The Boardman River restoration project -- and the removal of three aged dams -- is flowing ahead on schedule, but not without legal wrangling.
“With a project this large, there are so many moving parts,” explains Chuck Lombardo, a spokesperson for the project. “But it’s on schedule to return the Boardman to a free-flowing cold water stream. It’s moving along as planned and we continue to see the Boardman River heal itself, both up and down stream.”
The largest river restoration project in Michigan history includes the removal of the Brown Bridge, Boardman and Sabin dams, which were decommissioned in 2006 after Traverse City Light & Power determined that it was not economically feasible to produce hydroelectric power on the Boardman.
Phase I took five months and involved taking down the Brown Bridge dam, which was built in 1921. During that procedure in October 2012, floodwaters inundated more than 60 properties down river from the dam. Subsequently, a group of property owners filed a $6.3 million lawsuit against the City of Traverse City, contractors, engineers and the dam removal project team.
TC attorney Krystin Houle represents the landowners and is considering filing an amendment to the suit to add more defendants.
“The river will not recover from this disaster in our lifetime unless defendants are ordered to clean it up,” says Houle.
“Normally, our clients see hundreds of fish rises each summer, and this year they have seen only a few. There is contaminated muck that covers the river bottom and our clients’ properties. They have been flooded three times this year, each time, more of the sediment is washed onto their land. They are still living with compromised drainfields, mold, the stress from the event, and loss of income from rental properties that were completely totaled as a result of last year’s dam breach. The lawsuit asks that our clients be compensated for their losses and that the river be cleaned up.”
At a Sept. 17 hearing, Circuit Court Judge Philip Rodgers called the incident “an environmental disaster” and noted that somebody needs to be held accountable for it. The trial is scheduled to begin July 8, 2014 before Judge Rodgers.
Phase II of the project calls for replacing the cramped one-lane Cass Road bridge with a modern river crossing and the removal of the Boardman and Sabin dams.
Phase I was completed for $4.2 million and Phase II is budgeted at $10 million for dam removal, plus $2.9 million for the Cass Road bridge. Much funding for the project came from federal and state grants..
The Boardman includes 160 miles of river and tributary streams in Grand Traverse and Kalkaska counties. Each year an estimated 2 million user days are logged on the river for recreation purposes. Many come to fish the river, which is one of the top trout streams in the state.
Restoring the Boardman is also expected to have a positive economic impact on the regional community. Officials estimate some $3 million will be generated by increased tourism, recreation and property values.
In addition to the Army Corps of Engineers, other agencies partnering in the project include the GT County Road Commission, Michigan Department of Transportation and the project’s Implementation Team.