Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 3, 2013

Forum: Acknowledge role in Brown Bridge disaster

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — By David Downer

In response to our forefathers’ Brown Bridge Dam assault, the Boardman River, as if offering its forgiveness, adapted into the beautiful Brown Bridge Pond. I enjoyed its wildlife, fishery, and recreation for many years and always believed that the best way to honor that adaptation and atone for the assault was to protect and preserve the pond.

However, I lost that fight and I lost my pond. I had almost adjusted to this until, through carelessness and ineptitude, the dam broke and the river flooded, rendering yet another assault on my beautiful river. I’m having a more difficult time adjusting to that loss. To the extent that words can describe such a thing, please allow me to describe what the dam break and flood has meant for me this summer.

I miss the aquatic insects. I’ve always known what was hatching on the river by looking at the bugs trapped on the screen door and in the spider webs on our bridge over the river. River insects aren’t there anymore. Neither are the trout and birds that fed on them. On the curve in the river, just upstream of the yard, it wasn’t unusual to count 50 trout rising in just one sitting. I have not seen one all summer. Zero.

The cedar waxwings, swallows, and kingbirds that we watched feed on the same stretch of river are a rarity. Along with the insects, birds and fish, we’ve also lost the recreational use of the river. There’s no more watching the kids digging for crayfish; the crayfish are either not there or dead. Our family swimming hole just upstream from the house is now only waist deep and filled in with sand and sludge from the dam break and flood. My wife and granddaughter, both regular swimmers in the river, now are careful to wear eye protection and take post-swim showers to avoid irritation from the elevated levels of arsenic.

The Implementation Team Committee is made up of representatives of Traverse City, Grand Traverse County, the Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Environmental Quality, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Grand Traverse Conservation District.

They all keep saying everything is just fine and that the river will “heal itself.”

The river ecologists that I have spoken with say the river will not “heal” within my lifetime or my children’s.

Why should my river have to heal again from an assault that never should’ve happened?

Their failure to gradually lower Brown Bridge Pond and the resulting flood have created an “environmental disaster” which continues (24/7) to pollute and negatively impact the life in the river and my life on it. I just want those who are responsible to acknowledge and admit to the responsibility for my loss.

About the author: David Downer and his wife, Sally, are experts at living on the Boardman River. Sally was born and raised there and Dave joined her 35 years ago. David Downer is a member of the Boardman River Advisory Committee,

About the forum: The forum is a periodic column of opinion written by Record-Eagle readers in their areas of expertise. Submissions of 500 words or less may be made by emailing Please include biographical information and a photo.