By JUSTIN ANDERSON
Capital News Service
LANSING — Michigan has more than 2,600 dams, many of which are not maintained and no longer serve a useful purpose, experts say.
Many are considered unsafe due to risk of collapse. Unmaintained dams deteriorate, threatening homes, property and people downstream, said Chris Freiburger, a supervisor with the Fisheries Division of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
“When we look at the number of dams we have and the age that we know of, it becomes a concern,” Freiburger said. “It’s a real infrastructure issue here that needs to be dealt with.”
The state recently targeted six dams — five in the Lower Peninsula and one in the Upper Peninsula —to remove or repair using tax dollars.
Dams usually generate hydroelectric power. When they don’t, they don’t serve much use, Freiburger said. If the owners of a dam aren’t making money, they aren’t spending money to maintain it.
“Public safety concerns were huge,” said Freiburger. “A big driver of this thing was to deal with infrastructure, and it became an economic issue as well.”
Eighteen owners applied for state funds, requesting a total of $5.8 million. Only six projects totaling about $2.35 million were funded:
• Otsego Township, Allegan County: $725,000 to fix the Otsego Township Dam on the Kalamazoo River.
• Ionia Conservation District, Ionia County: $994,975 to remove the Lyons Dam on the Grand River.
• Friends of the Shiawassee River, Shiawassee County: $162,700 to remove the Shiatown Dam in Durand.
• Vassar, Tuscola County: $40,300 to remove the Vassar Dam on the Cass River.
• Wakefield, Gogebic County: $69,300 for the Sunday Lake Dam Spillway Gate Replacement project.
• Conservation Resource Alliance, Grand Traverse County: $357,725 to remove the Boardman Dam on the Boardman River.
The Conservation Resource Alliance, a nonprofit group working in 13 northwest Lower Peninsula counties, is removing or repairing four dams on the Boardman River, said Chuck Lombardo, the communications manager for the project.
Other funding for the Boardman River projects came from private and public sources, as well as some from the dam owners, Lombardo said. The project is removing the Boardman and Sabin dams and the repairing the Union Street Dam.
The Brown Bridge Dam near Traverse City was removed in late 2012, Lombardo said. Work on the Boardman. Sabin Dam and Union Street dams are next on the list.
“The process is being handled in a way that as funding becomes available, then the projects move forward,” Lombardo said. “Phase one was more like decision-making and plan work.”
When completed, the Boardman River Project will restore more than three miles of the river, and reconnect more than 160 miles of water habitat, Lombardo said. It’s the largest dam removal project in the Great Lakes basin and will restore the river to a cold water stream that benefits trout.
“It’s quite a historic project and we have a lot of support,” Lombardo said.
Michigan’s dam management program began in 2007 with a study that found many are past their life expectancy, decommissioned or posed safety problems. In 2011, the state announced its initiative to remove aging ones.
Freiburger said, “The only downside is there are a lot of projects we just couldn’t fund.”
Among the 12 projects that won’t receive state money this year are:
• Bevins Dam rehabilitation, Oakland County: $99,200 requested.
• Breedsville Black River Dam removal, Van Buren County: $108,000 requested.
• Coldwater Dam removal, Kent County: $98,500 requested.
• Foch Lake Flooding Dam renovation, Montmorency County: $101,900 requested.
• Lansing Club Pond Dam removal, Otsego County: $530,500 requested.
• Syers Lake Dam repair, Lake County: $23,878 requested.
• Union Spring Dam removal, Ontonagon County: $53,800 requested.
DNR hopes to have more money in the future but isn’t sure if funding will be available after this year, Freiburger said.
Justin Anderson writes for Great Lakes Echo.
By JUSTIN ANDERSON