Planning group honors dam removal project

Fort Dodge, engineering firm share award

- Messenger photo by Kriss Nelson
The Des Moines River flows unimpeded through the area where the Hydroelectric Dam once stood. The work that the Fort Dodge city government and the engineering firm Snyder & Associates Inc., of Ankeny, did to plan the removal of the dams and then carry out those plans has been recognized with an award from the Iowa Chapter of the American Planning Association.

When a series of public meetings was held about four years ago to get public input on the future of the Des Moines River in Fort Dodge, it usually took less than 10 minutes to get sharply different opinions about what to do with the two dams.

Eventually, a plan adopted by the City Council in 2016 called for removing the Hydroelectric Dam and what was popularly called the little dam for safety and environmental reasons. And while some people would have probably enjoyed quickly doing so with the aid of some dynamite, implementing the plan was a gradual process that ended in August when the last submerged pieces of concrete were removed.

The process that the city government and the engineering firm Snyder & Associates Inc., of Ankeny, went through to get the job done has been recognized by the Iowa Chapter of the American Planning Association.

The chapter has given the city and the company its 2020 Implementation Award.

Mayor Matt Bemrich said the honor shows the real value of the collaborative approach taken on the riverfront, an effort he said will continue.

”It’s great to see this project get an award like this early in the process,” he said.

He added that he believes 10 years from now it will be obvious that removing the dams was the right decision.

Bemrich said the 2016 plan is significant because ”there really had never been a longterm look at what we wanted the river to be.”

Nichoel Church, an environmental scientist with Snyder & Associates, said removing the dams was ”definitely a complicated project.”

”They definitely saw the value of the start to finish on the implementation,” she said. ”It’s nice to be recognized for this. It was a long road.”

The Hydroelectric Dam was built in 1916 and provided electricity to downtown street lights until 1971. In that year, city officials shut it down on the grounds that it could no longer effectively generate electricity.

In the ensuing decades, a couple of plans to restart the dam were announced, but none of them were implemented. The most recent plan collapsed in 2008 when engineers calculated that the dam could not make electricity in a cost-effective manner.

Demolition of the dams began in January 2019. Pieces of concrete from the dams were used to stabilize the riverbanks and construct a feature called a J-hook upstream from the site of the dam to create a fishing area.

The entire project included input from the Fort Dodge and Webster County governments, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the State Historic Preservation Office.


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