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River Work Stirs Up Quasqueton Residents

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QUASQUETON, Iowa Construction of a rock arch rapids on the Wapsipinicon River in Quasqueton has prompted an outpouring of negative comments on Facebook.

The $403,000 project, approved more than three years ago by the City Council, finally got under way last week. When residents noticed large volumes of rock deposited below the dam on the river's west side, many of them voiced their surprise and disapproval on Facebook posts.

Some of the comments focused on the erroneous assumption that the city's aging low-head dam would be removed. Actually the dam will remain in place, though it will be covered with rocks in concentric downstream arcs creating the effect of a rapids.

Many of the complaints centered upon the potential negative impact on fishing in the area. Others bemoaned what they considered insufficient opportunity for input on the project.

Fishing has actually improved dramatically at the state's first rock arch rapids, constructed in 2010 on the Upper Turkey River at Vernon Springs, according to officials with the Howard County Conservation Department.

"We had a lot of naysayers but they are all on board now," Director Harold Chapman said.

The rock arch rapids reconnected the lower Turkey with 22 miles of river above the dam, "and the fishing has never been better," he said.

Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist Bill Kalishek said smallmouth bass now spawn in upstream tributaries where spawning had never before been documented.

Park Ranger Jeff Korsmo said fish can be found in the rapids when the river is above normal flow. When the river is at normal flow or below, many fish move to deeper water at the foot of the rapids, he said.

"It has moved much of the fishing downstream to the first pool below the rapids," Kalishek said.

Quasqueton Mayor Chad Staton, who took office after the project was approved, said he thought residents had ample opportunity to offer feedback to city officials.

In the months leading up to the City Council's June 2010 approval of the project, the city hosted a public meeting with engineers who provided an analysis of its benefits and an informational open house at which residents could comment for or against the project. It was also on the council's agenda last year as the city advertised for bids and accepted the low bid of $403,000 submitted by Jim Gallery of Winthrop.

Staton said the bid exceeded by $59,000 the state and federal grant funds available for the project.

To make the project viable, Gallery said he and several area farmers agreed to donate 600 boulders to the project.

"I wouldn't have bid on it if I didn't believe the project would benefit the river and the community," he said.

Gallery said plans call for layering 3,000 tons of 1- to 6-inch rock atop a layer of consisting of 6,000 tons of 12-to 36-inch limestone chunks, which goes over a base layer consisting of 2,000 tons of broken concrete.

"Over all that we will position 900 4- to 5-foot boulders," he said.

At least two deeper holes will be dug into the base rock to hold fish, he said.

Among anticipated benefits, the constructed rapids will eliminate dangerous undertows created by the dam, improve fish passage and enhance aesthetics and recreational opportunities. It will also relieve local taxpayers of future dam maintenance expenses.

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