St. Charles forms task force amid dam removal controversy

Army Corps of Engineers recommends removal of Fox River dams in Kane County

St. Charles dam, Fox River

St. Charles City Council members voted to create a task force at their Feb. 5 Government Operations Committee meeting to assess the factors surrounding the removal of the downtown Fox River dam.

Since the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recommended removal of all Fox River dams in Kane County this past summer, it is intended that the city task force will help the council make a better informed decision.

The Army Corps of Engineers recent study of the Fox River and its recommendation for dam removals have sparked a great deal of controversy among residents and community groups for and against removal of the dams. Concerns of people on both sides of the issue include water levels, recreation, wildlife and property values.

The task force will consist of nine members: five City Council representatives (three elected officials and two residents), three St. Charles Park District representatives (one or two elected and one or two residents) and one representative from the River Corridor Foundation.

City Administrator Heather McGuire said the purpose of the task force is to analyze the impact that removing the dam would have environmentally, economically and recreationally. They will asses the possible effects on economic development, including commercial and residential property owners, as well as the health of the river and the possible effects on recreation.

The task force is expected to engage the appropriate personnel, consultants and experts to weigh in on these items. The task force will hold public meetings to provide updates and collect feedback on the process.

Costs incurred by the task force for engaging with consultants would be split between the city and the park district and any expenditures would have to be preapproved by both parties.

St. Charles Mayor Lora Vitek first introduced the concept of a task force at a Jan. 22 workshop, saying the need for more information had been made apparent after city officials met with representatives from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the Army Corps on Jan. 17.

At the workshop, McGuire gave council members an overview of the plan for the task force and Public Works Director Peter Suhr relayed details from the meeting with members of the IDNR and Army Corps.

IDNR owns the dam, but representatives have told city officials that they would not make any decisions on its removal without the city’s consent. The city is expected to take ownership of the dam if it is not removed.

Suhr said while IDNR will leave the decision of whether to remove the dam up to the city, the city needs to make a commitment on what they plan to do with the dam by October. He said representatives indicated work on the dams could start as early as 2026.

Alderpersons Ryan Wirball, Paul Lencioni and Ryan Bongard will be appointed to represent the council on the task force. St. Charles resident representatives and representatives from the park district and RCF have not been announced.

At the workshop and the Feb. 5 meeting, Bongard asked why the River Corridor Foundation, which publicly supports its own plan for the dam, would have representation on a task force meant to look at things objectively.

McGuire said RCF was included to make sure there was representation of all positions and all voices and because it already had collected a great deal of information and invested its own resources.

Alderperson Mark Foulkes seconded Bongard’s concerns about an RCF representative being on the task force, saying he wanted to make sure they appoint an open-minded and unbiased group. He also asked how community members would be chosen and appointed to the task force.

Vitek said RCF was included because it had been working and communicating with the city on river projects for 15 years and it has collected a wealth of knowledge and statistics about the Fox River and the St. Charles dam.

McGuire said that like the formation of any city committee, Vitek would authorize appointments, which are expected to come before the City Council for possible approval at its next meeting Feb. 20.

Alderperson Ron Silkaitis said he was fine with RCF having a representative on the task force, but wanted to make sure that the council is provided with facts and information and not a recommendation.

The task force was created in a unanimous vote. Once appointed, the members of the task force are expected to complete all evaluations and make final reports to the City Council and park district no later than March 1, 2025.