Dam decision delayed for check on funding for alternates

Dam decision delayed for check on funding for alternates

DANVILLE — The city council will not be making a final decision next week on whether to remove two city-owned lowhead dams.

Mayor Scott Eisenhauer will not put on the city council's agenda Tuesday recommendations to remove the dam on the Vermilion River and the dam on the North Fork River in Ellsworth Park.

Eisenhauer said he is pulling the two items from consideration so he and city officials can possibly meet with Gov. Pat Quinn or Marc Miller, the director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, to discuss both dams prior to any final decision being made. Eisenhauer said Thursday afternoon that he has put in a request to meet with both.

He said he wants to discuss with them whether the state would be willing to pay for altering the dams to make them more safe for the general public rather than removing them entirely, an option that some local fishermen oppose.

"I want to see if those are realistic assumptions," said Eisenhauer, who has said publicly that he supports removing both dams, which is also what Natural Resources recommended the city do following a study that explored multiple options for making the dams more safe for the public and for improving the river's ecosystem. State officials maintain that removing the dams would be the most feasible and safer option.

The city, which owns the dams, formed a panel 10 years ago to decide what to do with the dams after a girl drowned after going over the dam on the Vermilion River just east of Memorial Bridge on South Gilbert Street in Danville. The panel recommended removing the dams as the best option, but the city did not have the funds to do that.

Last year, Quinn announced funding to remove more than a dozen lowhead dams, including the two in Danville, for public safety. Deaths have occurred in various parts of the state at lowhead dams, which are known as drowning machines due to a roller effect in the water just below the dam that can trap a person under water.

Officials with Natural Resources made it clear to the Danville council's public works committee Tuesday night that the money appropriated by the governor for dam safety is earmarked for dam removals. If the city chose to remove both dams, the work would be totally funded by the state.

But some aldermen on the public works committee do not support removing the dams and were interested in the more expensive options of altering the dam to make it more safe. Those options include a stair step slope or rock ramp on the downriver side of the dam, which would eliminate the vertical drop and the roller effect under the water. It would also retain the dam's pooling affect above the dam, which is fishermen want.

Some aldermen asked state officials at Tuesday's meeting whether the state money could be used to pay for alterations of the dam rather than removal. Natural Resources officials said the city can ask the governor to repurpose the funding, but currently, the money is earmarked for removals only.

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