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Agencies making slow progress on aqueduct restoration

MORRIS – Walking down the I&M Canal towpath, it’s hard to forget the Nettle Creek aqueduct is broken.

The loss of the structure has visibly altered the local landscape. Downtown, canal water sits stagnant, covered in a thick layer of green moss. At Gebhard Woods, weeds have replaced water in the ponds, dried up months ago.

For years, the historic aqueduct carried canal waters over the Nettle Creek, but it was destroyed during the disastrous floods of April 2013.

Pressure from the rising water caused the structure to collapse.

“West of the creek is dried, and east of the creek is completely stagnant because the water isn’t flowing off of it as it did,” Morris Mayor Richard Kopczick said.

More than a year after the flood, sections of the towpath remain closed and no visible progress has been made on the aqueduct’s restoration.

But behind the scenes, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the Federal Emergency Management Agency – with input from several local agencies – have drafted a project plan now under federal review.

According to information from FEMA representative Cassie Ringsdorf, IDNR is proposing to demolish and replace the aqueduct.

The new structure will have a larger opening to minimize the potential for future flooding or blockages.

“Based on a hydrology and hydraulics analysis of the area, IDNR has indicated that a wider opening will reduce the chances of backwater flood flows on Nettle Creek,” Ringsdorf said in an email.

The Grundy County Historical Society dates the original aqueduct to 1845 to 1848, but the structure was repaired and restored by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, according to IDNR.

As a historical landmark, law requires engineers use as much of the original rock in the new structure as possible.

“Last I heard, which was about three months ago, they were going to take the old stones and build modern caissons out of concrete and face them with the old stones,” said Donna Sroczynski, president of the Grundy County Historical Society.

The historical society is one of the organizations involved in the process.

The National Park Service, City of Morris, Canal Corridor Association and other private parties have signed a memorandum of agreement supporting the proposed project.

Aside from the changes in scenery, Kopczick said pedestrian traffic through Morris has decreased since the aqueduct’s decay.

Walkers, joggers and bicyclists could travel the towpath uninterrupted for miles, all the way from Channahon to Buffalo Rock in Ottawa.

But today, a large section near the aqueduct is closed, forcing pedestrians to find alternate routes.

“It’s greatly reduced the amount of pedestrian traffic through the city of Morris,” he said. “You can’t make that trip because there’s a break in the path. There’s no easy way to get to one side to the other.”

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