DNR Presents Options for Willow River Dam Fix

Baihly Warfield
December 06, 2017 10:43 PM

The Willow River dam is a source of pride for folks in that community. 

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"It's been here my entire life, since the '40s," Willow River Mayor Brent Switzer said. "So when people think of Willow River, they think of the dam."

It was built in 1940, in fact, and withstood the floods of 2012. 

"That dam was built by the (Works Progress Administration), and it did exactly what it was designed for," Willow River Emergency Management Director Vickie Whitehouse said. 

But when the region received more than 7 inches of rain in June 2016, the dam washed out. 

"I just want to get this last flood behind us," Whitehouse said. 

The Minnesota DNR has come up with three options for what to do with the dam. 

The first is to rebuild the structure and bring it up to current safety standards. Mike Peloquin, NE regional manager in ecological and water resources with the DNR, said that could cost between $1.5 and $2 million. 

The second option is to remove the dam and put in rock rapids instead. Peloquin estimates that would cost about $500,000 to $1 million. 

"It provides connectivity, so fish that are moving downstream can reach good habitat areas upstream," Peloquin said. 

Third, they could remove it entirely and restore the river to its natural habitat. According to Peloquin, that would be around $500,000 to $800,000. 

Funding is in place from bonding money and Homeland Security dollars. 

Mayor Switzer said people have been anxious for answers about what will happen with the dam. 

"We get a lot of questions here about what we're going to do about this. I try to tell people that mostly, it's the DNR that's going to make the decisions," he said. 

But the DNR wants community feedback, especially because a city park runs alongside the Willow River, next to the dam. 

"Where the breach occurred, where material eroded, is affecting their park," Peloquin said. 

Whitehouse said the county is also considering reconstructing the culverts under Co. Hwy 61, which runs near the dam. 

City leaders say they are relieved a solution is in the works. 

"I myself would like to see it repaired," Whitehouse said. "Our dam is basically our icon, you know, it's part of the city of Willow River."

After the DNR collects public feedback at a Wednesday meeting, they will put together a recommendation for Willow River to approve. Peloquin said they will spend the next 5-6 months doing environmental reviews, getting permits and working out a design before construction would begin hopefully by the end of the fall 2018. 

Peloquin said if anyone would like to comment that couldn't make the meeting, they can call the Grand Rapids DNR office.


Baihly Warfield

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