Ypsilanti officials are seeking public input on their impending decision on whether to repair or remove the aging Peninsular Paper Dam at 1249 Leforge Rd. on the Huron River.
The dam was constructed in 1867 to provide power for manufacturing paper at the Peninsular Paper company. The dam failed in 1918 and was rebuilt in 1920, but all electricity-generating equipment has been removed from the powerhouse and it no longer produces power. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) inspected the dam in 2014 and required the city to come up with a timeline for bringing the dam up to safety standards.
Livonia-based OHM Advisors were contracted to provide a cost analysis for repairing the dam, while the Huron River Watershed Council (HRWC) and independent third-party firm Princeton Hydro were asked to conduct a study on removing the dam.
Both options were presented at a town hall meeting at the Ypsilanti Senior Center Feb. 20. In addition to several city officials in attendance, about 45 area residents showed up to hear the presentation and ask questions.
John Tanner, project manager with OHM, started off with a cost analysis for a repair that would include tree and brush removal, slope restoration, and repairing the spillway and abutments, among other items.
The total cost for the project is estimated at $807,000, with a 20 percent contingency built into the budget.
Daniel Brown, watershed planner with HRWC, gave the presentation regarding the removal option, relying on data from the removal study. Princeton Hydro looked at three issues that have been problems for other dam removal projects: sediment quantity and quality, impact to infrastructure and utilities, and changes in the river's footprint.
Brown noted that the removal option was the more eco-friendly option. He said it eliminates the cost for ongoing maintenance and repair of the dam as well as liability if there should be another dam failure as in 1918.
"Removing a dam is one of the best things you can do for a river, ecosystems attached to the river, and communities near the river," Brown said. "That being said, every removal is unique, with its own challenges and benefits. The Huron River Watershed Council doesn't support dam removal without condition."
The general conclusion of the Princeton Hydro study was that sediment contamination was relatively low, within human health and ecological standards, and that no homeowner along the river would lose acreage due to the removal.
Impact to infrastructure would be an issue, however, and two bridges upriver would probably need to be reinforced, Brown said.
The total cost for removal is estimated at $2.6 million or $2.7 million, with a 30 percent contingency.
City officials pointed out that, while removal costs more, it is a one-time cost, and grants from state, federal, and nonprofit sources are available to offset the cost. Repairing and retaining the dam would mean ongoing maintenance costs, and the full cost of the repairs would fall on the city, with no grants available for that option.
During a question and answer period, several community members asked how long the suggested repairs would last. Banner said that repairs were a "Band-Aid" on a very old dam and it would be "tough" to come up with an estimate. He refused to even give a range of how many years the repair might last, saying there were too many factors involved.
One option that currently isn't on the table is retaining the dam and restoring its power-generating equipment. Comparing the size and slope of the Peninsular dam to other dam projects in the area suggests that there would not be enough of a return on investment to make that option viable.
Ypsi residents and those from other areas who frequently use Peninsular Park or sections of the Huron River that run through the city are invited to give feedback to city officials through a survey here.
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She has served as innovation and jobs/development news writer for Concentrate since early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to Driven. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo by Dwight Burdette.