Report: Crumbling dam is Batavia's problem, not state's

  • Batavia aldermen discussed Tuesday a report that indicates that responsibility for the crumbling dam falls to the city, not the state of Illinois..

      Batavia aldermen discussed Tuesday a report that indicates that responsibility for the crumbling dam falls to the city, not the state of Illinois.. Rick West | Staff Photographer, 2014

Updated 5/9/2017 9:50 PM

It looks like the crumbling dam on the Fox River in Batavia is the city's responsibility, despite an attempt once to give it to the state.

Research by the city administrator, including a deep dive into minutes of city council meetings, seems to indicate so, according to a report to aldermen.


The run-of-the-river lowhead dam was built in 1911 to generate power for factories. In 1975, a large chunk of it on the eastern edge washed away.

Before the breach was repaired, the water level in Depot Pond, which is to the south, dropped to 18 inches, according to Batavia Mayor Jeff Schielke.

The dam has continued to deteriorate. The state's Department of Natural Resources favors removing the dam, due to environmental and safety concerns, as does Schielke.

Lowhead dams have been nicknamed "drowning machines," according to the Association of State Dam Officials, because they create circular traps (also known as hydraulic boils) that are difficult for people caught in them to escape.

City officials also worry that if the dam fails, the pond, now enhanced by the Riverwalk park, will again drain.

They are discussing, with park district officials, what to do to prevent that from happening.

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The district owns the pond and the Riverwalk. The discussions were put on hold until dam ownership was cleared up. The city is also trying to purchase liability insurance on the dam.

The city and state have disputed who owns the dam. Some believed the city had deeded the dam to the state, or that the state had offered financial incentives to get the city to take over the dam.

"After an extensive and exhaustive search of documents including all past city council minutes, there is no evidence that would suggest that anyone other than the City of Batavia has an ownership interest in the Batavia dam," wrote Laura Newman, city administrator.

It appears the dam, or at least rights of way for access to it, was deeded to the city in 1975, according to her report, by various private owners and the Batavia Park District.


The city needed to have the right of way before the state agreed to repair the breach in the dam. If a new dam was built, the city would be responsible for maintenance, according to the minutes.

In December 1994, the council adopted an ordinance conveying the dam to the state. But there's no evidence the ordinance was sent to the state, no transfer was recorded, and a title search shows the city as the owner, according to the report.

Aldermen Tuesday accepted Newman's conclusion.

Except Alderman Dave Brown, whose father, Robert, was mayor in 1975.

"I still just have to stand by when I sat in his kitchen and he said, 'Don't let anybody tell you Batavia owns that dam,'" Brown said.

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