The Pelican Rapids city dam will be the focus of a town meeting Jan. 30, 7 p.m. at the Lake Region Electric Cooperative community room. 

The dam, which has been the subject of discussion for at least two years, is expected to need repairs in the near future.  

The Department of Natural Resources, as well as federal conservation and environmental agencies, have advocated modifications and outright removal of dams in an effort to restore rivers to natural flows.

The DNR has advanced this strategy by offering financial incentives to cities and other jurisdictions for river restoration projects.  In the case of Pelican’s city-governed dam, permanent repairs could run $1 million or more–most of which would be borne by local taxpayers.  But if modification or removal projects are approved, the DNR funds virtually the entire cost. 

  There have been at least 20 dam removals statewide. On the Red River, bordering Minnesota and North Dakota, nearly all dams have been modified from the southern to Canadian border. 

But dam modification has raised concerns locally. Some of the issues are aesthetic or sentimental.  The dam has been an iconic image in the center of downtown Pelican Rapids, and some fear the city would lose a scenic fixture. 

Other concerns: 

• Upstream impacts, as far as water levels

• Shoreline ownership rights, in locations were dam removal could shift the high water mark.  The question is: Who owns land that might be exposed by a shift in the river’s flow after dam modification?

DNR river scientists contend that dam modifications on the Pelican will not impact water levels; nor does it have an affect beyond natural high and low water cycles.  

The Fish Lake dam on the Pelican Lake Chain has been removed.  Talks are underway to open up the dam at Elizabeth, according to DNR officials. 

Property owners on Prairie Lake, the first lake north of Pelican Rapids on the river, have gone on record as supporting removal of the Prairie Lake dam. 

“The (Prairie Lake) Association understands the importance of the ecological and hydrological benefits of dam modification projects,’ stated the Prairie Association in a letter provided to the Press by the DNR. The letter is signed by officers Carol Kuvaas and Bonnie Weakland. “We support the DNR in their efforts to move forward with obtaining funding and replacing our dam with a rapids.”

Regarding shoreland “riparian” ownership rights, the property owners gain ownership of exposed shoreline in a majority of waterfront lots, according to Greg Larson, city attorney, who addressed the issue in December. 

Format for the Jan. 30 meeting will  likely include presentations from DNR officials, including projected images of the Pelican River damsite–and computer enhanced images of how the site might appear after modification. 

Pelican city officials will be on hand, and a question-answer session will be included.