BATAVIA – People in Batavia regard the Fox River as an important part of the community’s identity.
They like the shoreline bicycle trails. They love the Batavia Riverwalk. And they support the idea of more river improvements. In particular, they would like to see more restrooms.
Those were just some of the observations to emerge from an online survey as well as interviews conducted by a land planning and design firm working to chart the future of Batavia’s riverfront.
The Batavia City Council and the Batavia Park Board split the $150,000 cost for Naperville-based Hitchcock Design Group to study the community’s river shoreline and create an action plan.
Hitchcock’s Lacey Lawrence described the survey and interview findings for city aldermen and park board trustees during a special joint meeting on May 25.
The survey, which was offered on Hitchcock’s website, attracted 498 respondents, which is about 2% of the city’s population, Lawrence said. While some non-residents took the survey, 87% were Batavians, she added.
Of those taking the survey 86% support river improvements, Lawrence said, with shoreline stabilization, facilities for canoe and kayak rentals, as well as those restrooms, topping the list.
City and park officials took notice when Lawrence reported that 82% of the survey respondents indicated they would support a property tax levy increase to fund riverfront improvements.
Council and park board members said the survey results are valuable, although 5th Ward Alderman Abby Beck suggested that Hitchcock conduct a random, scientific poll, to eliminate the “self-selection bias” inherent in a survey that is open to anyone.
The interviews generally produced similar results, with those being queried saying they think Clark Island is underutilized. They also would like to see more wayfinding signs and additional gathering spaces for socializing.
While residents think the river is a key component of Batavia’s identity, they were split when asked about the Challenge Dam, with only 46% saying it is important.
City and park district officials are grappling with the question of what to do with the slowly deteriorating dam and the implications for Depot Pond.
Well over a century old, the dam extends from the tip of the peninsula north of Batavia City Hall across the main river channel to the east bank at the Challenge Building.
On the west side of the peninsula is Depot Pond, presenting a scenic view for visitors to the Batavia Riverwalk, which is the top destination for users of park facilities in the community.
Water gushes through fissures in the dam. When river levels are low the water pours around breaks in the structure, particularly next to the east bank.
The dam’s continued decay threatens to reduce the water depths in the pond.
While the Illinois Department of Natural Resources may be expected to pay for removal of the dam, it will fall to the city and park district to pay for the project to preserve the pond.
The plan would be to construct an earthen berm extending north from the tip of the peninsula to connect with Duck Island and then curve northwest to meet with the west bank of the river, closing off the pond. Pumps would need to be installed to maintain water levels and flow.
While taking out the dam for safety reasons gained support in the survey and interviews, residents do not like the idea of relying on pumps to maintain water levels in the pond, Lawrence said.
Removing the dam, building the berm and installing the pumps was one of several options outlined by water resources expert John Witte of WBK Engineering of St. Charles.
Some of the other options appeared to be engineering solutions unlikely to gain approval from the IDNR because they would not create a natural fish passage.
Two decades ago, the agency developed a plan to remove the dam and made clear it is not interested in repairing the structure. Batavia voters rejected the idea of removing the dam in an advisory referendum.
The Hitchcock plan is expected to be completed in the fall of this year. Lawrence said there will be a public open house event later in June to get more opinions from residents.