Dam removal, river project revised, with more expansive current, pond

Changes in the plans for the Pelican river restoration project could create an even more impressive view of the Pelican Rapids cityscape and park system. Revisions call for wider rapids and a bigger pool near the Peterson and Sherin park areas.
This is a computer-generated image of the river view, which may now be even wider in scope.

By Louis Hoglund

The demolition of the iconic Pelican Rapids city dam and Pelican River restoration project is moving toward “D-Day”— “Dam Day.”

A couple of revisions in the project plan could be an improvement—including a widening of the pool behind the dam. While it is expected to add a more vivid view from the downtown business district, a side-effect of this change is an increase in costs, because the planned pedestrian bridge will go from the original 100-foot length to 120 feet. The DNR is covering almost all the costs of the project, but the expense of the new bridge will be shared between the city and state. 

Idle for nearly a year, the project timeline is now coming into focus. 

The Pelican Pete statue is expected to be removed and relocated to a safe spot during the demolition. The bid for Pete’s move has been approved, at about $79,000.

Bids for the overall project will be advertised in mid-October, and opened in early November. Demolition, construction, and dredging could be in full gear from December to spring. 

Completion of most of the project is anticipated by mid-August, the Pelican Rapids City Council learned last week. 

By widening the Mill Pond area, the width of the river will also increase beneath the suspension bridge. This was a concern during the community input sessions, as many feared that the bridge—a signature feature of Pelican’s park system—would extend over a “small stream” of water. The widening could create a more pleasing view with a larger expanse of water. 

When Pelican Pete returns, he will be on the opposite side of the river—with an entirely new “nest.” With a new platform, his profile will be higher—also offering a more scenic view from downtown. A completely new sidewalk and path network will be created to connect the restored river recreation area and park system. 

“From an aesthetic standpoint, the width will add to the appeal and view,” said Don Solga, city administrator. “The changes are a plus. 

The only negative is adding 20 feet to the bridge…but in the grand scheme, it is a better plan than before.”

Solga said the increased expense of the bridge would likely be covered by municipal liquor store profits. 

If the project continues on schedule, bids could be awarded by mid-November. 

Joe Clauson, Pelican’s new Chamber of Commerce president, suggested that the DNR consider more dredging to create a possible beach and swimming area by E.L. Peterson park. Particularly, he noted, because the timeline for the new city swim pool is less firm. 

Amanda Hillman, DNR, said that swimming has not been a part of the plan.

Though costs are up on all construction fronts, Houston Engineering, which is partnering with the DNR on the project, believes there could be a competitive bidding process. The project is largely off-season, winter work—and could attract a number of interested contractors.