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Forest Preserve hires firm for Hammel Woods dam removal

4/14/2019, 9:58 p.m.
The Forest Preserve District of Will County's Board of Commissioners voted Thursday, April 11, on two measures that are designed ...

The Forest Preserve District of Will County's Board of Commissioners voted Thursday, April 11, on two measures that are designed to lead to the removal Hammel Woods dam in Shorewood.

The board approved a contract with WBK Engineering LLC and a memorandum of understanding with the Lower DuPage River Watershed Coalition WBK will be paid $104,100 to create a Phase II engineering plan detailing how the dam should be removed. The contract also requires the company to obtain the required dam removal permits from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The permits must be issued before any actual dam removal work can begin.

The memorandum spells out how the coalition will pay for Phase II engineering.

Coalition created

The Hammel Woods dam was built in the 1930s by Civilian Conservation Corps workers. The 4-foot-high concrete and limestone dam was built to create a pool of water for recreational purposes during a time when the DuPage River had a much lower volume of water than it does now.

In the 1980s, the Forest Preserve commissioned a study on the dam to see how it could be improved or removed. There was public resistance to removal for sentimental and aesthetic reasons, so the Forest Preserve Board moved forward with safety improvements to the site, including a portage around the dam for boaters, as well as dam repairs.

In 2003, The Conservation Foundation studied five dams along the river, including the Hammel Woods dam. The study was designed to improve the ecology of the river. The study concluded that removal of the Hammel Woods dam would allow aquatic species to move upstream and also improve safety. In 2011, the foundation completed a two-year watershed-based plan for the DuPage River, which led to the creation of the The Lower DuPage River Watershed Coalition in 2012.

The coalition's goal is to preserve and enhance water quality in the river and its tributaries. The coalition also looks for ways to help communities along the river comply with more stringent EPA requirements related to wastewater treatment plants discharging into the river. The Forest Preserve District joined the coalition, which is made up mostly of municipalities that discharge into the river, ranging from Bolingbrook in the north to Channahon in the south.

In 2017, the coalition paid for a study of the pros and cons of either modifying or removing the Hammel Woods dam. Dam removal was recommended, but the amount of funding needed was not yet available to move forward with the plan.

Funding now available

In February 2019, the City of Naperville received a new wastewater discharge permit from the EPA and as part of that process, it had to pay fees to the coalition for river-related enhancements. That money was earmarked for the Hammel Woods dam removal.

In March the Forest Preserve brought the memorandum of understanding to the coalition and it was approved and signed by the coalition's board. Later in March, Forest Preserve staff began the process to bring the agreement and the Phase II engineering contract to the District's Board in April.

Once the Phase II engineering is complete, and the required removal permits have been obtained, the Forest Preserve Board will have to vote again on a contract for removal. The estimated cost for dam removal is $585,000. This work also would be funded by the coalition.

Removal of the dam would improve the river's ecology and water quality. It also would return the river to its natural state, and eliminate the need for paddlers to portage around the site, creating a safer and healthier river for everyone.

While there were objections in the past to removal of the dam for sentimental reasons, that no longer seems to be the case, said Andrew Hawkins, the Forest Preserve's director of planning and development.

"Now people seem to recognize the environmental, health and safety benefits of removing the dam," he said.