Anglers like the dam on the Big Sioux River and are opposed to the city’s plan for possible removal, according to those who voiced concerns at a public informational meeting last week.
In a crowd of about 50 people, those who fish at the dam had strong opinions that removal will hurt the fishing and question why the city would spend as much as $2 million to take the dam out and put in a series of downstream j-shaped rock veins.
The area already has good fishing, said Barnie Solem, who asked what the proposed project would improve. “You’re ruining it.”
Work on coming up with a plan to remove the dam started several years ago when former Mayor Mark Bonrud said the dam is dangerous and should be taken out. Bonrud, who also was part of the Moody County Ambulance service, was called to the dam when people went in the water. He said he went in to try and rescue someone, while he was wearing a life vest and tied to a rope, and he had to be pulled out himself because of the current that takes people under and spits them back out.
“I learned first-hand what a drowning machine it was. It sucked me under twice before they pulled me to safety,” he said.
He hopes removal of the historic dam will prevent deaths there and would like to see it turned into a safe, beautiful place to go.
Project manager Ron Koth with Barr Engineering explained the plan the city council chose to look into further. The council has not voted to approve any plan at this point.
The low-head dam has a roller effect that pulls people under and is the type of dam communities are getting rid of because of the safety issue, he said.
Under the proposal being considered, Koth talked about velocities, water levels, scour areas that attract fish and naturalization of the river.
“The fishing we think is going to be more distributed going forward,” he said of potential growth in fishing. Paddlers might be more attracted to the river, too, because the river will be faster.
Kip Rounds, an aquatic habitat and access biologist with the state Game Fish & Parks, said he fishes at the dam and the proposed plan creates habitat and structures that the fish will be attracted to. The plan needs to maintain those fishing areas by creating the pools and ripples, feeding, shelter and spawning opportunities.
“Dams are roadblocks for fish,” he said.
While the gathering wasn’t an official city council meeting, Mayor Dan Sutton and all six council members attended but didn’t speak.
Several residents questioned how much shallower the river would be if the dam is removed.
“What will lower water do to wetland restoration between the city and the park?” asked Dave Pulscher.
Koth said the wetlands will be changed a little but will continue to be fed through groundwater. Also, there will be less sediment because the river will be faster.
“They’re not going to go away, but they will be at lower flows that we have now,” he said of wetlands.
The removal of the dam also will lower water levels some at the park and the city-owned golf course but not significantly, an estimated 18 inches, Koth said.
The city offered surveys to anyone who attended the meeting, allowing them to share their opinions, especially if they weren’t able to speak. Once those surveys are returned, the city administrator Jeff Pederson plans to take the feedback to the city council.