Will Elgin voters get to voice their opinion on the future of dam in November?

Elgin Mayor David Kaptain wants the city to put an advisory question on the November ballot allowing voters to weigh in on whether the Kimball Street dam should be removed.

City council members, meanwhile, have mixed views on whether the whole exercise would be worthwhile.

The Kimball Street dam is one of nine along the Fox River recommended for removal by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The affected communities will make the final decisions.

After a contentious debate, the city council voted 5-4 during a committee-of-the-whole meeting Wednesday to recommend pursuing the ballot measure.

A final vote will come during a future council meeting. The city faces an Aug. 19 deadline to place the question on the Nov. 5 ballot.

“This is probably the most significant decision this community has had in my lifetime,” Kaptain said. “It deserves our highest standard of participation. Democracy does not get any better than creating an advisory referendum.”

The advisory ballot question would only serve to gauge public opinion. The results aren’t binding, and the city council ultimately would decide the dam’s fate.

Council member Dustin Good, who supports removing the dam, said he’s not against the referendum since it’s just advisory. But he said he understands why some would be.

“It is going to potentially cause discomfort politically for us if it comes back and you feel the need to vote a different way, but that’s the job,” he said.

Council member Tish Powell, who also supports the dam’s removal, said she fears a complex, scientific issue will become unnecessarily politicized.

“This is what we’re elected to do,” she said. “We are elected to make tough decisions that benefit the entire community. We can get input and feedback from people without a referendum, and we should be doing that.

“I find it really disheartening that we would even contemplate doing this,” she added. “I feel it gives our residents a false sense that they have a final say in this when they really don’t.”

Council member Corey Dixon said the issue is complex and many voters don’t have the time, energy or interest to do the research necessary to make an informed vote. “Most of us up here don’t understand it. Let’s be truthful,” he added.

“I’m all for community engagement, but that’s not what’s happening right now. This is eight more months to poison the well, to get people more scared of what could possibly happen with the dam removed,” he said.

Kaptain, Good, Rose Martinez, Anthony Ortiz, and Steve Thoren voted in favor of the referendum. Dixon, Powell, Carol Rauschenberger and John Steffen voted against it.

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