Controversy on whether to keep Graue Mill dam or remove it heats up; ‘This is the third go-around with this issue’

Opposing online petitions are circulating regarding whether to keep the Graue Mill dam or remove it, while one area group is planning to present a plan for removal to the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County.

The DuPage River Salt Creek Work Group was formed in 2005 and works to develop and implement a plan that will achieve attainment of water quality standards and designated uses for Salt Creek, East Branch DuPage River and West Branch DuPage River.

Salt Creek flows past Graue Mill 3800 York Road, and a dam close to the Graue Mill grist mill and museum, 3800 York Road. The DuPage River Salt Creek Work Group said they believe removing the dam would allow for better biodiversity of fish and the aquatic insect population.

Stephen McCracken, director of watershed protection for The DuPage River Salt Creek Work Group, said Wednesday that the group is in the process of getting public input about the dam and plans to bring a plan for removal of the dam to the forest preserve district board at the end of July.

McCracken said the dam prevents some species of fish from swimming upstream beyond the dam and that the dam’s removal would save taxpayers a considerable amount.

“It would cost about $213 million to upgrade the (10) Salt Creek treatment plants, but that still wouldn’t solve the biodiversity problem near the dam,” McCracken said. He said it would cost an estimated $800,000 to remove the dam and make related improvements.

A big concern of Graue Milll board members is that removal of the dam would stop the water flow used to help turn the large outdoor mill wheel.

“The wheel moving is very important because it’s been an indication to people that we’re open when it’s moving,” said Rus Strahan, vice president a Graue Mill board member. Strahan said the wheel hasn’t worked property in two years because of accumulated debris.

Graue Mill wheel

The wheel at Graue Mill turns when the mill is open and needs water flowing from the dam to operate, but has not worked in about two years because of accumulated debris. (Chuck Fieldman / Pioneer Press)

“There’s been a noticeable decrease in attendance, and we think the wheel not working has a lot to with that,” he said. “People have stopped in and commented that they were surprised we were open when the wheel wasn’t turning.”

McCracken said he is looking into ways by which a switch could be used to turn the wheel off and on using some type of motor, if the dam is removed.

Former Oak Brook Village President Karen Bushy started an online Save Graue Mill Dam petition about weeks ago, which had accumulated 8,975 signatures as of Wednesday afternoon.

“I started the petition because with COVID you can’t get people together for a discussion and this is one way to let people know what’s going on,” Bushy said. She said aesthetics and history are two major reasons she supports not removing the dam.

“This is the third go-around with this issue,” said Bushy, who served as Oak Brook Village President from 1991 to 2003 and had discussions about the dam during that time.

The petition started by Bushy in support of keeping the dam states that the Graue Mill Dam has been part of Salt Creek for as far back as records can be found.

“Without the dam, there will be no water to turn the wheel,” she said. “Hard to picture an historic mill with no water running past it.”

An online petition in support of removing the dam had accumulated 477 signatures as of Wednesday afternoon. That petition states that removing the dam is an opportunity to restore the creek’s ecosystem, improve water quality, increase paddling access and save taxpayers millions.

“Further, removing the dam will not prevent the mill from continuing its important educational mission of telling of the mill’s role as a 19th Century economic engine and sanctuary along the Underground Railroad,” the petition states.

This article originally appeared in the Chicago Tribune.

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