DNR determines environmental impact statement not required for Willow River Dam Restoration Project

July 9, 2020

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has concluded that the Willow River Dam Restoration Project in Pine County does not require an environmental impact statement (EIS).

The justification for the decision is detailed in a record of decision document. The DNR previously completed an environmental assessment worksheet (EAW) on the project, and the results of that worksheet informed DNR’s determination that an EIS is not required.

The DNR proposes to replace the damaged Willow River Dam with a rock rapids dam. The existing dam, built in the 1940s, breached in July 2016 after a large flood overtopped the dam. In its damaged state, the dam no longer holds lake levels at their former elevation. To restore lake levels, while also facilitating fish passage, the DNR is proposing to fill in the eroded channel and construct a series of rock arch weirs downstream of the existing dam. In addition to allowing fish passage, the rock arch rapids design will reduce safety issues associated with the previous dam structure.

As provided under the Minnesota Environmental Protection Act, the DNR prepared the EAW to assess whether the project presented the potential for significant environmental effects. The analysis considered:

  • The type, extent and reversibility of environmental effects.
  • The potential for cumulative environmental effects.
  • Whether any environmental effects were subject to ongoing regulatory authority.
  • The extent to which environmental effects can be anticipated and controlled as a result of other available environmental studies.

The DNR has determined that all potential environmental effects from the proposed project are minimal or can be managed through ongoing regulatory authority. Given this determination, the DNR is not ordering an EIS.

Under Minnesota Environmental Quality Board rules, the DNR’s decision ends the state environmental review process and the project can now proceed to decisions on required permits and other approvals.

The record of decision includes the responses to all substantive written comments received on the EAW during the 30-day public review and comment period.

Additional information, including decision details about the proposed project and the DNR’s review process are available on the project page.