Consultant: Removing dam could cost Batavia taxpayers millions

  • The crumbling Challenge Dam on the Fox River in Batavia. City and Batavia Park District officials are considering what to do about the dam and Depot Pond.

    The crumbling Challenge Dam on the Fox River in Batavia. City and Batavia Park District officials are considering what to do about the dam and Depot Pond. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer, 2018

  • An aerial view of the Challenge Dam in Batavia, looking south. The dam is in the lower left corner, and Depot Pond is on the right side.

    An aerial view of the Challenge Dam in Batavia, looking south. The dam is in the lower left corner, and Depot Pond is on the right side. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer, 2018

 
 
Updated 7/20/2021 6:34 AM

Taxpayers in Batavia would be on the hook for at least $3.5 million for engineering to remove the Challenge Dam and to ensure the preservation of Depot Pond, according to a consultant's report.

The Batavia City Council and the Batavia Park Board commissioned Naperville-based Hitchcock Design Group to study the Fox River corridor and develop a plan to improve the shoreline.

 

Central to the planning is what to do about the crumbling dam and how to maintain water levels in the pond, which attracts visitors every day to the Batavia Riverwalk.

At a joint meeting of aldermen and park trustees on July 13, Hitchcock representatives outlined several options.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources may cover the estimated $3 million to remove the dam, the design team reported.

However, other costs, ranging from $3.5 million to upward of $10 million, would have to be borne by the city, the park district or both.

Well over a century old, the dam extends from the tip of the peninsula north of the Batavia Government Center across the main river channel to the east bank at the Challenge Building.

On the west side of the peninsula is Depot Pond, presenting a scenic view for visitors to the Batavia Riverwalk, which is the top destination for users of park facilities in the community.

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Water gushes through fissures in the dam. When the river is low water pours around breaks, particularly next to the east bank.

The dam's continued decay threatens to reduce the water depths in the pond and upstream as far as the Fabyan Forest Preserve in Geneva.

Some of the more expensive options involve replacing the dam with weirs that would maintain water levels upstream and in the pond while stepping down the flow until reaching the existing levels below the current site of the dam.

Another option includes removing the dam and constructing a berm from the tip of the peninsula to the west bank, enclosing the pond.

However, this option, while less expensive, would result in a considerably narrower river north to the forest preserve.

About 30 residents, most of them with homes lining the west bank of the pond and the main river channel, attended the meeting. They burst into applause when Mayor Jeff Schielke said preserving the pond is an overarching goal.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Whatever we do we have to save the pond," Schielke said. "The Depot Pond is here to stay ... the pond is a legacy."

The mayor supports removing the dam. "I'm afraid of it," Schielke said. "It's a danger."

The IDNR has a policy of removing low-head dams.

Alderman Mark Uher, whose 5th Ward includes the west bank, expressed concern about reducing the river's width.

Uher said the river is about 600 feet wide north of the dam but would be narrowed to about 300 or 400 feet, resulting in a new shoreline that will require plantings and other treatments.

"That's hugely impactful," Uher said.

Enclosing the pond would require installing a pumping system to maintain the water level in the pond and to aerate the water to keep it from becoming stagnant.

This prompted questions from park board member John Tilmon, for which the consulting team had few answers.

"I need to know how these pumps work," Tilmon said, concerned the pumps might be noisy. "We have no idea for the operating cost. That's really concerning to me."

Tilmon also worried about dredging the pond and the river and using the soil to create a new shoreline park.

"We don't know the quality of the dirt," Tilmon said.

Park board President Pat Callahan said Hitchcock needs to provide more specific dollar amounts for the costs involved.

The residents attending the meeting said they bought their homes for the spectacular view of the river and pond.

"Our concern is that we are going to lose a beautiful river," said Larry Nybo, whose west bank townhouse backs up to the shoreline.

"Keep it the way it is," Nybo said.

Marilyn Weiher, another west bank resident, said alterations to the river or the pond would have major implications for the community.

"The economy of the downtown is tied to this," Weiher said, noting that the pond attracts visitors who then shop and dine at Batavia businesses.

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