Hennepin Canal breach: Why neighbors say these incidents could get worse

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A massive breach in the Hennepin Canal recently has some neighbors calling for help from lawmakers. 

A nearby property owner says it could have been avoided if the canal was maintained — and he’s asking the new governor and other lawmakers for more funding to do that.

“My love affair with the canal has turned into a really bad relationship now,” says Matt Gehrke. 

His once-dream property along the Hennepin Canal has turned into a nightmare.

“Out of the 100 miles of canal it picked the perfect 30 feet to wash our bridge out,” he says.

That bridge connects his property. 

Gehrke says the Illinois DNR has been a great help but they just don’t have enough manpower to keep up with the canal. 

“I don’t even think they have time to maintain both sides of the trail now, let alone both sides and with the devastation that can obviously happen, they need more help,” Gehrke says. 

It’s something Pat Herrmann has been aware of now for about a decade. 

“Fifteen years ago there was up to 20 workers assigned to the Hennepin Canal. And now I think we’re down to less than five,” Herrmann says.

Herrmann is with the group called Friends of the Hennepin Canal. 

They commissioned a study back in 2012 to find out the feasability of restoring some of the locks. 

“Based on the cost of it and then the financial straits the state found themselves in there just wasn’t going to be enough funds,” Herrmann says.

But now, he and Gehrke are pushing state lawmakers to take a second look at the locks– especially at the base of the Rock River. 

“If that gate goes, there will be a flood running down the feeder canal, which cannot handle it into both sides of the canal, which cannot handle it,” he says

“Every weak spot will rupture and it’ll be all over,” says Herrmann.

Gehrke and Herrman say the Hennepin can have a hand in economic growth.

“If they could figure out how to get those locks going again and this could be a worldwide destination for people to come and hang out. We could turn it into an asset instead of a liability,” Gehrke says. 

Gehrke says studies show canals in Canada and Europe have gotten six dollars in revenue for every dollar spent restoring canals.

He and Herrmann are calling for more funding before things get worse. 

“I don’t want this to happen to anybody else. Somebody else might have a house that’s affected or a farm or barn or livestock that’s right next to it,” Gehrke says.

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