Traverse City Record-Eagle

April 17, 2009

GT Band seeks grant to help remove dams

Local tribe hopes for $7.5 million from NOAA


TRAVERSE CITY -- A local American Indian tribe is seeking a $7.5 million federal stimulus grant to help remove dams on the Boardman River.

The Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians applied this month for a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to be used to breach three dams and modify a fourth.

Work could begin Sept. 1 if the federal grant is awarded.

"Restoration of natural habitats, that's one of the fundamental pieces of the grant," said Brett Fessell, tribal inland fishery and wildlife biologist.

The tribe applied for the grant several days before Grand Traverse County and Traverse City commissioners decided whether to pursue dam removal. The move was made then to make the deadline for federal stimulus applications, Fessell said.

Grant money would pay for Boardman, Sabin and Brown Bridge dams to be breached, along with habitat restoration and sediment mitigation. The dams' powerhouses would remain, as would most of the earthen embankments.

"So this is just the start of the project," said Todd Kalish, a fishery biologist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and chairman of the Boardman River Dams Committee, which studied the dams and the river's watershed over the last several years. More money will have to be spent to completely remove the dams, he said.

Additionally, the grant would fund a new research station at Union Street Dam. The station would trap and transfer select fish species upstream and replace an existing fish ladder at the dam and a weir near Front Street, Fessell said.

The county owns Boardman and Sabin dams, while the city owns Brown Bridge and Union Street dams.

A project summary submitted to NOAA contends that more than 150 construction and other jobs would be created for the work. Plans call for $2.94 million for the research station and modifications at Union Street Dam, $2.35 million to partially remove Boardman Dam, $1.2 million for the same at Brown Bridge Dam and $500,000 at Sabin Dam.

David Miller, NOAA spokesman, said the agency received 802 proposals that sought $2.8 billion. NOAA has $167 million to dole out, he said.

"Obviously, there's a tremendous amount of interest in this," Miller said. "It's going to be an exhaustive process reviewing the merits of each proposal."

Decisions will be made by early- or mid-summer, he said.

Should the Boardman River dams project be funded, Traverse City commissioners will have to vote whether to allow the removal of the Brown Bridge Dam and modifications to Union Street Dam, city officials said.

Grand Traverse County commissioners voted April 9 to remove Sabin and Boardman dams, while city commissioners voted to pursue grant funding.