By LORAINE ANDERSON
TRAVERSE CITY — Some 75 to 100 people gathered Wednesday afternoon for what U.S. Sen. Carl Levin called Brown Bridge Dam's "reverse ribbon-cutting."
"This is not a new project," Levin told a crowd gathered on an overlook not far from a hill excavated in 1921 to provide the soil needed to fill the dam's berm. "We're putting something back that was disturbed for good reasons at the time.
"I congratulate you not only for doing this, but for also doing it right," Levin said.
After nine years of study, discussion, debate and engineering, preliminary deconstruction began this week at the dam site off River Road in East Bay Township following the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality's approval of a permit to remove the 91-year-old dam.
An access road for trucks and dredging equipment is already being prepared, said Sandra Sroonian, senior principal engineer for AMEC, which was hired to design, engineer and oversee Brown Bridge Dam's removal.
Dredging in a sand delta that formed over the last 90 years at the north end of Brown Bridge Pond could start next week.
On Monday, workers will begin removing equipment and scrap metal from the power house, she said.
Other federal guests at the kickoff included Dan Ashe, director of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Department, and Bob Jackson from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
"It's important to celebrate projects like this that restore a piece of property that has given much," Ashe said.
Fish & Wildlife has funneled $1.5 million in grants to the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, which is one of the many partners in the project.
The BIA's Jackson, who kayaked the Boardman River Wednesday morning, came bearing good news. The project, officially called A River Reborn, was selected nationwide as a recipient of the Department of Interior's national 2012 Partner in Conservation award.
Brown Bridge Dam is the last of five dams built on the Boardman River from 1867 through 1921, and is slated for removal this summer. The other two dams to be removed are Sabin and Boardman over the next three years. Union Street Dam in Traverse City will be modified.
Hank Bailey, a Grand Traverse Band natural resources official, spoke about an important American Indian principle of considering the impact on seven generations when making important decisions.
"What I see here makes my heart feel so good," Bailey said. "I think this area is beginning to understand the seven generations concept."
He likened the river restoration project to clearing a blocked artery.
"We're healing one of Mother Earth's arteries. I think she's been hurting for a long time," he said.