Batavia planning advisory committee on dam's future

  • Batavia is planning to form a citizens' committee to plan for what to do about the crumbling dam, and suggesting that another advisory referendum be planned for whatever the commission recommends. It would be similar to past committees that addressed topics such as where to put a second bridge, and the building of a waste transfer station.

    Batavia is planning to form a citizens' committee to plan for what to do about the crumbling dam, and suggesting that another advisory referendum be planned for whatever the commission recommends. It would be similar to past committees that addressed topics such as where to put a second bridge, and the building of a waste transfer station. Rick West | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 10/9/2014 4:10 PM

A proposal to have an advisory committee recommend what to do about the crumbling Batavia lowhead dam is picking up steam.

The city council, meeting as a committee Tuesday, directed city administrators to start forming the committee, and to plan for an advisory referendum in 2016 or 2017.

 

The committee and the referendum were suggested earlier this year by Alderman Dan Chanzit.

City officials hope that by getting a recommendation from an advisory committee, then holding an advisory referendum, residents will be more inclined to support plans for the dam, Depot Pond and the areas around them.

They don't want a repeat of 2002 and 2003. When the state proposed removing the dam, heated debate ensued, including dam-removal proponents who did not live in Batavia. A group of dam supporters managed to get an advisory referendum on the April 2003 ballot. Voters said "keep the dam."

They also want to be prepared in case the dam comes down on its own. City Administrator Bill McGrath said Tuesday another piece of the top of the dam has come loose. It developed a major breach near its eastern end in the 1970s that was filled by dumping rocks. Mayor Jeff Schielke said that due to the development of the Riverwalk, it would not be possible to do a similar fix today.

He also said that last week, the head of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources reiterated to local mayors that the state won't pay for anything except dam removal. That means the city would have to come up with money if it wanted to repair or replace the dam. It would also have to come up with money if, after the dam is removed, it wanted to build a causeway from the Riverwalk to Duck Island, or pump water into Depot Pond to keep its current water level. Work to beautify the flats that would develop when the river lowers would also fall to the city. Given the private investment in condominiums and the Riverwalk on the west bank, "It's a bad idea to turn it into high grass or swampland. And the Riverwalk, that was one of the greatest things Batavia has ever witnessed. I would describe it as criminal for us as city mothers and fathers to walk away from this thing and say, 'Do with it whatever you want,' " Schielke said.

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The idea of putting in a white-water kayak course -- similar to that installed at the Glen Palmer Dam in Yorkville -- has been discussed. Schielke said he doesn't think that would work in Batavia, because its stretch of the Fox River does not have good access along the banks for large rescue vehicles such as fire engines.

Who owns the dam is still in dispute. The city contends it deeded the dam to the state years ago, but the state didn't record the deed and so claims the city owns it.

The lowhead, run-of-the-river dam was built in 1911 to generate electricity for a windmill factory. Schielke said at least two people have drowned at the dam since he became mayor in 1981.

Lowhead dams are considered dangerous because they create a hydraulic roller, or boil, at their bases. People and items become trapped in the roller. Scour holes also develop below the dams. People died in 2011 and in April 2014 at the lowhead dam in downtown Geneva.

Some scientists also say the dams interfere with the ability of fish to swim upstream, and degrade water quality, especially as silt builds up behind the dam.

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