By Jim Hagerty
An agreement centered on ownership of the Fordham Dam is said to be in the works to bring a riverfront recreational park to the Rock River in downtown Rockford.
The dam is now owned by ComEd. The complex comprises the dam and two parcels: a 4.7-acre parcel east of the Rock River, west of South First Street, south of Walnut Street and north of College Avenue; and a nearby .3-acre, man-made parcel on the west bank of the river, upstream of the dam, east of South Main Street.
According to preliminary talks, ComEd would donate the complex to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). The IDNR plans to partner with the City of Rockford and other agencies to maintain the property.
“Our first step is to clean up the site to get the area ready for enhanced recreational use,” ComEd External Affairs Manager Paul Callighan said.
A cleanup of the east portion of the complex will remove contaminants associated with the power plant operations and demolition of the power plant structures. The west remediation will remove contaminants identified from samples of the fill material.
The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) Site Remediation Program will oversee the project.
Remediation will allow the property to be developed by the city into a riverfront park that would include white-water rafting and other activities. The IEPA has approved the remediation work plan.
According to Callighan, ComEd spends about $60,000 per year to maintain the structure. Those funds consist of property taxes and operational costs. According to Winnebago County tax information, ComEd pays approximately $22,000 per year in property taxes on the dam and its two associated parcels.
The Fordham Dam has been at the center of controversy in recent years. Fallen trees and debris on the spillway and various malfunctions have altered water levels along the downtown corridor, making it difficult for boaters to navigate the river.
“I don’t think it’s right that they (ComEd) are willing to give something away that they haven’t maintained or even operated properly in 30 years,” Steve Lucas of Rock River Enterprises said. “The gauges don’t work anymore. The water level alarms don’t work anymore. The city and state will now be on the line to make those repairs. ComEd should make the dam functional before giving it away, because the city doesn’t know what it will cost to maintain because it doesn’t work properly now.”
Under the new plan, the IDNR would assume the annual operational costs and taxes. Insiders say a multi-governmental agency, similar to Win-GIS, would be formed to maintain the dam for the state.
Although the Rockford Park District has not been officially brought in on any concrete plans, Park District Executive Director Tim Dimke said he’d welcome the opportunity.
“The city has some cool plans,” Dimke said. “And with this, I am willing to bet there would be a lot of people along the river that would be interested in a local effort to control our waters. And because the city isn’t in the parks business, and we have a lot of riverside parks now, we’d love to be a part of something like this.”
Remediation fieldwork is expected to take five months.
As of this report, IDNR Spokesman Chris Young said no immediate action is planned for the department to take control of the dam.
From the June 4-10, 2014, issue