The rumble of heavy equipment that residents along Fairbank Road in Riverside have been hearing for the past week or so means the long-awaited project to notch the Hofmann Dam has begun.
By April 18, crews were clear-cutting a wide path through the woods at the riverbank, while across the river in Lyons workers erected a plastic erosion fence and stockpiled stone to be used for bank stabilization.
On April 19, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' project manager for the operation, Jeff Zuercher, confirmed that the agency had received its dam removal permits and that the contractor hired to do the work, Elburn-based Illinois Constructors Corporation, had been given the green light to move forward.
"The contractor is good to go," said Zuercher. "They should be continuing to work from now on."
While some in the village are wary of the plan, at least one Fairbank Road resident, George Leamy, said he's "excited" about the dam removal. A kayaker, Leamy said he's looking forward to being able to launch his boat and paddle downstream without having to worry about the dam.
But, Donald Spatny, a Riverside resident who has opposed the entire project from the start, decried the removal of what he estimated to be 200 trees along the riverbank last week to clear the staging area along Fairbank Road.
"This is not a surgical strike, this is carpet bombing," Spatny told village trustees at their meeting on April 16. "Somebody in the village has got to watch this thing all the time."
One change from the original plan is that it appears the dam notching will take place prior to the regrading of Swan Pond Park. Initially, the Swan Pond work was to happen first, but that is still being held up by ComEd, said Riverside Village Manager Peter Scalera.
While a plan to move three utility poles to another spot in the park has been scrapped, ComEd still needs to re-bury a pair of power lines in the park. One leads toward Barrypoint Road, the other toward the train station.
But because the park will be completely regraded, those lines need to be buried deeper in the ground to accommodate the new drainage plan.
"The work will begin as soon as we get a date from ComEd to bury the cables," Scalera said.
The actual notching of the dam is not expected to commence, said Zuercher, until perhaps June. First, the contractor will be placing "toe stone" - the large rocks piled on the Lyons side and to be trucked into Riverside in the coming weeks - along the river's edge to stabilize the banks.
Until the dam is notched, said Zuercher, the toe stone will be under water. When the dam is finally notched, he said, the water channel will narrow and a portion of the toe stone will become visible. The mud flats exposed behind the toe stone when the water recedes will be planted over once the dam removal is complete.
It may take some time for the exposed banks to dry enough to allow work crews to go out and plant there, but Zuercher said the contractor likely won't wait long to get that work done.
"We're pushing the contractor that they do [the plantings] in a timely manner," Zuercher said.
Before the dam is notched, workers will place toe stone in the water along the Riverside bank of the river from the Fairbank Road access point east to the dam. That will entail cutting more trees along the bank in that direction. However, village officials have convinced the Army Corps to hold off on clearing the bank area west of the access point.
"We'll be able to save some of those trees and work in the newly exposed sediment area," said Zuercher. "The village wished to save those trees, so we wanted to honor their wish to do so."
When work does begin in Swan Pond Park, residents can expect the removal of a dozen mature trees that stand in the middle of the park and several more near the edges. The trees are being removed, said Zuercher, so that the park can be graded properly.
"We don't want to take trees down, but the goal is to get Swan Pond to drain," he said. "We don't want to leave this project without having success. We want the park to be a viable community resource."