DANVILLE – With casino talk having shifted to land-based from river-based, work is quietly moving forward with the removal of the Danville and Ellsworth Park dams.
Illinois Department of Natural Resources officials report both could be finished in a few more months.
“The Ellsworth Dam Removal Project should be completed by late August. Approximately half of the existing dam needs to be removed, and more debris under the bridge upstream of the dam needs to be removed. The completion of this project depends on the weather,” according to an email update from Lindell Loy, construction manager with IDNR’s Office of Water Resources.
“The work in the river is still slow due to the rainy weather. Depending on the weather, the Danville Dam Removal Project should be completed by the end of September. The contractor has to place riprap on both sides of the Vermilion River and finish removing the existing dam,” according Loy.
He said about most recent work, “on the Danville Dam removal project, the contractor has worked a few days starting to place riprap on the east bank of the river. On the Ellsworth project, riprap has been placed on the west bank and some concrete debris under the bridge has been removed.”
Work on the Ellsworth Park dam started around February.
Work started in July 2018 to remove the Danville Dam behind the Public Safety Building. Weather, materials and the higher than normal flows in the Vermilion River have been factors causing slower progress. It was to be completed at the end of 2018.
According to the IDNR, the scope of that project was to remove the concrete low water dam behind the Danville Public Safety Building along the Vermilion River, remove the concrete piers just upstream of the dam and place riprap for bank stabilization in the area of the dam.
Halverson Construction Co. of Springfield is completing the Danville dam removal at a cost of $1.4 million. IDNR personnel are doing the work on the Ellsworth Park dam removal project.
Danville City Council members in January 2014 voted 13-1 to have IDNR remove the Ellsworth Park Dam and 12-2 to remove the Danville Dam behind the PSB.
Aldermen took into account city liability of a known hazard, where drownings have occurred, and costs to remove the safety hazards in agreeing to go forward with the IDNR recommendations on the removals.
The IDNR allocated $2 million-plus funding for the removal of the two dams. The removal of the dams, and others in the state, was identified by Gov. Pat Quinn in 2012 as part of his dam removal initiative.
The General Assembly appropriated funds for the Danville dam removals through bond sales that were part of the Jobs Now program. Funds were released in 2018 for the removals after the removal projects had been under review when former Gov. Bruce Rauner took office.
The city had received extension paperwork regarding the projects. In Feb. 2017, the city council amended an intergovernmental agreement with the IDNR for the dam removals and restoration project to extend the termination date of the original agreement. IDNR’s funding obligation will terminate upon completion of the project or June 30, 2020, whichever comes first.
IDNR representatives have said the dams are being removed because there have been fatalities there and the dams also are in deteriorating condition with undercutting and erosion.
Due to the hydraulic conditions of the Danville and Ellsworth Park dams, and that no riverbed protection was placed below the dam upon construction, a submerged hydraulic roller occurs. During time, the turbulent forces generated by a hydraulic roller have eroded a scour hole in the original bed material at the base of the dam. The tailwater submerges the hydraulic jump, creating the submerged hydraulic roller. These rollers typically pull in and hold objects, including people, which often leads to emergency rescues or drownings, according to the IDNR.
The most recent drowning at the dams, of several over the years, was canoeist Sandi Barnett in July 2003.