Riverside’s village board on Wednesday night set the stage for phase two of the Hofmann Dam removal project, granting a pair of easements to the Army Corps of Engineers and Illinois Department of Natural Resources so they can access land along the Des Plaines River and in Swan Pond Park as part of that effort.

Calling it a “once in a lifetime opportunity,” Village President Michael Gorman said the project represents hundreds of thousands of federal and state dollars that will directly benefit Riverside as well improve the waterway that gives the village its name.

The entire scope of project includes the removal of three dams along the Des Plaines River, including two adjacent to Riverside and a comprehensive improvement to Swan Pond Park. Some $7.69 million has been set aside for the project – $5 million from the federal government and $2.69 million from the state.

“The board has quite correctly been focused on how this project impacts the village of Riverside … how it impacts the safety and serenity of our residents, our heritage and the beauty of our village,” said Gorman.

“This represents a significant grant of money to the village of Riverside,” Gorman added. “We could not have repaired that river wall or regraded Swan Pond. … I’ll proffer that many hundreds of thousands of dollars of that is a direct benefit to the village of Riverside.”

Since the grant funding was secured during the summer of 2010, village officials have been meeting with IDNR and Army Corps officials and have been fielding questions and concerns about the project from residents and community organizations such as the Frederick Law Olmsted Society.

The plans for the removal of the Fairbank Dam, the notching of the Hofmann Dam and the improvements to Swan Pond Park have continued to evolve over time and are still being finalized.

On Monday, bids for phase two of the project – notching the center 150 feet of the Hofmann Dam and regrading Swan Pond Park – will be opened. The Army Corps expects to award a construction contract on Sept. 30. Construction could begin as early as spring 2012.

Meanwhile, the delay-plagued phase one of the project is finally beginning. Work related to the removal of the Armitage Dam, located on the river north of North Avenue in River Grove, has started. Once that dam is removed, likely in October, workers will begin staging equipment for the removal of the Fairbank Dam adjacent to Swan Pond Park in Riverside.

The dam will be removed by a crew working in the river itself. Debris will be removed via the Lyons side of the Des Plaines.

Riverside resident Donald Spatny, who has been a vocal critic of the project, again questioned water flow projections provided by the Army Corps of Engineers and predicted disaster.

“I wish I could believe in a good outcome, but I can’t,” Spatny said, reading from a prepared statement. “I cannot share your enthusiasm for this project or the way it has been designed – without benefit of architect or landscape architect. I abhor the results this will bring to the precious Swan Pond. I believe you will discover, too late, what you have done.”

But trustees disagreed, saying that by partnering with the Army Corps and IDNR, Riverside will receive benefits that otherwise would have been impossible. The project was going to move ahead with or without Riverside’s cooperation, said officials.

“I think that by our involvement we have gotten a pretty good deal for Riverside,” said Trustee Lonnie Sacchi who, along with Trustee James Reynolds, spearheaded the village’s negotiations with state and federal officials.

“Riverside’s choice was to cooperate and be collaborative with the project and achieve some benefits, or we could’ve said, go do it on the other side and Riverside would have received no benefits,” said Sacchi.

John Mach, president of the Hofmann Dam River Rats, an organization that has advocated for the removal of Hofmann Dam for more than a dozen years, also hailed the project.

“We’re grateful that this is finally coming to something that’s going to happen,” Mach said. “We think this is going to be a benefit not only to Riverside, but a benefit to the communities upstream and downstream, both. … We have the confidence that we’re going in the right direction and doing the right thing.”