DANVILLE — Later this month, the Danville City Council will decide what, if anything, to do about two city-owned lowhead dams that the state has recommended removing for public safety and environmental reasons.
The decision, which could entail doing nothing, or altering the dams or removing them altogether, has been a controversial issue, partly because some local fishermen oppose full removal and maintain that it would harm fishing in the pools upstream of the dams.
Danville Mayor Scott Eisenhauer said he received on Thursday the state's final report on the two lowhead dams, and their recommendations to remove both have not changed.
Although the state recommends removal and would pay for the work with dollars already appropriated through a statewide initiative to remove lowhead dams across the Illinois, the final decision rests with the Danville council, because the city owns both structures.
Eisenhauer said city administration will come up with a recommendation next week that's based on the state's report and recommendations, and that recommendation will be taken to the city council's public works committee on Sept. 10 and the full city council on Sept. 17.
Eisenhauer said he does not know yet if the city administration's recommendation will be the same as the state's recommendation.
Eisenhauer has publicly stated his preference to remove the dams for public safety reasons, and he led the effort almost 10 years ago to form a committee to consider the dams after a fatal accident in July 2003 when four canoeists went over the Vermilion River dam.
One of the four canoeists, 24-year-old Sandra Barnett, a University of Illinois graduate and Woodridge native, drowned before rescuers could get to the dam, which is not easily accessible because of a steep 50-foot bank on the north side of the dam and a wooded, undeveloped flood plain with no vehicle access on the south side. The other three canoeists were teenage girls from Champaign-Urbana.
The foursome took a canoe trip down the Middlefork River in Kickapoo State Park but floated several miles beyond their take-out spot and went over the lowhead dam, where both canoes capsized. One of the teens made it to the bank and ran for help, and rescuers were able to pull the other two teens to safety.
There have also been incidents at the Ellsworth Park dam, which is upstream from where the North Fork merges with the Vermilion River.
Earlier this year, the city held a public meeting in which the state presented the various options for both dams and its research into the impact of the options on safety, fishing and local habitat.
The four options at both dams are full removal, partial removal, or creation of a stepped spillway on the drop side of the dam, or creation of a rock ramp on the drop side. The last two options would eliminate the drop that creates a roller effect in the water below the dam that makes it very difficult for a person to escape if they go over the dam.
According to the state, removal or partial removal would be the most cost-effective option and would benefit fish habitat, because it will increase the number of fish that can move up and down the rivers to spawn, and it will open up about 175 miles of streams and channels throughout the Salt Fork and Middle Fork river system for fish to migrate upstream from the Wabash River in Indiana.
But local fishermen have argued that the dams will eliminate the pooling effect that creates deeper water upstream of the dams and eliminating that would be detrimental to the fish habitat. The state confirmed that the depth of the river above the dams would be more shallow, which would reduce or eliminate the ability for fishermen to use their motorized boats to access the Vermilion River above the dam.