After recent survey work and focus groups revealed polarization of the public concerning what to do about the Mon-Maq Dam, officials unveiled a compromise alternative.
Alternative F was unveiled for public input at a public meeting April 4 held at Camp Courageous. Tom MacDonald of Barr Engineering explained that under the new alternative, the dam would be partially removed with a channel constructed that would create a flood plain approximately 600’x120’. The alternative would require a piece of the sanitary sewer to be relocated on the south bank.
Under this plan, water would no longer flow over the dam.
The need for a new alternative was driven by the polarization of opinion on what to do with the river where the dam currently is, as Northeast Iowa Resource Conversation and Development Executive Director Lora Friest explained based on research from the survey sent out to Monticello and Jones County residents and eight focus groups comprised of different portions of the community.
The two most polarizing answers were the most popular, taking no action and completely removing the dam and constructing habitat features. Under the “no action” alternative, the long-term costs for this option are the highest of the proposed alternatives and if repairs became urgent, they could range from $400,000 to $1.2 million. The dam removal proposal would restore the river level to its original level and would improve fishing and best restore the area’s natural conditions for fish passage, biological recovery and water quality improvement. The alternative would have an estimated cost of $900,000 and $1.5 million, plus whatever cost would be incurred by a minor stabilization project upstream, but had the lowest future costs.
“You guys are polarized…No one should walk into any meeting and say, ‘Everybody thinks this,’” Friest said. “Half of you are really opposed to one thing, and half of you are really opposed to the other.”
Results of the survey showed that the top priorities being leaving the dam alone, 557 responses, and fish and angler access, 547 responses. A violin chart, which measures both the frequency and intensity of opinions from respondents, showed the alternatives were either highly desirable or highly opposed.
In the various focus groups, the leave the dam alone received the strongest support from the group focused on historic preservation, while the group consisting of fire, ambulance, police and law enforcement representatives showed the highest percentage of support for removing the dam.
As the alternative was newly created, no cost estimate had been established for the new alternative, but discussion in small groups, where people were broken up and asked about what they where looking and their initial opinions on the preferred alternative, showed people largely appeared to be sticking in their groups.
During the course of the three-hour meeting, a series of speakers spoke on various background information concerning the dam. Jones County Conservation Director Brad Mormann discussed the history of the discussion, which goes back to 2006, and discussed the goals of the project, which included increasing fish massage, reduce flooding and the historic nature of the dam.
Louise Maudlin, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department, discussed what factors need to be taken into account for the environmental study, including how various alternatives will impact things invasive species and water quality. The historic consideration will also be part of the process, as the dam is eligible for the national historic registry, and any action needs to be approved by the State Historic Preservation Office.
The meeting ended with a brief question and answer session.
The next step in the process will be the review of public input collected during the breakout session on the new proposed alternative, further develop the compromise alternative and narrow down the current list of the now six alternatives. At the next meeting, the information from the groups will be summarized, a refined list of alternatives will be presented and scoping session will be held to determine other information to be included in the environmental assessment.
While there’s no date set for the next meeting, Mormann expected that meeting to take place over the next couple of months.