TRAVERSE CITY — Questions kept swimming to the top about a proposed fish passageway as a planning team gathered input for a lower Boardman River planning strategy.
So the team will host a question-and-answer forum on FishPass with Great Lakes Fishery Commission, the agency taking the lead among many working on the project, said Harry Burkholder, city Downtown Development Authority COO — the DDA formed the Lower Boardman Leadership Team.
The leadership team just wrapped a public engagement process that included several meetings, Burkholder said. People repeatedly asked about the fish passageway proposed to replace the Union Street Dam.
“So we felt, given that this project will be smack-dab in our study area, we felt it was important we help get more information and help people get questions answered as we continue to move forward,” he said.
People will have two chances to submit their questions in person Tuesday, Burkholder said. They can come to the Govermental Center at 400 Boardman Ave. at 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. or 5:30-7 p.m., according to a release.
They can also submit questions online by Oct. 21 here, according to the release: https://is.gd/XhyVel
Burkholder said the plan is to get an answer to every single question in a report, which GLFC representatives will answer at an Oct. 30 forum. That’s set for 5:30-7 p.m. at the City Opera House, 106 E. Front St., according to the release.
Audience members will have a chance to answer follow-up questions at the forum.
SALMON SLIP THROUGH
The meeting comes nearly two weeks after city and Department of Natural Resources personnel had to take measures to stop getting past the Union Street Dam, first under a gap beneath some fencing and then through the fencing itself.
Conservation Resource Alliance Biologist Nate Winkler said he saw salmon getting through the gap between the fence and stop logs in the dam’s spillway — that was about mid-September, city Department of Public Services Director Frank Dituri said. Winkler lowered the fence after running home to get a socket wrench.
Then Winkler got a call that salmon were getting through the chain link fence, he said. He was skeptical until he saw — and filmed — it himself. He figures they’re what are known as “precocious” male coho salmon, fish that sexually mature more quickly than other males and head upstream early to spawn.
Dituri said the fence was installed June 28 in cooperation with the Department of Natural Resources to keep salmon from getting upstream — now completely unfettered since the destruction of the Sabin Dam. His department took two reports, one about the gap and another about fish getting through the fence.
The plausibility of a fish getting under the gap below the fence seemed small to Dituri, he said.
“What we’re trying to do is do our best, we’re really trying to do our best ... to use temporary measures to keep fish out, to keep the salmon out,” he said.
City and DNR crews installed smaller wire mesh on the fence to keep small salmon from wiggling through, Dituri said — he’s not worried about a similar fence over the fish ladder, the flow to which has been cut off.
That fish ladder was left open in August 2018 after demolition crews removed the Sabin Dam, Brook Trout Coalition member Ted Wendling said.
He was critical of the city and DNR’s latest failure to keep migratory fish from getting upriver and thinks it’s possible that hundreds of salmon got through this time. Members of the public pointed out the issues in both cases.
“It sort of raises the question, they’re supposed to be the watchers of the river, who’s going to watch the watcher? It’s going to have to be us, members of the public,” he said.
The discovery comes amid controversy over FishPass and the impacts it could have on the Boardman River’s brook and brown trout fisheries. Brook Trout Coalition members and others have repeatedly raised those concerns, particularly if steelhead are allowed upriver.
DNR and GLRI officials sought to quell those concerns by promising no fish will be passed for some time while the system’s being evaluated, and even then only controlled releases of native fish — nonnative species would be barred during evaluation.
Winkler said he’s worried steelhead got upstream of the dam — their spawn could stick around, and studies show they’re aggressive in competing with trout for resources.
Wendling said he’s heard reports of large steelhead being spotted in the Boardman, and angler Russ Maddin previously said he saw a few while fishing upriver from Shumsky’s Landing.
Salmon young, on the other hand, will return to the lake, Winkler said. The adults are likely to swim to the river’s farthest reaches to spawn.
“They’ll keep going and going and going, I wouldn’t be surprised if one or two wound up in Kalkaska County at some point,” he said.