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Access to Vermilion River Planned For 2011 (IL)

Posted: 12/06/2010
By: Kevin Colburn

In late November the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) and Lone Star Industries, Inc., known as Buzzi Unicem USA, announced an agreement that will allow a treasured whitewater reach of the Vermilion River to be re-opened for public recreation. The river was closed by the company presumably in response to a lawsuit filed against the company after a drowning occured in the reach.  

The agreement will permit the IDNR to install safety measures and additional warning signs on and around a low-head dam on Buzzi Unicem USA’s section of the river. The IDNR will also designate a restricted boating area at the dam, and design and construct a future dam safety project on that segment of the Vermilion River. The area will remain closed to the public until these safety measures and warning signs are installed at the dam.

Under terms of the agreement, the IDNR now decides when the stretch of the river can be used for public recreation for non-motorized boating, rafting, kayaking and canoeing. The agreement allows the IDNR to begin work on the safety measures around the Buzzi Unicem dam before the end of this year. Public access to that segment of the Vermilion River could start with the 2011 boating season, pending acceptable weather and river conditions over the next several months.

Work on the project will take place over the next several months and could potentially create dozens of jobs.

Highlights of the IDNR dam safety improvements include:

  • Placement of hanging buoys to direct all boat traffic to the “river right” location of the boat passage section of the dam.
  • Placement of two diamond-shaped warning signs on the left abutment of the dam facing upstream and downstream.
  • Placement of two signs upstream of the dam to notify the public of the existence of a dam ahead and to stay river right.
  • Removal of exposed rebar in the dam structure, which currently protrudes into the open water where boaters and floaters pass.
  • Placement of concrete blocks and/or rock in the scour hole below dam to reduce or eliminate hydraulic roller (or rapidly flowing undertow) at the base of the dam.
  • Designation of a “Restricted Boating Area” around the dam.


Many paddlers reached out to their elected officials over the past year in response to the Vermilion River being closed by the dam owner.  State Representative Frank Mautino responded by working with the state agency and the company on a settlement. The issue highlights the outdated river access laws (and interpretation of laws) that allows private property owners to prohibit river access on rivers in Illinois and elsewhere.  It also highlights the value of collaboration and reaching out to your elected officials.  

Read a recent news article here

Kevin Colburn

Asheville, NC

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