Victim of Niles dam threat documents the day's events

By: Erin Logan Email
By: Erin Logan Email

They unlocked their homes and unpacked their overnight bags.

It was a sleepless night for many in Niles after they were forced to evacuate their homes when it was discovered that a retaining wall west of the Pucker Street dam had been damaged by flood waters.

Tuesday night, that order was lifted.

A total of 49 homes and two businesses were evacuated.

By mid afternoon Tuesday, the problem had been fixed.

The erosion was repaired by using a 130-foot crane to brace the wall with large piece of concrete.

Picture after picture snapped meant perfect work material for Donna Ochenryder. It was one way to keep her busy and calm her fears.

She says, “The first thing I thought, I can't take all the books with me, all the photos, so I thought I'll take my computers.”

A volunteer historian in Niles, she knew when firefighters said leave immediately, she may or may not ever see her prized possessions again.

This was what they said on the phone.

“There was a possibility of a 25-30 foot water wall that might travel down the river at 40-50 miles an hour.”

Ochenryder says, “If that's coming down with logs and blocks of steel, it's going to wipe out this bank and therefore cause or house to slide into the river. I said Lord, it's in your hands.”

In this case, she says he worked miracles once a 130 foot crane arrived. Now, Ochenryder is home getting started on documenting the day’s events of the Pucker Street dam threat.

She has a picture of the original dam in 1897.

She says, “Then, here it was remodeled in 1928 and again in 1970 and then it no longer operated I’d say in 1998.”

Ochenryder says since then the bridge has been off the radar. Now, she says this historic event has the city thinking.

She says, “When we see this happen and the effect it had on so many people then knowing the need for energy, maybe bringing it up with the latest technology, that would be wonderful.”

The dam is owned by the city of Niles, and is not now used to produce electricity.

However, city leaders say there is actually a study in the works to covert this dam to a hydroelectric dam.

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