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Army Corps lowering river levels to allow for repair of Marseilles dam

Published: Saturday, May 11, 2013 4:59 a.m. CDT

Local officials warn the Illinois River could reach record low levels in Morris, creating hazardous conditions that people should avoid.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will begin a four-foot drawdown, or lowering of the level, of the Marseilles pool Saturday. This could affect the levels of the river in the Morris area, said Tracey Steffes, Morris Fire Protection and Ambulance District Chief.

The Marseilles Dam was damaged in the April 18 flood when seven barges broke loose from a tow on the Illinois River. Four of the seven barges have been removed, but salvage operations have been halted as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer works to repair the dam and construct a rock dike under the dam, according to a press release from the Rock Island District of the Corps.

“In order to inspect and see how much work they have to do, they have to lower the level to access that part of the dam,” said Steffes.

“We don’t know what to expect. The water levels could expose part of the river bed we’ve never seen before,” he said.

The chief fears, if the water gets so low as to expose debris, people could get curious and walk into the shallow river. But this could result in them getting hurt by dangerous debris or stuck in the mud of the river bed.

“It could create rescues that are very hard to rescue people from and very time-consuming,” said Steffes. “It could turn into a life-threatening situation.”

Last week, Morris firefighters had to rescue someone from the ruins of the aqueduct that was destroyed by the flood at the I&M Canal.

These are all possibilities, he said, but the drawdown could be minimal and Morris might see very little effect.

On Thursday, the Army Corps released information that it could lower the pool that is between the Dresden Lock and Dam and the Marseilles Lock and Dam four to eight feet. In an update Friday, the corps said it was planning on four feet.

Depending on how long it takes to construct the temporary rock dike, the drawdown could last three to seven days.

Navigation notices have been given to mariners who may be affected by the drawdown.

Steffes said barricades were already blocking the boat ramps at William G. Stratton State Park Friday.

During the drawdown work, the Coast Guard plans to allow recreational boaters and manually-powered watercrafts, such as kayaks and canoes, between Spring Brook Marina at mile marker 252 and the Dresden Lock at mile marker 271.5.

All vessels are prohibited from operating between Spring Brook Marina and the Marseilles Lock during the drawdown without permission from the Captain of the Port Sector Lake Michigan. The Marseilles Lock will be closed to recreational vessel transits after May 10 for the duration of the drawdown.

For updates on Illinois River accessibility between the Starved Rock and Dresden Dams visit http://tinyurl.com/marseillesdamincident.

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