Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a dam

Published 8:35 am Monday, February 27, 2017

In the past few weeks, I have been asked more than five times about my thoughts on the future of the city-owned Pucker Street Dam.
Niles residents really do give a dam. I have no choice but to dive into the subject. Dammed if I do and dammed if I don’t.
Thanks to the Niles Daily Star’s coverage, I determined that the story of the Pucker Street Dam has something for everyone: history, sports fishing and tourism, sustainability and green stewardship, cost-benefit economic analyses, pro-government intervention versus government collaboration, and the finer points of hydroelectric power generation.
The hardest part of doing the dam research and writing this dam column was suppressing my inner-fifth grader and not using too many dam puns. I failed.
This topic is naturally PUNishing.
The Niles City Council has already approved the removal of the Pucker Street Dam, but they need to secure the rest of the funding before they can proceed. So the dam debate continues.
I am not an expert on hydroelectricity, but it has something to do with water flowing rapidly into turbines. This turbine energy generates electricity that is sent into towers that lead to a power plant.
I think I need to discuss the actual operation with a fifth grader, but you know dam well what I am talking about.
So now that it is dam near 115 years old (it was built in 1894), it is in need of some attention. The city had to shut it off in 1993 and they haven’t shut it back on since.
It is now boarded up, rusty, the cement is stained and it is a dam eyesore.
Because the Pucker Street Dam is owned by the City of Niles, the outcome of the debate between tear-it-down and ruin the trout fishing versus restore-the-facility and make it environmentally correct will have an economic impact on the taxpayers.
Using simple logic and fifth grade math, here are the variables. City officials estimate that the cost of saving the dam and restoring the adjacent land to its natural 1894 state would cost way more than the 2009 estimate of $3.5 million. There is grant money for this but not nearly enough, and the city of Niles has already begun collecting tax and grant money (around $2 million) to pay for the DAMolition.
On the other hand, it would cost the city of Niles only about $3.4 million to remove the dam and return the adjacent land to its natural 1894 state. By state loan agreement, the city has until 2018 to remove the dam.
Now is the time to fish or cut the dam bait.

A native of Niles, Jack Strayer moved back home in 2009 after living and working in Washington DC since 1976. Strayer has served as a congressional staffer, state legislative press secretary, federal registered lobbyist and Vice President of the National Center for Policy Analysis. He is a nationally recognized expert on federal health policy reform and led the fight for the enactment of Health Savings Accounts.