This aerial view of Mill Pond shows the dry riverbed, a combination of the draw-down of the dam—and the dry summer of 2021.
Note the fishing pier, upper right, which has since been removed to the city shops for repairs. Also note the famous Pelican suspension bridge, to the right.
The wet winter and spring have raised the levels somewhat, and there is water running over the dam now. City facilities Superintendent Brian Olson said the city may re-insert some of the planks at the dam to raise the pond somewhat. Exposed earth has also created an erosion problem for the block structure by the dam, and raising the water level could shore up the foundation of the building to prevent collapse, said Olson.
(Aerial service for photo courtesy Steve Foster)
DNR officials Amanda Hillman, left, and Howard Fulhart on the present walkway across the Pelican River dam in Pelican Rapids.
City administrator Don Solga has been working with the DNR and Houston Engineering—with the objective of designing the dam modification in order to incorporate abutments and retaining walls that will accommodate a new pedestrian bridge to replace the current dam walkway.
This photo was taken when a committee of legislators visited Pelican Rapids earlier last fall to view the dam bridge replacement and the city swimming pool project.
DNR and Conservation Corps crews dismantled the city park fishing pier last fall, 2021, pictured here. The structure was moved to Pelican city shops, where repairs are nearly complete. Through an agreement between the DNR and the city, the city will provide the repair labor, and the DNR is funding the materials, and will move the dam back to the Mill Pond site when the dam removal is complete—which will not be until spring 2023.


Iconic dam; giant, deteriorating Pelican to remain in place until 2023

By Louis Hoglund

Note the cracked plaster, and open gaps, on the famous Pelican Pete statue—which will be completely renovated as part of the dam removal and river restoration project in Pelican Rapids. The “World’s Largest Pelican” will also be relocated to the opposite side of the river from its present perch.

The river restoration project has been delayed by a full year, which means the Pelican Rapids dam removal and upstream dredging will not begin until fall 2022 to winter-spring 2023. 

The timeline on the project has been revised several times, for a number of reasons. As recently as March 18, there was a possibility that the project would be up for bid and initial work underway by May. 

“There were too many issues remaining,” said engineer Rick St. Germain, of Houston Engineering. Among them: Moving the famous, giant Pelican Pete statue—which needs extensive preservation work before it is moved to a new permanent site, on the opposite side of the river. 

“The entire project will be bid in the fall (2022) and completed in 2023,” said Brian Olson, Pelican city facilities superintendent. 

Other factors contributing to the full-year delay were the testing and final location for depositing the soil from the dredged areas. Some 14,000 cubic yards will be removed for the river restoration, and it is standard operating procedure to test the soil for contaminants, such as ag chemical deposits. 

Fortunately, the material was determined “clean,” and the city was permitted to spread it on city land, near the wastewater treatment plant.

“It will cover 15 acres, at about six inches deep…very fertile top soil,” said St. Germain. 

Famous Pelican statue becoming a key aspect of dam project 

Poor Pelican Pete, tired and worn with large gaps in his coat, has become a more serious consideration in the dam project. 

A state historical preservation agency is now involved, said St. Germain. 

It seems Pelican Pete is not only our icon—but is historically significant statewide. 

“One of our tasks is to put together a plan that satisfies those historical preservation interests,” said St. Germain. 

Under the current terms of the river restoration, the DNR will pay for the movement and return of Pelican Pete. But the city will be responsible for the renovation of the pelican statue. 

“We will probably need to get a specialist on board, maybe a private contractor, with expertise on renovating it and relocating it,” said St. Germain. The objective would be to move it off site to repair and renovate during the winter, and relocate it next spring-summer in a finished condition, he said. 

Stormwater plans will capture flow into Pelican River

The Pelican River is 85.5 miles long from the Otter Tail confluence to its headwaters. Removals of Elizabeth, Pelican Rapids, and Buck’s Mill dams would connect it all. Add fish passage at Dayton Hollow, Orwell, and Drayton, and another 530 miles of free flowing river would extend north to Lockport, Manitoba.

Stormwater flow is another issue, which also relates to the extensive MnDOT Highway 59-108 reconstruction. Presently, untreated stormwater is emptying directly into the river—which will be collected and treated as part of the highway stormwater plan. Because of the stormwater planning, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is also indirectly involved in the dam project. 

The heavy equipment and dredging work is typically scheduled after the ground is frozen, to minimize impact on the surface—so that also pushes the project to next winter. The concerns are not only disruption of riverside terrain, but city streets, noted Don Solga, city administrator. 

“We want to do this during freeze-up, because the heavy equipment and heavy loads could bust up the streets,” said Solga; and winter is the best time for blacktop and pavement to withstand the movement of equipment.

Abutments for future walkway in project

The city will see an additional benefit of about $200,000, courtesy of the DNR, noted Howard Fulhart, fisheries official, Fergus Falls DNR office. 

Abutments for a new walkway across the removed dam location will be designed and figured right into the project, said Fulhart. Also considered in the design are footings for walkways and other features around the dam. 

“That’s huge for the city. The state will cover the cost of the abutments, and the city will be responsible only for the bridge itself,” said Fulhart. 

The Environmental Assessment Worksheet was completed late last year, and the DNR determined there was no need for a more extensive Environmental Impact Statement—so the dam removal and river restoration doesn’t face serious environmental challenges. 

Some tree removal is anticipated with the project. 

There will be Americans With Disabilities Act features included in the project, enabling access to the riverside for the handicapped. 

Related: Fishing pier makeover