The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

January 8, 2014

Council votes to remove dams

Potential for lawsuits sways members

The Commercial-News

DANVILLE — Danville aldermen on Tuesday approved two resolutions that will ultimately see the removal of the Ellsworth Dam and the Danville Dam.

Funding for the removal of both dams will come from Illinois Department of Natural Resources. After nearly two hours of discussion as well as audience comments, the council voted by a 13 - 1 vote to remove the Danville Dam and by a 12 - 2 vote to remove the Ellsworth Dam.

It was apparent that several aldermen changed their minds on the dam issue after alderman Steve Foster told the council that his research showed that the city would significantly risk the amount of punitive damages it could pay if someone else is injured or drowns because of the dams.

"If we have the opportunity to remove these dams and at no cost to the city, if someone is injured or drowns around either of these dams, we are going to be liable and we could be made to pay millions of dollars due to our liability for not removing these dangers when we had the chance," Foster told the council.

Corporation counsel David Wesner backed up what Foster said.

"Not removing the dams when we have the opportunity could create a huge liability for the city if there were a lawsuit," added Wesner. "Punitive damages from a lawsuit are not covered by city insurance and cannot be paid out of the general fund. A separate tax would have to be levied on the residents to pay any court-awarded damages."

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources had presented its report to the city with recommendations concerning the Danville Dam behind the Public Safety Building and also the Ellsworth Park Dam.

Alderman Bill Black said that the funds that the IDNR is using for the dams removal are from bonds that can only be used for dam removal.

"These are state obligation bonds sold for a specific use and that is for dam removal," Black said. "These bonds can only legally be used for that purpose, they are not coming out of the IDNR budget."

At several public hearings regarding the issue, citizens questioned the widespread impact on water levels throughout the area if the dams were removed, in addition to the changes removals might have on local fishing and tourism and possible future economic development.

Eisenhauer said earlier this week if the city had done nothing with the dams, as several citizens voiced support for at the final public meeting, the city would likely have to pay maintenance money for the dams.

Also, Eisenhauer said any bank stabilization at Walnut Street with the northeast abutment with the Vermilion River/Danville Dam would be at 100 percent cost to the city if the dams are left in place. That cost is estimated at $500,000 to $750,000.

Mayor Scott Eisenhauer said there has been no rush to judgment on the removal of these dams.

"This issue has been discussed and researched since shortly after I was first elected mayor in 2003," Eisenhauer said. "So we have had 10 years of debate on this issue."

Eisenhauer said he wanted to thank members of the IDNR for providing the council and its residents with answers to their questions on this matter.

The city council’s Public Works committee already voted 3-2 to remove the Ellsworth Park Dam. The committee recommended not removing the Danville Dam behind the Public Safety Building, with a 4-2 vote.