Almost nine months after crews first began chipping away at the Fairbank Dam on the Des Plaines River back in late January, the Hofmann Dam removal project will largely wrap up this week, according to village officials and the U.S Army Corps of Engineers.
On Friday, Oct. 12, workers sprayed a mixture of grass seed and a sea-foam green mulch material onto re-graded, exposed earth in Swan Pond Park, while another crew laid an asphalt path along the Des Plaines River from the Barrypoint Road bridge all the way to the top of the hill leading to Burling Road.
Workers on Monday planted trees throughout Swan Pond Park, while operations on the river itself were nearly complete.
The village had planned on celebrating the completion of the dam removal project on Monday in a ribbon-cutting ceremony featuring Gov. Pat Quinn. However, due to conflicts in the governor’s schedule, that ceremony has been postponed, according to Village Manager Peter Scalera.
Scalera said the hope is to hold the ceremony prior to the end of October.
“It was a long project, but I’m very satisfied with the outcome,” said Scalera on Monday afternoon.
According to Jeff Zuercher, project manager for the Army Corps of Engineers, some work will need to be completed next spring on both sides of the riverbank upstream from the former dam.
The Army Corps had hoped shrubs could be planted this year, but that work was delayed due to the discovery, and subsequent removal, of the century-old, horseshoe-shaped “legacy” dam behind the 1950-era Hofmann Dam.
The additional work meant that gravel and timber access roads, built on either side of the river to facilitate the dam removal, stayed in several weeks longer than anticipated, delaying the replanting of the banks.
In the meantime, said Zuercher, the banks have been covered with seeds that will serve as a temporary cover for the banks.
The Army Corps is also awaiting the delivery of top soil, which will be laid as soon as possible, at the site of the construction headquarters area in Riverside Lawn, the construction access road on Fairbank Road and along the sides of the walking path in Swan Pond Park.
As for the rest of the heavy lifting, “everything should be wrapped up by Oct. 19 if everything goes well,” said Zuercher.
There were a couple of last-minute changes to the project in Swan Pond Park. One was a request by the village of Riverside to substitute the natural “cover crop” for the re-graded area of the park itself.
The contract called for a “cover crop” consisting of native plants that would have provided uneven coverage of the area. The village, which would like to use that wide open area for recreation programs, such as soccer, wanted grass seed planted in that area.
As a result, the village paid about $5,000 for the grass seed and mulch mixture that was sprayed onto the ground late last week. According to Scalera, Riverside will be reimbursed by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources for that expense. The labor for applying the seed/mulch mixture was borne by the Army Corps.
The other tweak to the plan involved the asphalt walking path, which was narrowed to 4 feet wide from the bridge to a small plaza area by the curving WPA wall in the park. The path north of the plaza to Burling Road is 6 feet wide.
A 4-foot path makes it difficult for two people to walk side by side on it or for two people passing each other to both remain on the path. But Trustee Lonnie Sacchi, one of the village’s point people for the project, said the narrower path approximates what was there before.
“Let’s face it, there’s not a lot of traffic down there,” said Sacchi. “We hashed it out and decided that was best.”
The heavy rains over the weekend, also gave the Army Corps some idea of how the drainage system on Swan Pond Park is working. While the river didn’t get high enough to flood, there were some low areas within the regraded part of the park that pooled with water.
According to Zuercher, the fact that there is no grass in those areas probably contributed to the pooling. But he said crews were “checking those areas out to make sure they’re OK.”
Sacchi, who said he had plenty of misgivings about the project before it started, said he’s proud of the finished product, adding that “we got 90 percent of what we wanted.”
The village fought to get additional work done in Swan Pond Park, said Sacchi, sometimes appealing to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and state legislators to help sway the Army Corps to come around.
“It was like pulling teeth, the whole project,” said Sacchi.
But the final product, he said, is close to what he had in mind – approximating the views seen in 1942 photos of Swan Pond shortly after the original WPA walls were built.
“That’s what we were shooting for, and we got pretty darn close,” said Sacchi.