian bridge just downstream from the dam still had water flowing over the walkway early Wednesday afternoon and is closed until officials can inspect the pilings.

State Journal reporter Rob Schultz contributed to this report.

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