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North Avenue Dam Removal

Dam Project Case Study in Illinois

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Project Overview

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Project Title:North Avenue Dam Removal
Building Type:Dams

Project Description:

Dams, Road[s], Demolition, Excavating & Grading The Existing Structure Across The River, Approximately 364 Feet Long From Abutment To Abutement, Consists Of A Concrete Ogee Section And Horizontal Stilling Basin Slab With An End Sill. Removal Of The Concrete Dam Section And The Possible Re-Use Of The Concrete Rubble In Front Of The Dam In The Stilling Basin And Any Scoured Areas Next To The Basin. Construction Will Include Tree Removal And Clearing, Erection Of Sediment And Erosion Control Devices, The Installation Of A Stone Haul Road On Land And In The River, Cofferdams If Required, Traffic Control And Protection And Site Restriction.

My name is Charlie Zine. I Live in Aurora and wear several hats as far as this dam removal project goes. I am and was at the time of the project, a member of the Aurora Riverwalk Commission, an appointed body that is attempting to build a riverwalk on both banks of the Fox River, as well as around Stolp Island, in downtown Aurora. The North Ave Dam is just downstream of `downtown` Aurora.

I am also the co-founder (with former Chicago Bears Tackle, and Aurora resident and businessman, Kurt Becker) of the Pigeon Hill Paddlers, a local group of kayakers who frequently paddle on the Fox River.

The City of Aurora applied to have the North Ave Dam removed in order to meet, in a cost effective manner, the requirement to create Compensatory Storage which was required as a condition of the license granted to Hollywood Casino. The Compensatory Storage would offset the volume of water displaced by the Casino Barge located above the dams in downtown Aurora.

Hollywood Casino contributed $100,000 towards the cost of this project.

The project never advanced however during the 8 year term of Mayor David Stover. Stover seemed more concerned with not spending tax dollars than with removing the Dam.

When Tom Weisner was selected Mayor (the first time), he and I spoke about several projects related to the Fox River. As a Fox River paddling advocate, I had recognized that Aurora could never be the starting place for paddle trips downstream to Oswego or Yorkville, as long as the two dams at North Ave and Montgomery remained in place and were not removed or modified. Tom asked why we had not removed the North Ave Dam, if it was already permitted and the money was in the bank. I told him that the $100,000 was not the entire cost, which was estimated to be about $500,000. His response was: "Charlie the City budget is about $300 Million, lets just take it out." With that comment, the City began the process in earnest to remove the dam.

I attended one meeting which was held on the North Ave Bridge just south of, and overlooking the Dam itself. Present at this meeting were Engineers from the City of Aurora and their engineering consultants, and the State of Illinois (a woman whose name escapes me). As I approached the meeting in process, I was challenged and tolds this was a private meeting. One of the Engineers recognized me and identified me as a Riverwalk Commissioner and I was allowed to remain. (the secrecy was in response to the divisive fight, then brewing, over the Batavia Dam removal, and a strong desire to avoid a similiar confrontation in Aurora).

The most significant result of this initial meeting was an easing of requirements normally called for with such a project, specifically, a coffer dam. When it was asked why this should be omitted, one of the Engineers stated that various reasons such as the small size of the dam, the shallow level of the river there, their alternative plan to install a `turbidity curtain across the entire channel below the dam, as well as allowing he upstream pool to dewater for a week after breaching the dam near the thalwag. In addition, Construction equipment was inspected and cleaned daily to prevent leaking fliuds from getting into the river. Since there was no rebar inthe Dam, it was further agreed that the dam itself could be crushed and used as fill in the stilling bain at the toe of the dam. All stone for the temporary access road would also be removed at he end of the project. But it was also stated that Aurora was undertakin this project on its own,without any State funding, becasue it was the right thing to do. It it was going ot be too expensive, they just might drop the whole effort.

These concessions allowed the dam remvoal to actually come in under budget at about $421,200 from the contractor, Lakes and Rivers Inc., and the entire job was done in about 2 to 3 months, although it only took about 2 or 3 weeks to remove the dam itself.

As a side note, I was driving over the north Avenue Dam when the dam itself was breached by the single piece of construction equipment used in the project. I called a kayaking friend of mine and within the hour, we had put our kayaks in above the dam and paddled through the breach (the crew had just completed work for the day). This was actually captured by a photographer and a color photo of us paddling through the dam appeared on the front page of the Aurora Beacon News the next day.

As a paddler and an environmentalist (I am now the Chairman of he Valley of he Fox Group of the Sierra Club), I am very happy that Mayor Tom Weisner acted so quickly and courageously (in light of the Batavia conflict)on this issue.

One of the arguments against the removal of the North Avenue Dam was that doing so, would result in the river bed drying up in downtown Aurora which would lead to a terrible odor. I am happy to report that the river has not dried up in downtown although, being the Fox, it does get low in midsummer, which is a common characteristic of the entire Fox River.

I also will note that the site of the former today, is a testimonial to dam remvoal. While it is true that the water level at the dam site is lower, now, there always is a deep water channel allowing passage of canoes and kayaks. The shallow water also offers an opportunity to witness the riverbed itself. The silt that was present when the dam was in plave, is now gone and the stoney bottom is cearly visible, a condition much more in keeping with the pre-dam conditions in the first place.

With North Ave Dam gone, we are now focusing on the Montgomery Dam and working towards its removal. Like the North Avenue Dam, it is one of the Few Fox River dams that was NOT built to generate electricity for a nearby mill or factory. (The North Ave Dam was built to raise water levels in downtown Aurora while the Montgomery Dam was championed and by Les McCullough one of he founders of hte Fox Valley Park District, as a component of the long abandoned "Stratton Plan" a scheme to build dams and locks from the Chain of Lakes to the Illinois River.)

I have color photos of the dam being removed it someone would like to see them.

Original Estimated Project Cost:   $421500

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Project Participants

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Project Location

Country:United States
Address:North Ave. Dam
Aurora, IL 60507
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