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Great Lakes Article:

Flood of dam removals in works

July 23, 2002

BY GARY WISBY ENVIRONMENT REPORTER

Chicago Sun Times

It's been many years since a dam was removed from a river in the Chicago area.

Now, all of a sudden, five of the structures are set to be taken out.

The removals are for every reason from fish health to boater safety to flood control.

But why so many now?

"It's kind of just the way it happened," said Steve Pescitelli, a stream biologist for the Illinois Natural Resources Department.

Dam removal is a long process requiring study. One of the dams, the Hoffman Dam on the Des Plaines River, has been eyed since 1997.

The first dam set to come out, in September, is the South Batavia Dam on the Fox River.

On Monday, three fishermen worked the rippling waters just below the dam, two in waders and one sitting on the west bank.

"If we walked across, I doubt our wallets would get wet," said John Duerr, who runs the Kane County Forest Preserve District.

Above the dam, the water is less fish-friendly--it's still, warmer, about 2-1/2 feet deep and oxygen-poor. Concrete pillars that once supported a footbridge block debris, worsening the threat of flooding during storms.

The dam "stacks" water back half a mile. Its removal will create islands and make way for shallow, fast-moving water like below the structure, Duerr said.

Built 87 years ago, the dam stored cooling water for the Chicago-Aurora Electric Generation plant. The coal-fired facility closed in the 1930s.

The dam removal will cost $750,000 to $1 million. Funding is from the Empress Casino, which is paying $500,000 a year for 12 years because its gangway crosses a forest preserve district bike path.

Also set to come out is the Hoffman Dam, the largest dam on the Des Plaines River. Water below it churns up a powerful "keeper wave" that grabs and turns over boats that come too close, rolling them like a log. Several deaths have resulted.

Work is to start this winter at Hoffman, and the next dam upstream, the Armitage Avenue Dam, and the next one downstream, the Fairbanks Road Dam. All three block the movement of fish and canoeists. Combined cost, with money from county, state and federal sources, is $2.5 million to $3 million.

The fifth doomed dam is the YWCA Dam on Brewster Creek, a Fox tributary, set for removal in late fall at a cost of $887,000.

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