Voters to Weigh in on Future of Batavia Dam Some Residents Want It to Stay; Researchers Say It's Bad for the River

Article excerpt

Byline: Alicia Fabbre Daily Herald Staff Writer

On the surface, there is really no reason for the north Batavia dam.

It no longer is used to produce energy as it once did for a saw and grist mill. And, as state officials have said, it's not needed for flood control.

But the nearly 175-year-old dam remains - and is generating debate over its future.

Batavia voters will be asked April 1 if the Batavia dam should stay or go. State officials already have plans in place to remove the crumbling dam, but a group of Batavia residents is hoping an advisory referendum can save the dam and the landscape that goes with it.

"Our entire city was built around the river in its current shape," said Darek Smorczewski of the Keep the Batavia Dam committee.

"It's part of our roots," added Carol Leppert, who lives in the RiverRain apartments near the dam.

And while the two are hopeful an advisory referendum will save the dam, others aren't so sure plans that were approved last year will change. Officials with the state's department of natural resources said they would reconsider the issue, but only if city officials asked them to. A vote to keep the dam through the advisory referendum wouldn't automatically mean a change in plans, they said.

The city council voted last July to allow the state to remove the dam. If the results of the referendum don't affect the council's stance on the matter, "We would see no reason to change ours," said Arlan Juhl, acting division manager of planning for the Illinois Department of Department of Natural Resources.

State officials and others who support removing the dam said getting rid of the spillway will return at least a portion of the Fox River to a free-flowing waterway. Supporters also say that if the dam is left in it will only be a matter of time before the forces of nature wash it away. By removing it now, state officials say, they can address issues like saving Depot Pond and making sure that the riverbanks don't become mudflats.

"It's really not a question of if it should be removed," said Dan Lobbes, a Batavia resident who also works for the Conservation Foundation "It's more of a question of do we remove it in a planned manner or do we let the river take it?"

The dam already has been repaired once in the 1990s when the city tried to plug a hole in it. City officials turned to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources when the dam breached again. Last July, after much debate, the council voted to have the state agency remove the dam.

"I don't think it will affect the city," Mayor Jeff Schielke said.

But those who want to keep the dam fear removing it will transform the Fox River into a small creek surrounded by muddy riverbanks.

"The Fox River is the reason I moved to Batavia," Smorczewski said. "The beauty and recreational opportunities of the Fox River in its current wide, flowing shape is a priceless asset for Batavia."

Officials from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Office of Water Resources admit the river likely will shrink to about 300 feet in width, roughly half of its current width, if the dam is removed. …