Now that the state Department of Environmental Quality has signed off on the removal of the Brown Bridge Dam, with the Boardman and Sabin dams likely to follow, the next big issue will be fish passage on the Boardman.
Fish passage essentially means which species, if any, will be allowed up the river past the Union Street Dam in Traverse City, which isn't going anywhere anytime soon.
Ultimately, the state Department of Natural Resources will decide what Great Lakes fish species will be allowed upstream; the DNR decision won't be made until sometime next year after an internal Boardman River assessment report is completed and published for public review.
In the meantime, debate will center on whether to allow salmon, steelhead trout and sturgeon from going up the river to spawn and begin the annual process of spawning, hatching, heading through Grand Traverse Bay to Lake Michigan and then returning to spawn and die.
It's a controversial issue that has long divided communities where there are rivers and fish.
Major supporters of the effort to return the Boardman to a "natural" river status were fishermen who would like to be able to fish most of the the river as they do now from Sabin Dam north to the mouth of the river in the spring (steelhead) and from the fish weir near Hall Street to the mouth of the river in the fall (salmon). But riverfront owners and others often object, citing the fish carcasses that wash up on shore after fish that had navigated the river to spawn die by the hundreds or, on bigger rivers, the thousands.
To help sort out the issues and provide facts on which to base decisions, two state conservation organizations — Trout Unlimited and Michigan United Conservation Clubs, with funding from the Great Lakes Fisheries Trust — will offer a free public symposium Aug. 28-29 at the Hagerty Center in Traverse City to provide information on the subject.
The aim is to increase public awareness, said Trout Unlimited executive director Bryan Burroughs. The focus won't be specifically on the Boardman River, but on the positives and negatives of fish passage, he said.
About 10 speakers, mostly fish biologists from Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin, will describe what happens when various fish species are allowed or blocked from going upstream.
Individual presentations will focus on sturgeon, salmon, lamprey, round gobies and climate change. All speakers have been cautioned to keep personal biases out of their presentations.
Those who want to weigh in on the DNR's decision need information, and this is a great way to get it.