Grassroots organization aim to save dam

Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     “Conservation is not our enemy. They do such great work for the county. We want to work together.”

     Tom Osborne of Monticello shared those sentiments regarding some misconceptions about the Friends of the Mon Maq Dam organization being in opposition to the Conservation Department.

     Last August, the Jones County Conservation Board voted 4-1 to remove a portion of the historic dam. Leading up to that vote and since the decision was made, there has been much opposition. The Friends group, which is now recognized by the state and is awaiting its 501(c)3 non-profit status, has a mission “to preserve and protect the historic” dam.

     Last week on March 27, the group held its first quarterly meeting, as required by the state as an official organization. Topics of discussion included: their progress in saving the dam from deconstruction, increasing their public opposition (to tearing out the dam), and the group’s status on challenging grants that have been awarded to the Conservation Department and/or county.

     With 59 people in attendance, Osborne said they have 52 members, with membership being free to anyone.

     “We did not have any alternative voices at our meeting,” said Osborne of those in favor of tearing out the dam. He said no county officials or Conservation staff or board members were present.

     So how does the group make money to carry out its mission?

     One passionate supporter, John Null, commissioned an original painting of Mon Maq Dam. Prints of that painting are being sold online through the group’s website, They are also selling merchandise with a photo of the dam as well.

     “We’re raising money through donations, fundraisers and public awareness,” said Osborne.

     Those leading the charge on the Friends group include Osborne, Audrey Savage, Cindy Brokens, Mike Davis, and Josh Null.

     Osborne said as a relatively newcomer to the Monticello area, this is the first time he’s gotten involved in something like this, but it’s a matter he’s grown quite passionate about.

     “It was the overwhelming opposition,” he said of the grassroots effort to stand against tearing out the dam.

     He shared that they collected over 3,000 signatures from across Jones County against the conservation board decision.

     Savage her biggest reason for joining the effort is, “Why?

     “I couldn’t see a reason (for tearing it out),” she said. “Why spend the money on something that doesn’t make sense?”

     She feels people still believe the dam will be torn out, but doesn’t believe it’s a done deal.

     “No one has come forward and said it ought to go,” added Osborne. “That’s what got us going.”

     He said after the Conservation Board voted to tear it out despite the overwhelming opposition presented, “we just couldn't accept that.”

     Osborne said some of the Friends members even spoke one-on-one with the Conservation Board members individually to share their points of view before the vote last summer.

     There are five key areas within the environmental assessment of Mon Maq Dam the Friends are challenging: wetlands, the river’s impact to ponds and wells, oxygenations, sediment testing, and ultraviolet light.

     Osborne said there is misinformation out there and used on grant applications concerning all five areas of concern.

     “Wetlands are costly to relocate,” he said, as an example of one of the requirements Conservation may be tasked with.

     Osborne said the pond at Riverside Gardens in Monticello could also go dry if the dam were taken out, lowering the water table at Riverside.

     Based on the scientific information the Friends have been able to get their hands on, they are now challenging and trying to derail the grant funding for the project to continue.

     Osborne said roughly $700,000 out of $2 million in grants “is no longer available.” Conservation has acquired grants from the Federal Highway Commission, DNR, and U.S. Fish & Wildlife, just to name a few on the list.

     “We’ve made real progress,” he said. The group filed complaints with the state ombudsman’s office and the state auditor, questioning what they feel are inaccuracies/omissions in some of the grant applications submitted by Conservation.

     With more work to do to accomplish their goals, Osborne said they just want to save and preserve the dam.

     “We would love to see some sort of public/private partnership and work with Conservation to promote recreation, education, and the history of the dam,” concluded Osborne. “We want to assist with future maintenance and create opportunities there for the next generation.”

     You can find out more about the Friends group at their website ( and Facebook page (Mon-Maq Dam).



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