Remove the Graue Mill dam? Public soon can weigh in on controversial proposal
A group working to improve DuPage County’s rivers is preparing to take public comment on a controversial plan to remove the Graue Mill dam at Fullersburg Woods in Oak Brook.
The DuPage River Salt Creek Workgroup says replacing the low-level dam with a rock riffle would help improve the water quality in Salt Creek and allow fish to travel upstream.
But the dam — next to the historic Graue Mill — is one of the most visited sites in the county and often serves as a backdrop for family and wedding photos. Some already are organizing an effort to oppose its removal.
Karen Bushy, a former village president of Oak Brook, has started a petition at change.org to save the dam and by Wednesday afternoon 8,971 people had signed it.
“The Graue Mill dam has been part of Salt Creek at York Road for as far back as we can find records,” the petition reads. “It allowed Frederick Graue to build his mill there … Hard to picture a historic mill with no water running past it!”
Officials with the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, which owns the dam, have said the earliest it could be replaced is in 2022.
In the meantime, the public comment period for a master plan for Salt Creek at Fullersburg Woods is scheduled to begin July 7 and last a month. The DuPage River Salt Creek Workgroup will host virtual open houses on July 7 and 9 to explain the master plan.
In a statement released this week, officials said the plan will improve water quality and recreation on Salt Creek while preserving the historic mill. They said the plan is designed to help meet legal water quality requirements while avoiding roughly $200 million in potential costs to taxpayers in DuPage and Cook counties.
Improving Salt Creek would save local wastewater treatment plants — and the residents they serve — money because the state monitors compliance with the Clean Water Act by doing surveys of water quality and aquatic life.
If rivers aren’t meeting water quality goals, the state can impose additional requirements on the local wastewater treatment plants. But many costly mandates could be avoided if the treatment plants pay for projects that improve local waterways.
Officials said the master plan for Salt Creek at Fullersburg Woods includes the creation of native wetland and habitat, canoe launches and fishing stations at the Fullersburg Woods Nature Education Center, and additional amenities at the preserve.
Of course, the idea local residents are concerned about is the removal of the dam.
Constructed in 1934, the dam was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps after the forest preserve district took over the property. It was the latest in a series of dams that had been constructed on the site in the 1800s.
The existing dam replaced a structure that was destroyed in 1916, but officials say it’s not a re-creation of a previous dam. In fact, they say the dam isn’t correctly sized to reliably power the mill wheel.
Meanwhile, monitoring of Salt Creek has found very low dissolved oxygen levels upstream of the dam and a large decrease in fish biodiversity there.
Replacing the dam with a rock riffle would increase dissolved oxygen levels and allow fish to travel for 17 miles upstream of the dam.
No alterations will be made to the historic millhouse, which has used an electric motor for its milling operations for several years.
The DuPage River Salt Workgroup already has roughly $5 million needed to do the project. It won’t require any additional public investment, officials said.
Jeff Gahris of the Sierra Club said the club’s River Prairie Group supports restoring Salt Creek “to enhance benefits for area wildlife, including many native fish that are currently unable to swim upstream past the dam.
“We believe this project will enhance the natural beauty and recreational opportunities for a milelong corridor along the stream,” Gahris said in a statement.
To get more information about the master plan and to register for the virtual open houses, visit restoresaltcreek.org.