Graue Mill dam removal plans moving forward

Planning is underway to remove the Graue Mill dam at Fullersburg Woods in Oak Brook.

Last week, DuPage County Forest Preserve commissioners voted 5-2 to grant a project license to the DuPage River Salt Creek Workgroup, which wants to improve the water quality in Salt Creek by installing a "rock and boulder riffle." The riffle would replace the 1930s-era low-level dam, which is owned by the forest preserve.

The DuPage River Salt Creek Workgroup, which helps municipalities and wastewater treatment plants comply with federal clean water regulations, hopes to begin the project late next year and complete the work in 2022.

Officials say the project at Fullersburg Woods would help bring Salt Creek into compliance with federal environmental regulations.

If rivers aren't meeting water quality goals, the state can impose additional requirements on the local wastewater treatment plants. But many costly mandates could be avoided if the treatment plants pay for projects that improve local waterways.

The DuPage River Salt Creek Workgroup's master plan for Salt Creek at Fullersburg Woods is estimated to cost $5 million. It will not require additional public investment, officials said.

In addition to removing the dam, the master plan includes the creation of a natural wetland and habitat, with canoe launces and fishing stations at the Fullersburg Woods Nature Center and additional amenities at the preserve.

Stephen McCracken, director of the DuPage River Salt Creek Workgroup, said the group previously has worked with other agencies to remove dams, including at McDowell Grove Forest Preserve near Naperville and the Preserve at Oak Meadows in Addison.

"We have seen nearly instantaneous improvements in the fish population, the insect population and the aquatic habitat, as well as water quality improvements," McCracken said. "It's a cost-effective method of doing this, and it's a highly predictable method."

But the plan to remove the Graue Mill dam has faced strong opposition from local residents. More than 14,000 people have signed a still-active petition organized by Karen Bushy, a former Oak Brook village president.

The Oak Brook village board also passed a resolution against it. And state Rep. Deanne Mazzochi of Elmhurst has proposed legislation that "forbids the reduction, demolition, or removal of any structures associated with the mill and the dam without the approval of an oversight board."

Even though Graue Mill has used an electric motor for its interior milling operations for years, there is still a desire for the building's exterior water wheel to spin with the flow of Salt Creek. But sediment buildup and the height of the dam do not allow for this to naturally occur, McCracken said

Opposition to the removal of the Graue Mill dam has been challenging to the DuPage River Salt Creek Workgroup, he said, but the group welcomes the attention it brings to its efforts to improve waterways in northeastern Illinois.

"There's a lot of money and good science being thrown at this issue, so it's a pretty exciting time," McCracken said. "We have implemented several projects like this with good feelings for taxpayers, but they don't get noticed because nobody was fighting them."

The DuPage River Salt Creek Workgroup is moving ahead to remove a low-level dam near the Graue Mill & Museum. This rendering shows a "rock riffle" that will be built in its place to allow fish to travel upstream and to improve the water quality in Salt Creek. illustration courtesy of DuPage River Salt Creek Workgroup
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