Meeting outlines future of Mon Maq Dam

A public meeting was held on May 18 to discuss the future of Mon Maq Dam in Monticello. Whatever is done to the site, Conservation wishes to improve fish passage, as well recreational use of the Maquoketa River. (Express file photo)

Conservation Director Brad Mormann addresses a full house inside the Nature Center. Mormann outlined several options for Mon Maq Dam. (Photo by Kim Brooks
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     The opposition was palpable in the room with roughly 60 people present for the public Mon Maq Dam meeting. The event was held on May 18 in the basement of the Nature Center at Central Park.

     Not everyone in the room was opposed to modifying the dam in Monticello. The audience also included Conservation Board members, County Supervisors, DNR representatives, Jones County Historic Preservation members, and other county officials. Also on hand were those offering professional opinions about the dam, as well as providing funding for any type of project here: Iowa DNR, DOT, and Barr Egineering.

     Many of those opposed questioned the need to remove a portion of the dam, didn’t feel the fishing habitat would be improved at all, and were concerned about the increased traffic on the river. If a portion of the dam were removed, that allows the Maquoketa River to continuously flow. Those who utilize the river for recreational purposes would not have to get out to avoid the dam.

“Out-portages are like rest stops on the interstate. You have to get out and walk around. Why tear a dam out just so somebody doesn’t have to portage?” questioned Monticello resident Harvey Johnson, who joked that perhaps a retired person might enjoy driving people around for the money.


“I guarantee you this (project) will change the behaviors of paddlers in and around Monticello,” said Hoogeveen. 


Johnson also questioned the funds that were spent on building the boat ramp at the dam several years ago, as well as the catwalk and overlook that were built allowing people to walk out above the Maquoketa River to see the dam. He said if the dam were taken out, the improved infrastructure serves no purpose.

Mormann clarified that Conservation does have plans to replace the boat ramp “so that traffic and go up and down.

     This project actually started 10 years ago when Larry Gullett was conservation director. Over time, and leading up to now, six different alternatives have been developed:

     • A – No action would be taken, and the dam would remain in place and continue to impede fish and wildlife movement, limiting population growth. Paddlers would also continue to portage. Mon Maq Dam would also continue to deteriorate.

     • B – The dam would be converted to a rock-arch rapids. This would improve fish passage during low water levels. For those wishing to see the historical structure remain, a large portion of the dam would be kept in place. This costly option would also reduce the passage for paddling, and no impact on flood reduction.

     • C – This would entail partial dam removal with a tiered drop. This would lower the dam to about 5.5 feet, with a tiered drop of 4 feet. This option would improve fish and paddling passage. However, it could cost in the neighborhood of $2.4 million, and result in long-term maintenance and liability.

     • D – This would mean partial removal of the dam with tiered drop and multiple drops upstream. This project would include three additional rock structures in the river between Highway 38 and the dam. The cost here is about $3.1 million with continued liability and maintenance.

     • E – Modify/remove portion of the dam. This, Mormann said, is the Conservation Board’s preferred option.

     It would entail removing 340 feet of the dam, while preserving 100 feet or so to the north attached the former mill site. Fish habitat features would be installed within the river, with access added onto the river’s edge for fishing, paddling and wildlife observation. Sediment would be removed upstream of the dam. This option would completely restore the fish and wildlife passage, and restore the natural function of the Maquoketa River. Mormann indicated this would also mitigate some of the negative effects of the Kitty Creek sewer pipe, while also providing further stabilization. Also, funding for this alternative has also been secured, which may not happen again in the near future.

     “We see a lot of use on rivers without dams,” said Nate Hoogeven with the DNR.

     This project is expected to cost about $1.5 million, with no local dollars going to this project. Most of the funding stems from state and federal grant programs.

     Mormann stressed to the crowd that nothing has been decided in terms of the future of Mon Maq Dam. The reason for the public meeting was to hear from all sides concerned, gather information, and put a plan together that works for the majority.

     A little over a year ago, a public meeting was held in Monticello concerning the future of the dam. Mormann said from those present, four priorities were established:

     • Improve the river for fish/mussels

     • Provide good fishing and access for anglers

     • Build a stabilized structure with low maintenance

     • Public safety/reduce drowning

     Throughout this 10-year process, Mormann said, “In 2010, the DNR released a document saying that the Mon Maq Dam was one of their top dams for potential removal based on biological and recreational issues.”

     The DNR fish and wildlife experts on hand, Hoogeven and Dan Kirby, both shared positive outcomes from all or partial removal of any dam. Kirby said structures, such as a dam, are treats to the wildlife ecosystem.

     He said the DNR has been studying fish passage in the Maquoketa River in Manchester since the dam was completely removed and a white-water system was built in its place. He said the fish are seen both upstream and down since the dam was removed.

     With 89 species of fish found in the Maquoketa River in Iowa, about 40 of those are seen locally here in Monticello.

     “So you can expect the modification of the dam, or the removal of the dam, to affect about 40 fish species,” he said. “But these fish adapt. They adapt better to a system where they can move around compared to those they can’t.”

     Rose Rohr with Historic Preservation said their group’s goal is to preserve history. The group would like to see the dam remain intact; but Rohr said if a portion of it has to come out, she would hope both groups could work together to continue to preserve local history.

     Mormann said interpretive signage, much like what is already on display near Mon Maq Dam already, would be added to signify and tell the dam’s story.


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