Monticello dam project serving as example for others

Public input guides project

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More than 300 people are expected to provide input this week on plans for improving one of the state’s most popular river segments — the Maquoketa River on the east edge of Monticello.

“We want the public to tell us what to do. The only way it works is with community support,” said Larry Gullett, director of the Jones County Conservation Department, which owns the deteriorating 110-year-old Mon-Maq dam at the heart of the proposed re-engineering project.

The dam is among several in Iowa under consideration for removal or modification.

That attitude of incorporating stakeholder feedback into the plan “serves as a model for other communities working on dam removals, water trails and other river improvement projects,” said Gregg Starks, a leader of the Sticks in the Water paddle sports club.

Jones County’s inclusive approach helped it develop one of the state’s foremost water trails, the 7.8-mile stretch from the Mon-Maq dam to Pictured Rocks, which was dedicated 15 months ago, said Nate Hoogeveen, director of the Department of Natural Resources river programs.

The Mon-Maq dam project “has the potential to be just as spectacular as the water trail,” Hoogeveen said.

Three options for replacing the dam with structures designed to enhance the river’s natural and recreational attributes will be presented at public meetings today and Thursday in Monticello.

Alternative A, the most expensive at an estimated cost of $2.8 million, entails four stone structures resembling mini-waterfalls. The largest, with a 3-foot drop, would be built at the dam site. Three smaller ones, each with a 1 1/2-foot drop, would be constructed in a 2-mile stretch of river upstream of the dam.

Alternative B (estimated cost: $1.8 million) would consist of the stone structure with the 3-foot drop at the dam site.

Alternative C (estimated cost: $2.3 million) entails replacement of the dam with a rock arch rapids consisting of from six to seven drops, each in the 12- to 18-inch range.

A land-based, hard surfaced trail, with an estimated cost of more than $1 million, could be linked with the river project or undertaken separately, Gullett said.

Funding would come from a combination of sources including donations and grants. “We would not propose a bond issue or other tax levy,” Gullett said.

Dam modifications to enhance river recreation gained increased public attention last year with the completion of a white-water paddling course on the Cedar River at Charles City.

The six-blocks-long course, built at a cost of more than $1 million, has increased tourism and brought the community together around its central natural feature, said Charles City City Administrator Tom Brownlow,

Kayak enthusiast Hannah Eden of rural Anamosa said the Mon-Maq improvements, coupled with a planned white-water course at Manchester, could make the Maquoketa River even more of a regional attraction than it already is. Gullett said more than 1,000 people often paddle the water trail on summer weekend days.

Monticello resident Kyle Gassman, a self-described river enthusiast, said he’s “all for” removing and replacing the dam. “My big question,” he said, “is will the release of silt stored in the impoundment cause problems downstream?”

Monticello Mayor Dena Himes, a trails enthusiast, said she thinks the proposed Maquoketa River improvements, combined with an integrated land-based trail, would, like the Charles City project, attract visitors and bring community members together.

Though Gullett sees some similarities with the Cedar River project, he emphasized that none of the three alternatives would yield anything resembling a white-water course.

Improved paddling opportunities was just one of several priorities — along with fish passage, improved angling and ecological and economic benefits — identified by a 10-member advisory committee that has studied dam options for nearly four years, Gullett said.

Monticello City Administrator Doug Herman said the study committee’s research will help guide the community toward the best means to fully use one of its most valuable resources.

Gullett said 2008 flooding severely weakened and undermined the dam. Rather than investing in expensive repairs of a dam that no longer serves a useful purpose, the Conservation Board appointed the committee, which has worked with the Corps of Engineers, the DNR and the National Park Service to identify options.

Meetings this week

  • 6:30 p.m. today and Thursday, Renaissance Center, 220 E. First St., Monticello. To register, call (563) 487-3541.

Other dams

  •  In addition to the Mon-Maq dam, other Eastern Iowa dams slated either for removal or modification include the Wapsipinicon River dams at Littleton and Quasqueton.
  •  In 2010, the state’s first rock arch rapids was constructed on the Turkey River in Howard County, and a navigational hazard was removed from the Yellow River in Allamakee County.
  •  The Charles City white-water course was completed last year, and discussions have occurred on potential dam modifications on the Shell Rock River near Rockford, the Maquoketa River at Manchester and the Turkey River at Clermont.

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