For almost a century, Fairbank Dam spanned the Des Plaines River from Riverside to Riverside Lawn a couple of hundred yards northeast of the Barrypoint bridge. But it took just four days for a demolition crew to jackhammer the concrete to pieces and scoop it out of the river.

After a year’s delay, demolition began on Jan. 31 and wrapped up Feb. 3. Construction fencing will remain up into spring, but equipment and debris will be removed from the area, which will be restored to its natural setting.

Removal of the Fairbank Dam was part of the first phase of an effort to remove three dams from the Des Plaines in order to restore the ecosystem, improve water quality, increase opportunities for recreation and ensure safety of those using the river.

In late 2011 and early 2012, demo crews removed the Armitage Dam, which was on the river north of North Avenue. The removal of the Fairbank Dam paves the way for phase two of the project, which includes notching the center 150 feet of the Hofmann Dam just southwest of the Barrypoint bridge and re-grading Swan Pond Park in Riverside.

The contractor for phase two of the project is in the final stages of work submittals, said Jeff Zuercher, project manager for the Army Corps of Engineers.

“You could see some activity in late February or early March,” said Zuercher, referring to preparations for beginning work in Swan Pond Park, which will happen first.

Zuercher said he does not expect the kinds of delays that plagued the beginning of phase one work.

“It should definitely move a lot quicker,” Zuercher said.

Early last week, a backhoe fitted with a jackhammer was in the river above the Fairbank Dam, smashing portions of the concrete dam into large chunks that were taken away on Thursday and Friday.

While all was going smoothly Wednesday, however, things got off to a rocky start on Tuesday morning. At first the contractor attempted to string a turbidity curtain across the work area by attaching one end to a tree and the other to the backhoe. The main purpose of the curtain was to keep sediment churned up by construction from migrating downstream.

But the velocity of the river flow snapped the steel cable holding the curtain, which caused a bit of commotion on shore.

Donald Spatny, an ardent opponent of the dam removal effort, reportedly confronted the work crew about the mishap and charged they were releasing harmful contaminants downstream.

“Whatever sediment is behind it will simply wash down the river and probably lodge in the Swan Pond basin or along the river downstream,” wrote Spatny in an email to the Landmark last Tuesday. “None of it will be trapped for removal.”

However, said Zuercher, the Army Corps of Engineers determined that the curtain was not needed to continue the work.

There was little to no sediment behind the Fairbank Dam, he said.

“It’s so shallow that there was no silt removal for this dam,” said Zuercher. “It’s all pebbles and sand. There’s little to no risk of silt being entrained in the water from the activities of the contractor.”

With weather cooperating and rains staying clear of the area last week, the Fairbank Dam demolition was complete within four days. Removal of the Armitage Dam took eight to 10 total working days, but was hampered by long stretches where no work was done because water levels rose too high.