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Town wants Milltown dam to stay

October 16, 2019
A very impassioned crowd of at least 75 packed into the basement of the Milltown Christian Church on Thursday evening for an informational meeting concerning the future of the Milltown dam. The tone left no doubt; under no circumstances do Milltown residents want the 92-year-old structure removed.

Dr. Jerry Sweeten of Ecosystems Connections Institute, a company specializing in environmental consultation, speaks to the crowd gathered Thursday to discuss the future of the Milltown dam. Photo By Stephanie Taylor Ferriell
A couple months ago, Dr. Jerry Sweeten, who owns a company which oversees dam removal, stopped by Cave Country Canoes to discuss the future of the dam with employees there. Sweeten, who moderated Thursday's meeting, described that visit as a "cold call." He was in the area because his company is overseeing the removal of two dams on Big Indian Creek near Corydon. Rumors quickly began swirling after his Milltown visit, with many believing there was a movement underway to remove the dam.

The Blue River Commission asked Sweeten to have a local meeting for public discussion of the issue. Members of the commission made clear they never said they wanted the dam removed.

Many in the crowd were deeply suspicious of Sweeten and his motives, asking who was paying him to be there, who he worked for and who "put him up to" coming to town.

"Nobody is paying me to be here," Sweeten said. "I'm here on my own. I'm not receiving one dime from anybody."

Sweeten said there are hundreds of old low-water dams in Indiana and across the Midwest. He said the primary reason for removal is safety and liability issues; that's why the two dams northeast of Corydon are being removed. A third Corydon dam, on the north end of town, is privately owned, and there has been no request made for its removal. Sweeten noted that structure is lower than the other two but said that does not mean it's safe.

Sweeten made clear that only the dam owner can initiate the removal process, which he said takes a couple of years of background work and is quite involved. In this instance, the dam is owned by the Town of Milltown; the town has not discussed removal.

Town council member Jean Melton was at the meeting. She chastised Sweeten for not coming to the town council to talk about the dam instead of "getting innocent people disturbed and concerned."

"I lived in Milltown all my life; I know the liability," she said. "My vote will be 'no' as long as I'm on the council."

Sweeten said there's a huge liability concerning dams and urged the town to make certain they're well aware of the risks.

Jennifer Murphy said there are no signs warning of the dam's danger and encouraged the council to look into having signage installed, noting many completely inexperienced people are in the area during canoe season and throughout the year.

Several residents expressed concern that removing the dam would negatively affect the water supply, especially for wells. Some said they were afraid the aquifer could be impacted as well.

Many people also expressed concern for how dam removal could possibly have an effect on the town's biggest business and popular tourist attraction, Cave Country Canoes. Lower water levels could even lead to the business' demise, several said, with some saying the water might only be knee deep without the dam.

Kara Jones, who lives between Milltown and Marengo, said the Blue River has long been an important part of her life.

"I'm drawn to the river; it means a lot to me," she said. "It's very important to me. It's important to all the people sitting here."

Jones referred to a stream she calls "Little Little Blue River." Due to changes in the groundwater supply, a body of water that once had fish and sustained wildlife "is now a dry bed. Once the groundwater and spring dry up, it's gone," she said. "That's the worry."

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    Blue River Dam
    October 17, 2019 | 01:20 PM

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