Work on landmark city dam could begin late 2021 or 2022

By Louis Hoglund

With the allocation of $1.8 million, the stage appears to be set for modification of the historic Pelican Rapids city dam. 

Construction start is uncertain. 

“If all goes well, fall of 2021 is in our sights….but 2022 is probably a safer bet,” said engineer Rick St. Germaine, of Houston Engineering, which has been consultant for the city on the dam project. 

Fall 2022 is probably a more realistic target, agreed Amanda Hillman, Minnesota DNR-Fergus Falls office, at the Aug. 25 city council meeting. 

In the works for several years, the dam project was the focus of public discussion and debate—including several public input sessions. 

Many longtime residents were concerned with the dam project, because it has become a visual landmark in the city. Under the plan, the famous giant pelican statue will remain—but the 16-foot-high dam will be partly demolished and replaced with “rock arch rapids.” 

A rock rapids will create a more natural flow through Pelican Rapids, and re-connect more than 23 miles of river within the Otter Tail watershed.  Lizzie, Prairie and Fish Lake dams have been modified over the past three years—creating free passage of fish and aquatic species from west of Detroit Lakes all the way to the city of Pelican Rapids. 

About 29 species of fish will benefit from fish passage across some 23 miles of the Pelican River, after the dam modification. The DNR’s goal is to improve the river ecology, and reconnect most of the Otter Tail watershed.

The DNR has also contended that the dam is a safety issue, and removal would eliminate the hazard. 

Rock and boulder placements are hydrologically designed to withstand velocities created during a 100-year flood event, according to the DNR documents. 

Still uncertain is the cost of the replacement of the current walkway over the dam. At previous input meetings, businesses and residents expressed concern over losing a pedestrian river crossing in the downtown area. 

Also in question is the impact on riverside property owners, if the river should shift and meander differently by reverting to a natural flow. Some property owners may gain shoreland—others may lose some shoreland, depending on the flow. 

However, the DNR’s Hillman said that there appear to be no special encumbrances attached to the platted parcel descriptions with the city.  

The Pelican Rapids city council voted to enter into the contract agreement with the DNR