There has been much speculation about the plans to remove the Hoffman Dam and the Fairbanks Dam. Much rhetoric has been bandied about without complete knowledge of all the facts and, as a result, the hyperbole has been rampant. Village Manager Scalera, Public Works Director Bailey, Forester Collins, Trustee Sacchi, and myself have been carefully monitoring the progress of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the Army Corps of Engineers on this project. We have also been included as liaisons for the design process as the project proceeds.
There are two prime reasons that I, personally, am in favor of the dam removal and bank restoration. Of prime importance is the issue of public safety. Many lives have been lost due to the inescapable boil at the base of the Hoffman Dam. Not only is this a danger to boaters and recreation participants on the Des Plaines River, but also to the men and women of our Fire and Police Departments that are charged with the emergency rescue services we provide. Second is the fact that the conventional wisdom across the country indicates that dam removal is a mandate for a healthier river. The IDNR Streams Biologist, Steve Pescitelli has informed us that the species diversity upstream of the dam is at least four times less than downstream.
The design of the Hoffman Dam notching has begun, and as the specifics of that plan are developed they will be shared with our community. Village staff, Trustee Sacchi and myself will be monitoring this progress and reporting what we learn.
It is also important to note that the liabilities for structures like Hoffman Dam have long ago been passed on to the state as local agencies, including the village, sought ways to avoid liability costs.
One of the original purposes of the dam was to cover and reduce the stench created by sewage discharges into the river that was apparent in times of low water. With improvements in sewage treatment over the past several decades, these purposes no longer outweigh the negative consequences of the dams.
Some comments have suggested that the river may dry up in times of low water, to the point where a person might be able to “step across the river”. “This condition apparently occurred in 1953 during a drought period when the Riverside gage recorded a low flow of only 50 cubic feet per second. This flow could result in conditions where the river could be stepped over. Today a review of the flow statistics at the Riverside gage suggests that such a low flow would be unlikely to occur due to the increased treatment plant effluent.and runoff. This increased effluent is attributed to increased population, and to Lake Michigan water diversion to communities in the watershed upstream of the dams. The increased runoff is due to more and more land being covered with concrete.
Yes, there will be a time during the transition when the exposed riverbanks will be unsightly. The land that has been underwater for decades will not appear as it once did nor will it return to that condition without assistance. It has been stated that, per the original report, only 200 feet of bank will be restored, but that figure has been revised to extend a minimum of 1,000 to 2,000 feet upstream, with the attendant monitoring over three years for the healthy establishment of these plants which would have likely existed in the past. The project also includes restoration measures to remove that portion of the sediment that may otherwise erode and pass downstream. It will not be dewatered on site, as previously thought, but be removed wet to speed the process.
Finally through the combined efforts the IDNR, the USACE, and our staff, we are looking at the possibility of accomplishing the work with access from the south bank to minimize traffic over the bridge, and disruption to our residents. This will of course depend on the cooperation of the Forest Preserve District and the Village of Lyons, which we are currently seeking.
It is also important to note that all these plans are the culmination of over 10 years of ideas, considerations, and hard work on behalf of all the agencies involved.
James D. Reynolds
Reynolds is a Riverside village trustee
-This letter has been edited for space considerations.