Landmark

Removal of low head dam begins

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Below the twin smokestacks of the old power plant along the rocky banks of Sugar Creek, excavators drilled into Crawfordsville’s low head dam on Tuesday, making the first cut in a long-awaited demolition project.

As a small group of spectators gathered to watch downstream, heavy machinery clawed into layers of concrete to slowly drain the reservoir.

“I’m not sure I ever thought I’d see this,” said Friends of Sugar Creek board member Austin Brooks, who led the demolition effort as president of the nonprofit group.

FCS started raising awareness of the safety and ecological hazards about a decade ago as the state encouraged the removal of obsolete low head dams from Indiana’s waterways.

Brooks reached out to Dr. Jerry Sweeten, a retired Manchester College biology professor who is considered a leading expert on the subject.

Sweeten’s company, Ecosystems Connections Institute, has consulted on the removal of a dozen dams and partnered with FCS and the City of Crawfordsville for the project.

Along with improved spawning sites for Bass, stream habitat and fish counts are expected to increase after the dam is excavated.

“This is one of the best things you can do for the health of the stream,” Sweeten said over the sound of a jackhammer near the water’s edge.

The project, which is largely being funded through a grant from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, also has support from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Fish and Wildlife Service, Indiana Department of Environmental Management and the State Historic Preservation Office.

“It’s good to see a culmination of a project that has been pursued for the past 10 years and really accelerated the last two to three years,” said Ed Fain, the current president of FCS.

Longtime creek advocate Bob Stwalley joined FCS members and other spectators on the banks near Elston Softball Complex.

Stwalley, 90, plans to be the first person to boat across the section of the water once the dam is fully removed.

“Did you think we’d ever see this?” Brooks asked Stwalley.

“I’m glad we are,” Stwalley replied.

Crews from Crawfordsville-based W Enterprises began the excavation by removing a small piece of concrete from the middle of the 200-foot-long dam, gradually draining the water to minimize downstream impact.

Once the water level is down to the first cut in the dam, additional small cuts will be made until the water reaches its final natural level with normal stream flow. Completing the project could take two weeks, said Dale Petrie, the city’s director of operations.

Standing behind yellow caution tape marking the viewing area, Betty Leslie took pictures as the equipment tore into the dam. Leslie’s late husband, Alvin, worked in the now-decommissioned power plant for nearly 40 years.

“I really wished my husband could be here but he passed away four years ago,” said Leslie, who had mixed emotions about removing what she called a city landmark.

“I’m all for it if that’s what [project leaders] feel is necessary to do.”

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