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Williams Dam getting overdue makeover

Williams Dam in Golden Valley County will get a $337,639 makeover this fall, though it was supposed to begin this summer.

Officials still are not sure when the project will begin.

There has been a delay partly because other projects took priority and partly because it is an American Recovery and Renewal Act project, which takes a little more time, U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service Medora District Ranger Ron Jablonski Jr. said.

"The sooner we start on the project the sooner we can all go fishing," he said, adding the Service received a handful of comments and a lot support for the project.

Prairie West Development of Beach Executive Director Deb Walworth said, "The possibility of having new recreational opportunities in this area for our residents and visitors is a great thing."

The first phase will be to breach the dam and let it dry out, Jablonski said.

This is done slowly and the water will go down an emergency spillway and drain downstream, he said. Leftover water will be siphoned out.

"It might be late next summer before that happens," Jablonski said.

The project was approved April 28, but not without concerns including effects on species, the environment, religious or cultural sites, archaeological sites and historic properties.

It was determined that there were no endangered or threatened species, nor were there religious or cultural site concerns, but there was a concern about a stone and concrete structure which is part of the earthen dam and a prehistoric lithic site, or prehistoric area used by early humans to make stone tools, adjacent to the lake.

Workers will avoid both of the sites.

"The Game and Fish (Department) was interested in having the whole thing fenced to limit access to cattle and the Forest Service decision does not reflect that," Jablonski said.

Golden Valley Commissioner Dave Quale is in favor of the project. "Hopefully the project will create a good recreation area for residents and visitors," he said.

The Medora Ranger District wanted to create more recreational opportunities.

"Right now the dam is bogged down by between 70 and 80 years of siltation," Jablonski said, "It's going to take some time to clean all of that up -- it won't happen overnight."

Residents also seem interested in the project.

"I think it's a great thing, it will give us all a new place to go fishing, camping and all sorts of fun outdoor activities," Beach Mayor Walter Losinski said.

The dam is 10 miles southeast of Golva. It is thought to be built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps.