A project to remove the Fairbank Dam on the Des Plaines River, which was supposed to have started this winter, is being delayed due to a work plan submitted by the contractor to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

The state and federal agencies are not satisfied with the work plan submitted by Kovalic Construction, the Franklin Park-based firm awarded the $500,000 contract to remove the dam, which spans the river from the southern end of Swan Pond Park in Riverside to Riverside Lawn.

Arlan Juhl, manager of the division of planning at the IDNR’s Office of Water Resources, told the Landmark last week that Kovalic’s plan includes creating a “coffer dam” – sheets of metal driven into the river to isolate an area and remove the water – around the Fairbank Dam.

However, Juhl said, with the winter’s low-water season slipping away and spring rains a threat, officials are leery of that plan.

“As we looked at it, if there are high flows, it could create further flooding and impact some houses,” Juhl said.

That impact would be felt south of the river in Riverside Lawn, Juhl said.

“They needed to modify that plan to protect houses outside the project’s right of way,” Juhl said.

According to Juhl, Kovalic has said the company can remove the coffer dam with 72 hours’ notice. The Army Corps of Engineers is assessing whether or not the agencies can provide an adequate flood forecast for Kovalic.

But the agencies remain uncomfortable with a request from the contractor, which essentially shifts the burden of responsibility onto them.

“[Kovalic] is making this project more complicated than what was designed,” Juhl said.

The dam removal project was to have started during winter when water is low. The initial plan did not include a coffer dam, Juhl said.

“The contract was awarded without sheet piling, with the presumption that they were going to go in there with the water at whatever depth and remove the dam,” Juhl said.

Juhl added that the IDNR and Army Corps don’t have an issue with the use of a coffer dam per se.

“We’re not opposed to it as long as it does not create other problems,” Juhl said. “So far they have not been able to promise that.”

He expects a resolution to the problem by April 1. When work might start after that is unclear.

“Work will be driven by what the flows are,” Juhl said. “The contractor will be able to work whenever the flow conditions are right to meet his needs.”