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River Park Dam Removal, Riverbank Restoration Gets Green Light

 The dam's removal is the latest effort to improve wildlife habitat along the Chicago River.
Chicago River Dam Waterfall
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ALBANY PARK — A proposal to demolish a 100-year-old dam in River Park and improve wildlife habitat along the Chicago River received a thumbs up Wednesday from the Chicago Park District Board of Commissioners.

The plan, first presented to the public in March, is to remove the dam and replace it with a series of manmade "riffle pools" — sections where the river will stream over rocks and create movement that mimics rapids.

Essentially, the riffle pools will trade the dam's single four-foot drop for three one-foot drops, giving fish a chance to swim upstream along the North Branch, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which will oversee the project.

The Army Corps would also undertake restoration of the adjacent riverbank, pulling out invasive plants and replacing them with native species that are friendlier to birds, pollinators and other creatures. The plan is to also create a more stable, gradual slope that would allow people to get closer to the river.

The cost is estimated at $2.1 million: 65 percent will be financed through the federal Great Lakes Fisheries and Ecosystem Restoration Program; the remainder will be split between the Park District and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District.

"The Army Corps anticipates having funds available in 2017-2018," according to a statement from the Park District.

A second phase of the project, which would restore habitat and grade the riverbank slope in sections of Legion and Ronan parks, is dependent on the release of additional federal dollars.

The Army Corps does not expect those funds will be available in the next fiscal year; a five-year timeline has been set.

Completion of both phases would cost a total of $14.5 million, with the Park District and MWRD on the hook for a combined $4.3 million.