Batavia dam to be removed, Fox River corridor plan to be developed

  • The city of Batavia and the Batavia Park District are working together to remove what's known as the Challenge Dam, left near the rushing water, while pledging $75,000 apiece to preserve the Depot Pond, seen to the right.

      The city of Batavia and the Batavia Park District are working together to remove what's known as the Challenge Dam, left near the rushing water, while pledging $75,000 apiece to preserve the Depot Pond, seen to the right. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

 
 
Posted9/17/2020 5:30 AM

After decades of debate, plans are being made to remove the Batavia dam while preserving nearby Depot Pond with pledges of $75,000 apiece from the city and the Batavia Park District.

The Batavia City Council and the Park District Board participated in a special joint virtual meeting Wednesday to unanimously approve an intergovernmental agreement between the two entities to develop a Fox River corridor master plan. The City Council vote was 10-0, with four aldermen not in attendance.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Hopefully with this action tonight we're going to send a message to those who succeed us in government the importance of the river and what we really continuously need to do to make sure that we keep it in the strong focus that I think this position has now taken," said Batavia Mayor Jeff Schielke.

The first phase of the plan is removal of the dam and the pond's preservation. The removal of the 109-year-old Challenge Dam, which received that name because of its proximity to the former Challenge windmill factory, is a project city officials say is in the budget for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Dredged in the 1990s with the popular Riverwalk built next to it, Depot Pond would dry up without the dam as it's situated. The city and Park District will hire Hitchcock Design, a company that worked on riverfront projects in St. Charles and Elgin, to develop and execute a plan to preserve the pond at a cost of $150,000 to be split by the city and Park District.

"The intergovernmental cooperation between the city and the Park District has benefitted the community tremendously," said Batavia Park District Executive Director Allison Niemela. "We believe the proposed Fox River corridor master plan will just build upon the tradition of visionary planning that we've become so accustomed to."

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Hitchcock Design will begin its work with in-depth analysis that includes community engagement and evaluation of options for the dam and the pond. The company estimates completion of the project by the spring of 2021 to align with the availability of dam-removal funds from the IDNR.

For safety reasons, and because the dam's structure has deteriorated -- in 1975 a chunk of the dam washed away -- city officials through the years have sought to remove the Challenge Dam. Some in the community, though, want to preserve the dam and prefer to reshape or repair it to make it safer and more effective.

City officials' biggest fear has been failure of the dam, which would drain the pond. People for and against the dam's removal also have debated the health of the river to wildlife without the dam.

"I definitely do support the project," said Batavia Ward 3 Alderman Dan Chanzit, "but I do want to recognize that not the entire community is sold on the project yet, or at least hasn't gotten to the place that we are yet. It is incumbent upon us to have a great communication plan, do our best to listen to our residents and try and incorporate their ideas into this process."

In 2005, Batavia's southern dam was removed. Fifteen years later, the days look like they're numbered for its northern neighbor.

"This is a long time in the making," said Batavia City Administrator Laura Newman.

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