Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Saturday

January 19, 2013

Deconstruction work wraps up on dam project

TRAVERSE CITY — Brown Bridge Dam is gone.

Major deconstruction work wrapped this week on the much-watched dam removal project on the Boardman River, leaving behind only a large earthen embankment and a free-flowing stream.

"It's awesome to stand here," said Frank Dituri, chair of the Boardman River Dams Implementation Team, as he urged bystanders on Friday to go to overlooks near where the dam used to stretch.

"Come back to the river, and watch the river," Dituri said.

The wrap up of deconstruction comes a little more than three months after a major gaffe in the project caused extensive flooding to riverfront properties. An Oct. 6 breach of a construction device at the dam sent most of the Brown Bridge Pond cascading into the Boardman all at once, terrifying homeowners as the river rose several feet in a matter of minutes.

At least 54 properties were damaged.

The dam was built in 1921 for hydropower generation and was owned by Traverse City Light & Power. It was decommissioned in 2005, then removed this year as part of a long-term plan to demolish three dams on the river and return the Boardman to its natural state.

More river restoration will be done in the spring, but the majority of the Brown Bridge project is now complete, Dituri said. The removal cost $4.2 million, including design, permitting and construction.

The project restores 1.5 miles of cold water trout stream, 13 acres of wetlands and 25 acres of upland habitat.

Chuck Lombardo, spokesman for the Implementation Team, said the Brown Bridge Dam demolition involved 21,270 man hours and the removal of 260,000 cubic yards of sediment.

That amount of sediment would be as tall as a 10-story building a football field wide.

"The dam structure is gone, and the heavy lifting is done," Lombardo said.

A cause of the Oct. 6 flooding is still under investigation by the Michigan Dam Safety Unit. A final report identifying the cause is expected by spring.

"We wish it never happened," Lombardo said of the flooding. "(But) to infer that this was somehow a failed public works project that's going to harm the taxpayer — that's not correct."

The impact of flooding on the river's health also is being investigated. Members of the Implemention Team said Friday they are seeing near normal levels on tests to measure cloudiness of the water in tests this week.

"The project is extremely positive for the long-term health of the river," said Brett Fessell, a fish and wildlife coordinator for the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians.

Despite the flooding, Lombardo said the Implementation Team is committed to the removal of the Boardman and Sabin dams in the coming years. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is preparing a report to document options for removal of those dams. Their removal will depend in large part on the ability to raise millions through grants and private sources, and Lombardo is confident the money will be raised.

"We are facing the same obstacles we faced in removing the Brown Bridge Dam, and the team is confident the challenges will be overcome," Lombardo said.

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