Hearing set on removing dams in Danville

Hearing set on removing dams in Danville

DANVILLE — Opponents and supporters of the state's plan to remove two Danville river dams will finally get their chance to argue their points for the public record when the city holds a hearing next month.

The city of Danville owns the two dams that the Illinois Department of Natural Resources is recommending be removed for safety, liability and other reasons. City administration officials support removal because of three drowning deaths since 2005 at one of the dams, but some local fishermen are opposed to removal for fish habitat reasons.

Mayor Scott Eisenhauer said Tuesday that a hearing in April will soon be scheduled, and the hearing will be separate from a city council meeting and solely for the purpose of discussing the state's recommendations to partially remove the lowhead dam on the Vermilion River behind the Public Safety building, 2 E. South St. in downtown Danville, and fully remove the lowhead dam on the North Fork River in Ellsworth Park.

The state has studied five options for both dams, including partial removal, full removal, adding a stepped spillway, adding a rock ramp or doing nothing, and is recommending to the city that it partially remove the dam behind the Public Safety building and fully remove the Ellsworth dam.

Dennis Pentecost, president of the Illini Bass Club in Danville, plans to attend the hearing in opposition to the state's recommendations. He said he and other members of the fishing club, which has about 50 members, would rather see both dams left alone and "not touched at all."

He said removing them will harm the fish habitat in both rivers, because it will eliminate the deep pools of water that both dams create upstream and because Asian carp will migrate upstream from the Wabash River in Indiana. The Salt Fork, Middle Fork and North Fork rivers merge into the Vermilion River, which flows through Danville and then southeast into Indiana, where it joins the Wabash River at Cayuga, Ind.

Pentecost said he would rather see the dams be made safer through better marking, warning people of the danger. He said he believes safety is being used as an excuse to remove the dams. Pentecost said he understands there's a liability issue for the city, but he also believes the money that would be spent to remove the dams could be spent in better ways, like job creation, especially considering the state of the economy and the state government's own fiscal condition.

"I don't understand it," he said in reference to spending the money to remove the dams.

Pentecost said petitions against the removal of the dams are being circulated and will be turned over to Ann Wells, a local fisherman, who is also against removal of the dams and is spearheading a petition drive. Pentecost said the club voted at a recent meeting to support Wells' efforts against the dam removal, and the club will be holding a meeting to organize its opposition to the state's recommendations.

The dam on the Vermilion River has been the site of three drownings since 1995, and the Ellsworth Park dam has also been the site of drownings. Danville officials also support removing the dams, primarily for public safety and the safety of emergency personnel who respond to incidents like the most recent one, in July 2003, when four canoeists went over the Vermilion River dam. One of the four, 24-year-old Sandra Barnett, a University of Illinois graduate and Woodridge native, drowned.

According to state officials, the recommended partial and full removal of the dams will eliminate public safety liability concerns, restore ecological connectivity, partly because fish will be able to move upstream, and recreational use of the rivers will improve because boaters, like canoeists and kayakers, will be able to get downstream of the dams. And removal will eliminate the city's future dam maintenance costs.

IDNR would handle the design and bidding process for removal of the dams and supervise and pay for construction at both dams. The city's responsibility would be to obtain any local permits and land rights necessary to do the work, pay for any utility re-locations and any enhancements requested by the city.

Dam alternatives

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources has considered five alternatives for the Danville dam on the Vermilion River in downtown Danville and the Ellsworth Park dam.
The following shows the department’s estimated cost of each alternative and the impacts of each, including public safety and fish passage.
The state is recommending the partial removal option at the Danville dam and full removal at the Ellsworth Park dam. Full or partial removal are both less costly than creating a step spillway or rock ramp, and are the only two options that restore public safety, according to the IDNR report.
  Alternative Danville Dam costs Ellsworth Park dam costs Combined costs  Removes pool* Public safety Safe canoe passage Fish passage  Acres of easements  Tree removal acres
  Full removal $1,464,300 $275,500 $1,739,800 Yes Restored Yes Restored 0 0.52
  Partial removal $1,832,000 $198,900 $2,030,900 Yes Restored Yes Restored 0 0.52
  Stepped spillway $3,725,600 $1,043,100 $4,768,700 No Improved Portage Improved 60 2.52
  Rock ramp $2,706,700 $1,080,400 $3,787,100 No Improved Portage Improved 34 2.52
  Do nothing $0 $0 $0 No None No None 0 0

*Both dams create a pool of deeper water upstream of the structures that, in the case of the Danville dam, allows larger boats to navigate the river upstream of the dam.

Source: Illinois Department of Natural Resources 2013 report on Danville Dam and Ellsworth Park Dam Modifications Strategic Planning Study
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Sid Saltfork wrote on March 20, 2013 at 10:03 am

The removal would make it easier for the canoeists, kayakers, and Asian Carp.  Of course, the Asian Carp would eliminate the natural fish species.  The thought of canoeists, and kayakers paddling through Asian Carp is funny though.  Gee.... a hiking, and bicycle trail from Urbana to Danville; and an accessible river without the need to portage canoes, and kayaks would really be nice for a few people.  People would not have to read signs like "DANGER" either.  There would be the need for rest facilities; and a few places to buy water, and granola bars.  

Where is the money coming from?  Obviously, it is coming from state municipal grants.  Sure.... the State of Illinois is broke; and cannot pay it's debts ....... sure.....   

yates wrote on March 20, 2013 at 4:03 pm

This is one time I can agree with Sid. But when you look at the dollar columes it will come down to leaving the dams alone or completely removing them. The blue breasted darter supposedly was one of the states reasons for killing the Middlefork Lake project. I guess Asian Carp displacing all the fish in the system is fine though.

Sid Saltfork wrote on March 20, 2013 at 4:03 pm

Yates;  We do have somethings in common.  In my attempt to pass as a gentleman, I should say thank you.  

Thank you, Mr. Yates.

ilpatriot wrote on March 21, 2013 at 4:03 am

All this talk about Asian carp leaves out one important fact.....rivers flood. An article published in February states that the dam is 11 feet high. 


After looking at historical data I have come to a conclusion. The Asian carp can just swim over the dam.

Historical Crests
(1) 31.56 ft on 04/13/1994
(2) 28.59 ft on 03/13/1939
(3) 27.09 ft on 05/19/1943
(4) 26.95 ft on 02/11/1959
(5) 26.30 ft on 02/07/2008

As recently as April 28 2011 the river was at 19.69 ft. Granted the river gauge is a little ways downriver, but you get the picture.