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Montevideo City Council favors removal of Chippewa River dam

The Montevideo Council approved moving forward with plans to remove the Chippewa River dam. Tribune file photo

MONTEVIDEO -- City Council members in Montevideo gave their support to a proposal to remove a 1950s-vintage, low-head dam on the Chippewa River in Lagoon Park.

The dam will be replaced by possibly four rock weirs, which will create rapids at the site. Memories of helping assist in the recovery of the bodies of children who drowned after being caught in rolling water below the dam in 1975 led Council Member Marv Garbe to offer the motion in favor of the action at Monday's meeting.

There is about a year of study and engineering work ahead before the dam is removed, but funding to make it possible is now lined up, according to Chris Domeier, assistant fisheries manager with the Ortonville office of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

He told council members that approximately $290,000 will be available for the dam's removal and its replacement with rock rapids. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has earmarked $150,000 in dam safety funds for the project, and can commit $40,000 in fish habitat restoration monies as well. Domeier said he received word Monday that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will also provide up to $100,000.

Safety will be the first benefit of the project, according to Domeier. Low-head dams create a hydraulic roller that can trap those who venture below them.

The dam's removal will also improve fish habitat and migration, and allow Montevideo residents to once again catch walleye and northern pike in this section of river.

Domeier said the dam's removal will lower the level of water immediately upstream by about four to five feet. The current dam abutments will be left in place, as will the lower sill of the dam. They are needed to prevent the river from changing route and eroding the city's dikes or the bridge immediately below the site, he explained.

The existing dam is 21 feet in height and 120 feet in width and was erected in 1958.

The dam has made a portion of the river channel above it "overwide, but not a reservoir,'' said Domeier. That has allowed cattails to take hold along the shoreline and create a marsh-like area. The dam has also trapped sediment, some of which will need to be removed as part of the project.

By removing the dam, the upstream portion of river "will look like a river and act like a river,'' Domeier told council members. The cattails should disappear and there will once again be river banks through Lagoon Park.

Council members hosted a public hearing on the project Monday prior to their action, and heard support for the project from a handful of residents. They cited the improvements to safety, fishing and other recreational opportunities it would provide.

The city of Montevideo is acting as owner of the dam, although it has not yet been able to find ownership documents for it, according to City Manager Steve Jones. The city will not own the rock rapids to be installed, and consequently will not be liable for the site.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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