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Maciulis: Pro-dam? Anti-dam? There’s passion on both sides

One bald eagles thhas settled along Fox River shore across from Gail Borden Public Library circles Kimball Street Dam aresearching

One of the bald eagles that has settled in along the Fox River shore across from Gail Borden Public Library circles the Kimball Street Dam area, searching the open water there for a fish to catch. But a flock of a hundred or more white gulls that lived in the same area as late as Christmastime has disappeared, apparently having moved on to warmer climes. | Dave Gathman/Sun-Times Media

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Updated: April 26, 2014 3:39PM



The dam battle is worse than an ugly divorce.

When the dam removal issues were fresh more than a decade ago, it did not matter which side was presented, folks with a different view point were quick to fire back. Disagreement. Vitriol. Even threats were common.

Rivers bring out the child in us. They reveal the innocent beauty in everything, in everyone. A child chasing catfish is yet to learn prejudice, whether about people, neighbors or habits different from their own.

The dam within Pilcher Park badly is in need of repairs. Those responsible for its maintenance, are plagued by a variety of problems and the sad financial state of most of the agencies throughout the state are not the least of the dilemmas they have to deal with.

There also is the movement that began some decades ago when fisheries biologists charged with managing river fisheries tried to educate the general public about the harm that dams caused to the rivers, the damage to the ecosystem that was inevitable when you spanned a live, moving river with a slab of concrete.

I made a mistake during the debate about the removal of dams on the Fox and Des Plaines rivers. It was a long time ago, but I’m still paying for it.

I had filled a file folder over the last couple of years with notes, letters and emails from advocates proposing the removal of the dams from the Fox River as well as from those who wanted them repaired.

This was before the Mill Race dam broke on the side channel of the Kankakee River in Wilmington. That afforded every river rat an incredible opportunity to see what the bottom and contours of the Kankakee was along Island Park because the water poured through the mill race channel and it dried up the main river below the Wilmington dam.

It was as flat as a pool table — except there were huge holes carved out at the base of the dam.

All those years of dreaming about what monsters lurked among the bottom debris of the river, and it turned to be like casting onto a paved parking lot — with a pothole here, a broken chunk of rock there.

The sides in the debate seemed pretty evenly split.

Of those stepping forth — regardless whether they were for removal, against it, or if they wanted to modify the dams — most were women. During the intense politicking at the time of the hearings regarding the fate of the Geneva Dam on the Fox River, for example, I received many letters and emails, even phone calls in support of the status quo, and all the calls were all from women. Nice women. Sincere and committed.

On the other hand, when guys called, it was brutal. If they thought I was in favor of the removal of the dams, they pounded me. If they thought I was against the removal of the dams, they berated me.

In the end, the rivers were accepted as living things, as having their own character, their own rights and that whatever we did to it we had to do with consideration to what was good for the river. If the dams were part of what the river’s character was, leave them alone. If the dams were harmful, were destructive, pull them out.

Either way, whatever the eventuality, it was to be because it was right for the river. Not because it was right for any constituency.

Pretty good way to straddle the fence, isn’t it?



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