Residents ask DNR to stop plans to remove Janesville's Monterey Dam

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Jake Magee
Wednesday, September 13, 2017

JANESVILLEA Department of Natural Resources employee twice stressed that Tuesday's public hearing was designed to get comments on Janesville's plan to remove the Monterey Dam, not whether the dam should be removed.

But that didn't stop residents from imploring the department to deny the city's request to abandon and remove the dam, and instead repair it.

Dozens of residents showed up for the public hearing at the DNR's Janesville service center. It was one of their last chances to publicly voice their concerns about the city's plan to remove the dam and restore the shoreline before the department gives the city the green light.

Once the department signs off on the city's plans, the Monterey Dam is as good as gone.

Sixteen residents spoke, all of them opposed to dam removal. Several speakers were members of the Monterey Dam Association, a group that opposes dam removal, and wore "Just Give a Dam" T-shirts.

Attorney Buck Sweeney said he represents property owners who would be affected if the dam were taken out. If department officials don't do their "homework," he said, they and others could find themselves in litigation for several years.

"I live right on the river, so this whole thing affects me personally," said Jim Chesmore, association chairman.

Sweeney compared the situation to the years of litigation that ensued after the department and Lake Koshkonong residents disagreed on how much water the Indianford Dam should retain to control the lake's depth.

An economic impact study must be done before the department can approve the dam's removal, he said. He noted that such a study was done for Lake Koshkonong.

Sweeney and several residents raised concerns about contaminated sediment in the Rock River near General Motors that could move downstream if the dam were removed.

"If we take their mess, stir it up, move it downstream, we're in trouble for it," said association member Jeff Navarro.

Janesville Public Works Director Paul Woodard said the water level would be lowered slowly—about 6 inches a day—to prevent contaminants from flowing away. A cover crop would be planted in the contaminated area to keep sediment in place, he said.

The department has said even if contaminated sediment does flow downstream, GM is responsible for removing it. The city would be responsible only if it deliberately moved the contaminants, department and city officials have said.

Resident Bill Truman suggested that the city open the dam's gates and draw down the river before it decides to completely remove the dam.

"Lower it down, see what it looks like, then move forward," he said.

City officials have said the gates are too small to have any real effect on the river's water level. They have compared opening the gates to poking pinholes in a pool.

Some speakers expressed distrust of the city and the DNR.

"The city fathers are 'greenwashing' their true agenda," said resident Dennis Goodenough.

"We are fed up with the DNR and the way they're trying to railroad this thing," said resident Bill McCoy.

Association member Andreah Briarmoon called the city's plans to restore the shoreline "beautiful" before saying the city is "broke" and can't afford to do them.

The department will accept written comments through Thursday, Sept. 21, and make its decision sometime after that. The city plans to remove the dam next summer.

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