Friday, June 09, 2006

Damming the Fox

The consensus is dams can be dangerous and bad for the environment, but some communities are dead set against demolishing them because they're as much a part of daily life as schools, stores and other local institutions.

The latter is precisely the case in Yorkville, where Illinois officials last week announced the start of a long-planned $2.7 million project to rebuild the Glen D. Palmer dam. The announcement came just five days after three men drowned at the base of the 530-foot-wide structure. (source: Chicago Sun Times 6/5/06)
At least 16 people have died at this Yorkville dam since it was constructed in 1960 as part of the ill-conceived and ill-starred Stratton Project, which would have subordinated all interests to that of pleasure craft owners (the idea was to make the Fox River navigable by pleasure craft from the Chain of Lakes to the Illinois River).

The Friends of the Fox River organization weighs in on the plan to rebuild the dam:
Local public opinion seems to have played an overly important part in deciding to rebuild the dam. While it’s important to solicit local input on the fate of the dam, that input should have been balanced by soliciting input from other stakeholders in the Fox River watershed as every resident within the watershed is impacted by factors affecting the health of the river. The dam is owned by the IDNR Office of Water Resources, not the City of Yorkville and as such is state property. We, as citizens of the Fox River watershed and the State of Illinois, rely on the IDNR to make sound decisions for all of us in regard to protecting our resources. When they bend to local public pressure, as they appear to have done in this case, we should hold them accountable. We, as taxpayers, are being asked to foot the bill to rebuild a dam that is detrimental to our natural resources in deference to the opinions of a committee representing only one community. (source: Tom Schrader, Friends of the Fox River 6/4/06)
The recent drownings are unlikely to prevent the rebuilding of the Glen Palmer dam, but it may energize the anti-dam movement. The task that lies ahead for the Friends of the Fox is to educate and convince the people of the Fox Valley that these dams are indeed harmful and that the benefits of a free-flowing river outweigh the aesthetic benefits of a dam. This ought to be one of the primary goals--if not the primary goal--of their organization.

This isn't an easy task by any means and will require careful planning and at least 5-10 years of regular educational programming, such as public lectures, before a sufficiently large base of support can be built. My guess is that currently in any Fox Valley community dam supporters outnumber dam opponents by a hefty margin, probably 2-1. Moving this ratio to 1-1 will have to precede any serious attempt to remove a dam. I really doubt the IDNR would do anything that a local community would oppose. But if the community is split evenly between those in favor and against, then local politicians and the governor's office will be neutralized, and the IDNR can act.


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