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Yorkville alderman opposed to removing Blackberry Creek dam

Updated: March 8, 2012 8:22AM

YORKVILLE — Aldermen this week turned down an agreement with the state to remove the old Blackberry Creek dam, saying they had questions about the project.

But the move, a 7-1 vote against joining in an agreement with the state Department of Natural Resources and the Yorkville Bristol Sanitary District to remove the dam, has created even more questions.

One of those questions is whether keeping the old dam would affect fixing the currently closed River Road bridge, which last year was considered an emergency situation.

City, Kendall County and Illinois Department of Transportation officials pushed the bridge replacement project to the forefront, securing funding over other projects previously ahead of it on the state’s five-year plan. State Rep. Tom Cross, R-Oswego, intervened on behalf of Yorkville to get the city a favorable payback situation with IDOT so the city could afford its share of the project.

Some city officials said this week they fear if the dam project affects the bridge project, it could push the timing back and the bridge work could lose its funding. If the city had joined in the agreement, its part of the project would have been to start clearing the banks March 18 in preparation of the state’s removal of the dam.

“If we miss the deadline, there is a chance of losing funding for the bridge in future years,” said Jeff Freeman, city engineer.

Officials said the two projects might be linked because one of the bridge abutments is connected to a segment of the dam. It was a widening of a crack in that abutment that forced the state to close the bridge.

On Wednesday, city officials were trying to determine whether the Department of Natural Resources could remove the dam anyway, without Yorkville’s participation.

In most situations, the state wants a local partner in a project that has local benefits. Without Yorkville’s help, the state could just kill the dam project altogether.

But the Yorkville Bristol Sanitary District already has signed the agreement, and could be considered the local partner to keep the project alive.

The council’s refusal to join the agreement was prompted by questions from aldermen. The main one, said Alderman Carlo Colosimo, 1st Ward, was if the dam needs to be removed at all.

According to the state, the answer is yes. The dam has no function anymore. There is no hydroelectric power generated by it, and it is not running a mill, as it did at one point in the last 175 years of its existence.

The Department of Natural Resources said the dam actually is an impediment to water quality. Removing it would, in effect, create a cleaner flow from the Fox River into Blackberry Creek, creating a better environment for fish and fish spawning.

For that reason, the state has made it a policy to begin removing unnecessary, old dams in the Fox River and throughout the state.

“Water quality will improve with the dam gone,” Freeman said.

Freeman and Public Works Director Eric Dhuse said the state considers the danger “imminent.” That means they cannot say whether the dam would survive. And if the dam disintegrated or was damaged during a flood, it could hurt the new River Road bridge, state officials said.

The agreement did not commit the city to a specific amount of money.

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