Heun: The pros and cons of dam removal in St. Charles

When considering the pros and cons of dam removal in various towns along the Fox River, you should also envision dollar signs pouring over those dams.

Whose dollars, how much and how often are questions that will be clearer in a few months.

Like other towns with dams earmarked for removal, St. Charles knows it has to decide soon what to do about its dam. Should it stay, or should it go?

The Army Corps of Engineers points to the danger dams create but also that the river’s health would improve with their removal.

St. Charles has created a task force to continue to zero in on the future of its dam, which dates back to the 1830s.

The city has a unique situation: the River Corridor Foundation and other supporters have been pitching the Active River Project for years. It represents an ambitious remake of what the river can offer for recreation and to attract tourism dollars. However, it doesn’t necessarily jibe with dam removal.

Regardless of what one feels about the dam and its place in St. Charles’s history, or even the concern that removing it would lower river levels and stifle, if not kill, much of the Active River Project, you have to keep in mind that St. Charles takes over ownership of the dam in terms of future liabilities or structure repairs/upgrades — if it decides to keep the dam.

As it is now, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources would foot the bill for dam removal. Another way to look at that? It’s a significant incentive for the cities because those two agencies want to get the dams and their future expenses off their dockets.

What sort of costs could end up on the lap of the city is an unknown, but let’s put it this way: Any repairs, or even a future removal, won’t be cheap.

Those who love motorboats and paddleboats on the river fear dam removal would lower water levels too much. But others like removing the dam to help the river’s natural habitat for fish and the wildlife along its banks.

Other benefits of dam removal include reducing flood risk, improving water quality and making the river safer.

St. Charles issued its nonbinding letter of intent through the IDNR to remove its dam. However, that essentially gives the city until May 2025 to decide if it wants to bypass the ACOE’s funding incentive and take on future costs, including those from an Active River Project.

I couldn’t connect with an IDNR official to discuss the matter, but its position has been clear. The state department will go along with whatever a city decides to do, which makes it a wait-and-see scenario for all of us. It’s also clear that while the IDNR currently owns the St. Charles dam, neither the agency nor the ACOE wants to own dams any longer.

I checked in with the various Fox River support groups and agencies, including the Fox River Corridor Foundation. John Rabchuk, a foundation member, says he can’t speak on behalf of the foundation without formal approval of its board, but he did offer his opinion on what St. Charles faces in the coming months.

  The Fox River dam just north of Main Street in downtown St. Charles. Paul Valade/, 2023

“My personal view is that in the long term, the city would be best suited to control its segment of the Fox River,” he said. “Whether that’s the Active River Project or full/partial dam removal, having control is best.”

Research from St. Charles History Museum curator Eric Krupa reminds us that dams were built nearly 200 years ago to power wood, grain and paper mills.

Krupa also notes the St. Charles dam has undergone significant repairs about five times — but all before 1939. Other than some visual inspections, the dam hasn’t had much maintenance since.

“Evidence suggests at least some of the original foundation still exists,” Krupa wrote.

And therein lies the rub. How long will that foundation exist before significant trouble unfolds? And does St. Charles want that on its expense ledger? Or could it last another 100 years without too much trouble?

Some have floated the idea that the city could use an option in its taxing toolbox by creating a special service area for developers interested in properties along the river in the future (like the empty police station). Those taxing districts are set up to pay for infrastructure repairs and maintenance.

In this case, it would be money earmarked for future expenses related to the dam. If it could work out in that manner, there is much to like about that idea.

Suddenly, it’s about acai

The words acai and “superfood bowls” were never a part of my vocabulary until recently. Now, I see those terms far more.

As such, I had to read up on exactly what new places like Nekter Juice Bar and Nautical Bowls, both in Geneva, are offering to promote these food products.

The acai palm trees in South American rainforests produce the acai berry that most closely resembles a grape. The demand for this berry, to use in protein bowls or smoothies, has increased dramatically.

But it’s there for the taking in most places where smoothies are offered, or healthier food options are available.

Nekter Juice Bar at 1441 S. Randall Road and Nautical Bowls at 1518 Commons Drive are just two of the more recent to showcase acai on their menus.

Those tacos look good

Some positive reviews have been pouring in for the Taco Dale restaurant at 842 Randall Road in Batavia.

Looking over the menu online definitely makes one’s mouth water, so this will have to be a spot I visit soon.

Taco Dale takes over a spot that previously housed a barbecue joint and, before that, a Smashburger restaurant.

It has something going for it beyond the early positive feedback and offering breakfast, lunch, and dinner. With Walgreens, Trader Joe’s, Dollar Store and Sierra being the leading anchors in that retail strip, plenty of people are moving about who will spot Taco Dale.

Caring for your teeth

Personal finance website WalletHub tells us that Illinois ranks first in the country regarding dental health.

How does one come to this conclusion? I’m not sure. But the researchers say they studied metrics such as the number of adolescents visiting the dentist, treatment costs and the number of dentists per capita. This sounds like a better data analysis than staring into the mouths of thousands of Illinois residents to try to determine the health of their gums and teeth.

Essentially, the study says we visit our dentists often, we don’t drink a lot of soda, we don’t have a lot of people experiencing oral pain, and our dental treatment costs aren’t as high as in other states.

The site enlightened us because February is National Children’s Dental Month.

That note in my email caught my eye because I was at the dentist a few weeks ago for a cleaning and checkup — and got a clean bill of dental health.

My dentist, Dr. John Mason in St. Charles, said he felt I could get “to the finish line” with my current choppers.

That’s good to hear. I’ve long thought that decaying teeth and infected gums are a sure way to shorten your life span or at least make the final years miserable.

That said, it has also become one of my answers when people ask what I’ve been doing since retiring from full-time work: “Brushing and flossing my teeth more.”

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