Local residents ask questions, voice concerns over dam removal

October 11, 2017

Tuesday, September 26, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) hosted a meeting in Hinckley’s Community Center regarding the proposal to remove the dam located along Grindstone River. The dam currently creates a reservoir, which in turn supplies water to fish-rearing ponds across Highway 61. Removing the dam would make the river free-flowing and, the DNR believes, improve the river’s fish population in this area.


According to Area Fisheries Supervisor Leslie George, the proposed removal has been a part of “internal discussion” for several years. While “the final decision is made by department leaders in St. Paul,” regarding the removal of the dam, currently the funding is in place to get the job done.


The meeting was held in order to “facilitate discussion” and hear concerns from residents of the Hinckley area. While representatives from different divisions of the DNR were present to answer questions and present facts, the focus of the evening was to “listen and not to necessarily respond.” Other DNR staff members were also present for taking notes and jotting down questions that came up.


Most of the night was spent in a large-group setting, hearing from the various people who make a project like the dam removal possible. Those present heard about funding, the history of Grindstone River Dam, dam removal alternatives, saw examples of dam removals and other similar projects that have taken place across the state.


There was also a time for the residents present to ask their questions and voice their concerns. People questioned what would become of the reservoir’s use - would the public still have access to that area? How much would removal cost, and where is the money coming from? What kind of studies have been done to project flooding issues that may arise? What hand does the Historical Society have in preserving the dam?


George shared that the 78-acre parcel of land the dam is on is for “general use,” meaning it will always be open to the public. That public “status won’t change, regardless of the dam.”


City administrator Kyle Morell specifically inquired about Dunn Avenue North, which underwent some major reconstruction in the last few years. What will happen to that roadway, if the DNR goes forward with removing the dam?


George assured those present that preserving public use of the land, and thereby the roadway leading back to it, is a “concern for the department.” When Dunn Avenue underwent its improvements, the DNR partnered with the city to fund the project. This investment into the road would not be lost by taking out the dam.


To date, a study has not yet been conducted regarding the effects that would take place downstream of the dam and reservoir, though one will be conducted as proceedings move along. Not only will DNR staff look at flooding impact, they will also consider water table effects.


The DNR would also need to receive a green-light from the state’s Historical Society before proceeding with removing the dam.


Senior engineer in the northeast region Jon Hendrickson shared a couple of alternatives to taking out the dam. He spoke of dam replacement, a project that would be “expected to exceed $1,000,000.” He also referred to putting rock arch rapids as opposed to replacing the dam. With rock arch rapids though, the “natural stream is not restored” and the impact on bridges downstream of the the rapids would be negative.

Luther Aadland of the river ecology unit explained that “adding rock to a channel (increases) the chance of overtopping.”


Taking out the dam completely for a river restoration project is the “current preferred alternative,” George said.


The funds in place right now were made available by recent legislation, state dam safety engineer Jason Boyle explained in an email. “The 2017 legislature appropriated $4,400,000 for seven state-owned dams.” This list of dams comes from a “dam safety project priority list … the DNR submits to the legislature every two years.” 


Once the money is split between the projects, an estimated $600,000 will be dedicated to remove the Grindstone River dam. Leaders on the project, which is still very much in the preliminary stages, believe removing the dam can be done on a budget of $500,000. The funds from the state have an expiration date in 2020.


Lorraine and Chuck Schneider live upriver from the dam. They attended the meeting to “hear what they have for us.” Neither of them is opposed to the removing the dam - they simply want to understand what exactly the DNR’s plans are and voice the initial concerns they have.


While the Schneiders don’t want to see “the dam go out in a flood,” they do wonder about the water levels of the stream. The DNR talked of the fish population being a major part of why the dam should come out. From the Schneider’s perspective, the water in the river is already so low - the reservoir surely helps keep the water levels up.


“If they take the dam out, there will only be a stream,” Lorraine said.


On the other side of the coin, the dam “is in bad shape,” Chuck said. “I won’t argue that point.”


The Schneiders, though, are glad for the meeting. “Our desire is for (the DNR) to do their best,” Lorraine said. To do their best to get the word out, to make sure they are offering the public what they should know about the dam removal project. “It’s Hinckley. It’s part of history.”


The DNR believes that changing the reservoir into a free-flowing river will improve, not decrease, the water’s flow.


Because the sediment in the water will move with the current and not build up as a result of the reservoir, the river will be able to carve out a deeper waterway.


There is still much work to be done before the dam is actually removed - among studies and proper permissions to be garnered, a dam removal won’t happen overnight. Until then, the DNR welcomes feedback and wants to “connect with (area residents) as much as we can.” One resident suggested sending out letters to those with homes along the river.


If you want to contact the DNR with any questions or concerns, they have a local office at 306 Power Avenue North. You can call 320-384-7721 or email hinckley.fisheries@state.mn.us. Notes from the meeting will be posted by the DNR online at http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/areas/fisheries/hinckley/index.html.

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