VIGO COUNTY, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) — Adam Grossman has known for years the county would have to do something about the Markle Mill dam.
The dam was built over 200 years ago, and as it has deteriorated, Grossman, superintendent of the Vigo County Parks and Recreation Department, said it presents a serious safety concern.
“We’ve always had concern about that park. There’s a safety issue with that low-head dam. We’ve been talking for years what we would do about it,” Grossman said in a phone interview. “Just like anything else in our parks, safety is always number one, and unfortunately there has already been a death at that site.”
The death occurred back in 2010. Low head dams have been notoriously dangerous– with Indiana lawmakers recently passing legislation outlawing anyone from coming within 50 feet of a low head dam with proper signage, like the one at Markle Mill has.
Jerry Sweeten, a restoration ecologist who’s helping work on potential removal for the dam, said the danger comes from something called hydraulic recirculation– a violent current created at the bottom of the dam.
“If someone gets too close to the tow of the dam from the downstream side, they get caught in that,” Sweeten said. “It pulls them down under, it pops them back up, down under the water and the current is so strong they simply can’t swim out from underneath it.”
Even as the park has installed fencing and signage warning people to stay away, Grossman said they will still have people taking unnecessary risks near the structure.
“People swim underneath of it, fish underneath of it, they try to walk across it,” Grossman said. “All of those things are extremely dangerous. That dam has been deemed an imminent failure.”
Sweeten said the damage was so severe that the dam will eventually be swept away by the environment. He said, on top of alleviating safety concerns, the removal also comes to the benefit of local fish populations.
“The other major issue is that it blocks fish migration. Fish in Indiana streams need to swim upstream and downstream,” Sweeten said.
Grossman said the county is taking steps to remove the dam, including hosting a public meeting on at 6 p.m. on Feb. 15 at the Vigo County Council Chambers. The purpose of the meeting is to help inform people of what removal will look like, and what’s next for the park. Grossman said he encouraged anyone with alternative options to voice their opinions.
Grossman said the project will cost a little over $200,000, but the department was in the process of applying for additional grants to cover the cost. They already received one from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service for $109,500.
Sweeten said, if removal is completed, Ecosystems Connections will complete a study to see how fish populations recover in the following year. While no timeline has been set, Grossman said the ideal time for removal would be around September, if that’s the final decision the county makes.