The Harrison City Council met Thursday night and appropriated $10,000 to begin the formal first phase of removing the low water dam forming Lake Harrison and returning Crooked Creek to its natural channel.
The action comes after committee meetings Feb. 6 when the Finance Committee received members of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and The Nature Conservancy to hear their long-awaited assessment on the creek's restoration.
In April 2019, the Harrison City Council voted to allow the AGFC's Stream Team to develop a design proposing that the weir be removed and the creek be restored to a free-flowing stream. AGFC officials said technology has improved other means of stream barriers since the time when low head dams, such as the weir, were built.
Officials conducted discovery surveys for a conceptual plan of the creek and said the next step is entering into a 30% engineering and design study. By doing so the council will get an idea of the cost and what it will look like. Funding is currently available through the US Fish and Wildlife Service's Fish Passage program to meet most, if not all, the costs involved in removing the weir as well as the low-water bridge below it because it is also a barrier to fish migration.
AGFC and other state and federal agencies formed the Arkansas Stream Heritage Partnership to work together to deal with removing dangerous low head dams and at the same time improve recreation and tourism opportunities as well as restore the biological functions of streams.
Joy Wasson of the Nature Conservancy, and John Chapman are the lead technical advisers of the conceptual plan. She outlined options for the city moving forward. She explained the 30% design proposed by the partnership will give city officials more accurate cost estimates. It also provides options that can be taken to the public for input. If it is decided to proceed, then the city could move forward with its plans for parks and trails to complement the overall design.
Objectives have to be satisfied in the first design, Wasson said. For the conceptual plan these objectives have been identified as safety, controlling costs, maintaining current levels of flood protection, providing access to the creek and ensuring quality fishing habitat.
Reappearing before the council Thursday, Wasson said this phase would take about 6-8 months to complete. Public hearings could commence at that point.
Wasson emphasized that her cost projections at this point are based solely on her professional experiences and expectations. This includes everything — demolition, earth work to completion. Along with a contingency fund, the project would cost an initial $900,000 to $1 million. But there would be little to no future maintenance cost unlike there are with the current dam.
Reasons cited for removing the dam are its continuing high costs of maintenance and cleaning out the lake, drowning and other safety dangers associated with the low head dam, holding stagnant water in the summer and attracting flocks of geese which dirty the playground and other public use areas surrounding the lake.