(Independent Photo/Graham Sturgeon)
by Graham Sturgeon, co-editor
Representatives of the Friends of the Shiawassee River (FOSR) have announced that the final remnants of the Shiatown Dam are now being removed in the next step of restoration of the river. The project has been long in coming, and the FOSR has worked with several state and local stakeholders to gain sufficient funding, meet regulatory requirements and achieve safety, environmental and recreational goals.
The Shiatown Dam is owned by the State of Michigan Land Bank, which has sought to eliminate liability by removing this dangerous and obsolete dam where several children have drowned. In 2010, the Dam Safety Division of the State of Michigan had ordered steps taken to reduce the danger of dam failure, and partial removal of the dam was accomplished in 2012. The State of Michigan asked the FOSR to assist with removal and restoration of the site.
“The Friends have sought not only to eliminate a hazard in the river, but to take steps to restore the natural aspects of the Shiawassee River, create fish habitat and expand recreation at Shiatown Park,” said Gary Burk, FOSR board member, past president and project supervisor. “To accomplish these goals, we worked to secure funding from several state and private sources.”
Most notably, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources has provided both a Dam Management Grant and an Aquatic Habitat Restoration Grant. Additional funding was secured from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Saginaw Bay Watershed Initiative Network (WIN). Shiawassee County officials have lent technical advice and provided on-the-ground input on project design.
Securing these grant awards, meeting funding requirements and coordinating different grants from different sources were the first challenges of the project, followed by gaining regulatory approval for the restoration of the river, which will involve work in the riverbed itself and the movement of a considerable amount of dirt. The offices of State Representative Ben Glardon, and his successor, Ben Frederick, helped move the project forward. All of it required patience and persistence from the volunteers working with and through the FOSR.
Four different executive directors for the FOSR have been involved with the project, and none of it could have been possible without the long-term commitment of GEI Consultants, which provided engineering expertise.
Now, with water levels lower, a bid has been awarded for the final removal and restoration work. The contractor, MJ VanDamme Trucking, has begun work and will be putting in long days, with the plan being to get most of the work done by Labor Day. Booms to collect sediment, called turbidity curtains, are one of several steps taken to protect water quality.
The contractor has equipment located in and around the river, and there are many hazards that could cause a serious incident. Park users are advised to avoid areas where the contractor is working in and around the river. Individuals canoeing or kayaking are encouraged to avoid the area as a safety precaution until the dam removal project is complete.
The small boat launch at Shiatown East Park, just downstream from the dam, is closed. The next downstream public access is the Vernon launch. Watercraft must exit the river well upstream of the dam. The Shiawassee River offers many other excellent paddling alternatives.
Once the project is finished (projected to be substantially complete by the end of August 2019), there will ready access to the launch and no need to portage.
For more information, visit the FOSR website, www.shiawasseeriver.org, or send an email to email@example.com.