Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

April 8, 2012

Editorial: Correcting an old wrong

The process of deciding what to do with the dams on the Boardman River was hardly ideal.

There was too little time and effort put into the question of refitting the dams to create cheap electricity, as they had done for decades.

There wasn't enough discussion of what might be trapped in the tons and tons of silt buried upstream from the dams and what to do with it.

And according to the dozens of families who live along the impoundments created by the dams — Boardman Pond, Brown Bridge Pond, Sabin Pond — there was not enough consideration of what they were about to lose.

But in the end, removing the dams is righting a century-old wrong, undoing an assault on a natural resource that would never be accepted today and preventing a disaster if one of the old and ailing structures failed.

There are winners and losers, but in the end, the river will win.

And that is as it should be.

Reading the stories the Record-Eagle has run over the past couple weeks about what the lumber barons of the late 1800s did to the river to get their product to market was amazing for the size of the effort and the sheer gall it took.

They leveled the old-growth forest and turned the Boardman into a gigantic sluice run whose value was measured only as a product delivery system.

The dams were an outgrowth of that ethic and little, if any, thought appeared to have been given to the impact they would have on the river in the decades to come.

In a report appearing today, John Wyrwas, a retired Ford engineer and River Road resident who had helped organize meetings of property owners opposed to the dam removal effort, says he now supports the project.

"As it went on, I began to develop a deep appreciation for the damage caused by these dams," he said.

"I feel empathy, but we're part of a historical process," he said. "The historical use is as a natural river. The pond is not a natural part."

And that, when all else is said and done, must be how Grand Traverse area residents view the project.

The dams and the ponds they created are an affront to the river and must be removed.

The tons of silt and debris they are holding back will have to be carefully removed and dealt with; the dams themselves will create their own difficulties when actual removal begins.

This is a time of mixed emotions among those who love the river.

Plenty of dam removal supporters love the ponds and the ecosystems they've created, but know they have to go.

Bob Carstens, an Audubon Club member and a member of the Grand Traverse County Parks and Recreation board, is sad to see Brown Bridge Pond go.

"I'm a birder and I really appreciated the wildlife in the ponds," he said

But he knows there is a bigger issue here.

"That corridor is a prize and it is to be protected," he said.

If only the lumber barons of the 1800s had had the same ethic.

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