County Purchases 79 Acres to Restore Wetlands, Prevent Flooding

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MTT News's picture
Kevin Murphy
Top to bottom: County Executive Joe Parisi announces the purchase of 79 acres of land to help mitigate flooding in the Black Earth Creek Watershed; The map shows the area purchased outlined in red.

TOWN OF MIDDLETON–Dane County seeks to lessen future flooding in the Black Earth Creek watershed by purchasing 79 acres north of US 14 in the town of Middleton.

The proposed $4 million purchase from the Judith Hellenbrand Family Trust would restore part of “Old Mud Lake,” a 140-acre wetland near the headwaters of Black Earth Creek that once filtered sediment from runoff before entering the world-class trout stream.

“By saving this property from possibly being developed and restoring it to prairie, about 5.9 million gallons water will be prevented from flowing downstream each year,” County Executive Joe Parisi said Jan. 16 at the Hellenbrand farm.

The August 2018 flood extensively damaged public and private property along Black Earth Creek, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency has designated 40 acres of the Hellenbrand property for flood storage. About 20 acres have become too wet to farm in recent years due to warmer and wetter summers, according to the county. The county would restore the farm’s upland areas to native plants from its current use as cropland.

The county would remove an earthen berm and a pump just north of US 14 that was installed in the 1970s to lift water from a low area and increase flow toward the culverts under the highway and railroad tracks. The pump quit working during the August 2018 flood and has not been restored. 

The Hellenbrand property is within the Middleton Drainage District which is getting attention again after decades of inactivity. Some residents in the Hidden Oaks subdivision are also in the drainage district and have basement sump pumps that have been running since the flood. Their homes are located up gradient from the Hellenbrand property and they are opposed to removing the berm and pump saying it will keep the elevated water table high and require their sump pumps to continue working overtime.

County officials said the changes wouldn’t affect the water table uphill from the Hillenbrand property.

“Our engineers have concluded that there’s not a connection between the two,” Laura Hicklin, Land and Water Resources Department, director said at a news conference last Thursday at the property.

Ald. Luke Fuszard, who lives in Hidden Oaks subdivision, was hopeful the county’s engineering was correct.

“I don’t think what the county wants to do is at cross purposes to what help the drainage district could offer property owners. They (the county) believes that removing the berm and pump will allow the wetland to lower the surrounding water tables, including my neighborhood’s, and that couples with cleaning out the ditch along US 14 to allow the free flow of water (to Black Earth Creek),” he said.

Fuszard said neither the city nor the Town of Middleton were involved in the negotiations between the county and the Hellenbrands over the property’s purchase, and their input would have been helpful.

The Middleton Drainage District is scheduled to meet at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at City Hall to review engineering cost estimates for the clean out work Fuszard mentioned.

John Mitby, attorney for the district, wants to the county to explain how its intended use of the property will impact district property owners. 

Parisi included money in the 2020 budget for the property purchase, and the Dane County Board of Supervisors was scheduled to act Tuesday on the $4 million request.

The county’s timetable to convert the farmland to wetland would take place over the next several years, he said.

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