Boardman River Dam Project Flows On
By Beth Milligan (reprinted from Ticker March 24, 2018)
The next major phase of the Boardman River Dams Project is set to get underway this summer – a project that will require the closure of a portion of the river.
Members of the project Implementation Team appeared before Grand Traverse County commissioners this week to give an update on the project. Amy Beyer of the Conservation Resource Alliance told the board that representatives are gearing up for the removal of Sabin Dam (pictured) this summer – the third dam to be removed along the river following the removal of the Brown Bridge Dam in 2012 and the Boardman Dam in 2017.
“(The Sabin Dam removal) also is an Army Corp-led project, like the Boardman was,” Beyer told commissioners. Department of Environmental Quality permits have been issued for the dam’s removal, and the Army Corps will begin publicly advertising the contract bid in the next week or two, according to Beyer. A contractor for the project is expected to be hired in May. By June, “you should see those folks back out on the Sabin property and starting to delve in,” Beyer said.
The removal of Sabin Dam is expected to be less complicated than that of the Boardman Dam, which involved the construction of a new bridge on Cass Road, multiple road closures, and the use of fourteen large siphons (or pipes) to dewater the dam impoundment. Sabin’s removal will require neither road closures nor siphons. However, “there will be river closures” required to accommodate the project, Beyer said.
Anticipated effects of Sabin’s removal include “increased movement of sand and wood and materials as these dams start opening up again,” Beyer added. “This is an intentional part of the project.” Similar movement of natural materials and observable turbidity – or cloudiness – in the river also accompanied the removal of earlier dams and do not pose long-term risks to the health of the river, according to project representatives.
Beyer told commissioners that even as work begins on Sabin Dam, team members also continue to remain active at the two previous dam removal sites. “The point that we want to drive home is that we don't just walk away from these things after the dams came out,” she said. “It's a process of healing the river. There's monitoring going on. There's in-stream habitat enhancement. There's recreation access work.”
Monitoring at the Brown Bridge site, for example, “suggests that the river is recovering or responding just the way we expected,” Beyer said. Green vegetation is now beginning to flourish in the area – a result that is also eventually expected to occur at the Boardman Dam property, though Beyer cautioned commissioners that they were “going to see a time period elapse where some of these exposed soils need some time to green up.” She called the Boardman Dam property a “remarkable transformation” and noted that it had been “the largest piece of the puzzle of the dam removals,” adding: “We got through this part in kind of a best-case dam removal process. The dewatering went smoothly, there was incident-free construction.”
Efforts are now underway to make recreational improvements near the Boardman Dam site. County commissioners Wednesday approved pursuing state grant funding to build a new footbridge to connect the Lone Pine ADA Trail at the county’s Natural Education Reserve off Cass Road with the construction access road along the west side of the new Boardman River Channel. “Long-term plans are for this road to serve as a recreational that will provide a high-quality recreational experience for all users for the NER and the Boardman River Valley trail system,” according to County Parks and Recreation Director Kristine Erickson. Beyers added that the Implementation Team’s goal was to not only oversee the safe removal of the dams but to “make sure the river heals itself and is used to its fullest advantage” recreationally.
County commissioners are expected to hear a presentation on the last stage of the Boardman River Dams Project – future improvements to the Union Street Dam in downtown Traverse City, including a proposed FishPass system – from the Great Lakes Fishery Commission at the board’s April 4 meeting. Commissioners Wednesday reiterated their support for the project and their desire to recognize partners who have been instrumental in its implementation, including the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians.
“I think the partnership between Grand Traverse County, the City of Traverse City and the Grand Traverse Band is pretty much an ideal opportunity for our river and our community,” said Commissioner Sonny Wheelock. “When you look at dam projects throughout the country, we're not going to find another program anywhere near the undertaking that happened here. The partnership is absolutely huge, and I think the success rate is going to be equally as huge for the benefit of our community long-term.”