Dam-removal issue pushed downstream
DANVILLE — The only thing decided Tuesday night during a public hearing on whether to remove two city-owned river dams was to hold another public hearing on the issue.
Aldermen also delayed for another month any votes on removing the dams — an action supported by city administration for liability and public-safety reasons and recommended by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
Gov. Pat Quinn launched and funded an initiative last year to remove lowhead dams like the two city-owned dams for public-safety reasons because of drownings at such dams across the state. The dam on the Vermilion River in Danville has been the site of three drownings since 1995, and they have also occurred near the dam on the North Fork River in Ellsworth Park in Danville.
Alderman Bill Black said the public hearing held during the city council's meeting Tuesday night does not meet his definition of a true public hearing, and he proposed another hearing be held at a "neutral site" like Danville Area Community College with a "neutral moderator." Eight people came to the council meeting at city hall Tuesday to speak at the dam-removal hearing; none spoke in favor of removal.
In April, nearly 100 people attended an open-house-style public meeting on the issue at the David S. Palmer Arena. Most of the audience was against removal, many of them fishermen worried about the effects on fishing above the dams. Some were in favor of removal, including the parent of a girl who drowned at one of the dams.
At that meeting, state officials gave a 45-minute presentation on their months of research and study on the effects of removing both dams. They said removal would lower the depth of both rivers upstream of the dams to about 2 miles upstream on the Vermilion River, but won't affect the Middle Fork, which is 12 miles upstream.
The issue has been on the city council's agenda several times since then, and the topic has never attracted nearly as much attention as the April meeting.
Alderman Rickey Williams Jr. proposed delaying a Dec. 17 vote on the issue because he will be out of town then and wants to be able to vote against removal, but he did not support holding another hearing.
By voice vote, the majority of aldermen agreed to delay a vote on the issue until the Jan. 7 city council meeting, allowing Williams to vote. Afterward, Mayor Scott Eisenhauer said he would work with Black to schedule another hearing at a neutral site with a neutral moderator.
Eisenhauer said Black already suggested a moderator, but did not disclose that person's name, because Black has not yet asked the person.