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Nugget Lake dredging may be completed this week

PLUM CITY --- Round two of cleaning Nugget Lake in the county park near Plum City could be finished as early as this week.

Heavy equipment employed by Integrity Excavating of Hastings, Minn., which was awarded the dredging contract in the fall of 2005, kept operating Tuesday to remove 44,000 cubic yards of sediment from the lake's upper end. Park Superintendent Scott Schoepp said recent frigid weather conditions assisted the effort.

"The contractor was unable to complete the project last winter due to the extremely warm winter we experienced," he said. "The lake bed didn't freeze hard enough to support their equipment."

Actually, a setback regarding weather occurred earlier this winter, too, he said. It was cold early on, but mild temperatures thereafter took whatever frost had penetrated the ground back out. The latest cold snap firmed up the bed so the equipment could be driven over it for digging and hauling purposes.

In the fall of '05, the lake was originally drawn down eight feet to expose accumulated sediments so they could dry, freeze and be removed last winter, Schoepp said. After the work couldn't be totally accomplished then, portions of the preparation process had to be repeated for carryover to now. Included was reapplying for drawdown approval, and the lake was lowered again by eight feet this past fall.

Because of expense associated with the project holdover to a second season, the volume of lake bed material receiving attention has had to be reduced somewhat, he said.

Several "roads" have been built using fill material from the removal process, he said. Four off-road dump trucks with cabs separated from their boxes were constantly moving along these last week to be loaded at the digging site, then dumped at an approved spoils site near a sledding hill on park property. Each carries between 18 and 20 yards of material; if their box should tip over, it can be righted again by other equipment while the cab stays upright. Few mishaps involving the equipment, also including backhoes, have occurred so far.

Materials have also been used to construct special protection for a nearby natural gas pipeline running through the park, he said. The 4.5-acre spoils site is to be graded and reseeded following completion of the work.

"In a couple of years, you won't know anything was done here," he said about that site, adding the overall dredging shouldn't be necessary again for 25 years.

The project has been undertaken to facilitate navigation and increase the amount of fishable water, the superintendent said. In fact, navigation has been mainly limited to the channel in the past and, even when the lake's been frozen solid, driving on it with a conventional vehicle has been difficult due to the sediment build-up. High levels of sediment in its upper end have pushed several springs there upward, reducing ice density; its northern section has largely been inaccessible.

Improving water quality and fish habitat is a goal as well, he said. The lake has had a base population of bass, bluegills, crappies and perch, and has been stocked with walleyes every other year.

A combined navigation channel to a depth of approximately six feet with a bottom width around 50 feet and top of 70 feet is being dredged by the contractor, Schoepp said. Three areas will now be designated for shore fishing, one at the lake's north end and two others farther south. He hoped what has been relatively dry weather will cooperate in helping the lake to rise again to its pre-drawdown level this spring.

This dredging effort is the first since the lake was created in 1972 with the completion of a dam at what's now the park, he said. He's watched the lake fill in during his tenure as a county employee in the park, dating to 1986.

The total cost for the project will be near $340,000, he said. Pierce County was successful in obtaining a state Recreational Boating Facilities Grant to assist in funding. The grant will provide up to $116,000 toward the cost.

The dredging has been in the works since June of 2000, he said. The 116-acre man-made lake is the main attraction at the 752-acre park, which was established in 1974. Ayres Associates of Eau Claire are the project engineers and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is issuing permits for the project.

Questions can be directed to Schoepp at 715-639-5611.