Is ‘liability’ the reason for river closing?

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//img-1UwAu8aGoX.jpg’, ‘Photo by Steve Lucas’, ‘Rockford’s Fordam Dam, owned and operated by ComEd. Will control and ownership go to the DNR? Discussions may be under way for just that.’);

ComEd spokesman Paul Calligan said in years past, Burlington Northern Railroad had threatened litigation over possible damage caused by Fordam Dam to the railroad bridge just south of the dam. The bridge is now owned by Illinois Railnet.

When asked whether liability caused by a large volume of water passing through the dam affects how the dam is controlled, Calligan replied, “That is a concern.”

If any changes are to be made in the parameters set up for dam operation, “ComEd will not assume liability…for doing anything,” Calligan said. “We operate within our given parameters” by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Army Corps of Engineers.

He stressed his concern applied to any industry south of the dam to “the 15th Street Bridge, any of them, all of them.”

Speaking of possible damage to the Illinois Railnet Bridge, Winnebago County Sheriff Dick Meyers, on whose orders most of the Rock River north of the dam has been closed for a record seven weeks, said, “I can’t assume that risk on the taxpayers.”

Meyers made his remarks after a heated radio dispute with Steve Lucas, owner of Rock River Enterprises and Barge Inc., over a sheriff’s boat handling of debris and the river still being closed.

Meyers had called The Rock River Times to say he agreed with Editor & Publisher Frank Schier’s remarks during the same show, guest hosted by Alberto Altamore on WNTA, 1330AM, Friday morning. Schier suggested that ComEd, Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Army Corps of Engineers and Meyers should meet to set new high water parameters for the Fordam Dam because only ineffective, low-water parameters seem to be in force.

Meyers said he had begun such discussion a week and a half ago with all concerned, and more were planned, including Emergency Services and Disaster Agency.

Monday evening, fishermen at the dam said crews ended about a month’s worth of work on the Railnet Bridge last week. They also said the traffic on the bridge went to and from the Joseph Behr scrapyards and Rochelle.

Ted Bissen, vice president and general manager of Illinois Railnet, said he was not aware of anything that Burlington Northern had initiated with ComEd.

“We’ve owned that line for six years,” Bissen said. “We did take a look one time [at the footings] about five years ago. It wasn’t anything I took as a threat.” He also said the roadbed and upper structure bridge is inspected annually.

Bissen said he had not initiated any conversations with ComEd concerning liability, nor had ComEd contacted him on the subject.

“I’m sure if there’s enough force if the locks were opened enough to take out the bridge or damage the bridge,” Bissen said, “I am sure that they [ComEd] would be liable as well.”

He confirmed that maintenance is ongoing at the bridge on a year-round basis on the roadbed. “It’s a bridge that’s been there for 100 years or more, and they generally overbuilt them then. I haven’t seen any structural damage from on top of the water, anyway.”

Other reports have suggested that Meyers has received more phone calls from homeowners along the river who want the river to remain closed than from boaters who want the river open.

“It’s run 50/50 either way,” said Meyers. “Most of those who want it closed are property owners along the river.” Meyers added he would probably have the entire river open by the end of this week.

“I also want to facilitate talking to Com Ed and the DNR on the short-term operating parameters of the dam and the long-term control or ownership of the dam by DNR,” Meyers said.

Now that’s common sense, without the looming question of liability.

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!