Batavia aldermen favor dam options that would keep Depot Pond

  • The Batavia dam on the Fox River. Batavia has been told that it can't repair the breach, which has been there about 45 years. City officials are inclined to either remove the dam and put in a berm to keep water in Depot Pond, or lower the dam, put in several weirs upstream, and put in a berm to help keep water in Depot Pond.

    The Batavia dam on the Fox River. Batavia has been told that it can't repair the breach, which has been there about 45 years. City officials are inclined to either remove the dam and put in a berm to keep water in Depot Pond, or lower the dam, put in several weirs upstream, and put in a berm to help keep water in Depot Pond. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer, June 2018

  • The Fox River dam in Batavia, looking south. The dam is also called the Challenge Dam, because it was built to supply water power to the Challenge Windmill Factory, located on the left side of this picture.

    The Fox River dam in Batavia, looking south. The dam is also called the Challenge Dam, because it was built to supply water power to the Challenge Windmill Factory, located on the left side of this picture. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer, June 2018

 
 
Updated 10/14/2021 6:58 PM

Batavia aldermen have picked two concepts about handling a crumbling 110-year-old dam on the Fox River near the downtown.

The first is to remove it, disconnect the nearby Depot Pond from the river, and pump water into the pond to keep it full. The second option is to lower the dam, put in rock barriers upstream, and keep the pond with a smaller berm.

 

City officials have been discussing what to do about the dam on and off for two decades. The dam runs from the east bank to the northern edge of a peninsula that contains the Riverwalk, an apartment building and the Batavia Government Center. Depot Pond is to the west of the government center.

Aldermen on Tuesday informally selected the two options for the dam after hearing the results of a survey.

The city council next will discuss its recommendations with the Batavia Park District board. The city and park district are working together on a plan for the downtown riverfront. The park board has not discussed the survey results yet.

Designers presented five concepts to the community during two open houses in September. Roughly 1,000 people responded to a survey.

The top two choices were to lower the dam or construct a stepped dam with a bypass channel for kayakers and canoeists. Either option could cost about $13.5 million to build.

Simply removing the dam and blocking off the pond would cost about $4.5 million.

"Spending $10 million over what 1,000 people say is just not fiscally responsible," said Alderman Keenan Miller, who favors taking out the dam and eliminating Depot Pond at a cost of $4.5 million. But he said he is willing to compromise by keeping the pond. He also said he suspected that hundreds of the comments probably came from people who live near the river.

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Some comments received suggested the city leave the dam alone and let it continue crumbling. If the dam fails, river levels north of the dam would drop, causing the water level in Depot Pond to fall about 6 feet, hydrologists have said.

City Administrator Laura Newman noted the city lost an opportunity to have the state pay to remove the dam about 20 years ago. As Batavians argued about whether to take the dam out, the state instead spent the money modifying the Glen Palmer Dam in Yorkville. Glen Palmer was converted to a stepped dam, and a white-water chute was added.

"I'm not sure we would get a third bite at that apple (state funding)," Newman said.

The state will not pay to repair the dam, city officials have said. State policy calls for removing low-head dams, deeming them dangerous. People who enter the water just below the dam can become stuck in the rolling "boil" and drown.

The dam was built in 1911 to provide power to the Challenge Windmill Factory, which was on the east bank of the river.

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