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Public access, recreation may be factor in future of mill pond

April 03, 2013 - Goodrich-Some light in the murky future of the century-old village dam was shed last week during a special meeting.

Dave Anthony of WadeTrim engineers, along with the councilmembers and several village residents, gathered at 9 a.m. Wednesday in the village office to discuss approaches, restoration, and methods to preserved the impoundment of the village dam. The discussion which featured a series of options for the village also incorporated recreational enhancements and public access as well as improving the fisheries of the Kearsley Creek.

"This dam was designed and built 110 years ago," said Anthony. "It's reached its life expectancy. The gates (used to hold back the water) are at a point of beyond repair. The concrete around the whole structure is crumbling around it. Similarly, the spillway is also beyond repair."

Last year the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality inspected the village dam and required some significant repairs. Specifically, that only three of the five wooden flood gates—which move up and down to regulate the amount of water and the level of the mill pond, are operational. Two of the gates remain stationary. The state inspector wants those two stationary gates removed and replaced with moveable gates. The cost and time were not estimated; however, the mill pond would have to be drained for several weeks and a track for the two gates would have to be built to fit the opening.

"In the short term those gates should be replaced and made operational," said Anthony. "That work along with a long-term game plan would satisfy the MDEQ's requirements. However, that's just a temporary fix. They are just necessary to be used in a dire storm allowing more water to go through."

Richard Saroli, village councilmember, said the next few months are critical.

"The pond will remain in all cases," he said. "One of the long-term alternatives include an area for fishing and launching canoes or kayaks in the mill pond. The idea is to pursue public recreational opportunities utilizing grants available to fund the project. There are several solutions including taking the dam down all the way and creation of a spillway on the north side of Hegel Road. Another plan will use the south side of the dam which will no longer be part of the solution."

WadeTrim did not discuss cost estimates on any of the projects, however, so far the work has cost the village about $26,000 for the research on the dam. On May 1 the council will receive a final report from WadeTrim as to the decisions made and the costs to replace the gates.

"This will keep the state satisfied until we get a long-term plan in place—we have a second special meeting at 9 a.m., May 7," he said. "It's key that we have a long-term plan ready to go this summer. There are multiple ways to fund the projects—as a community we need to find the most effective means to accomplish this."

Chris Freiburger, coordinator of the MDNR's Dam Management Grant Program, said the story in Goodrich is not uncommon.

"There are 2,600 Michigan dams listed in the State Dam Inventory with even more not included in this database. Most of these dams, like Goodrich's, were built decades ago for a variety of uses including power generation, water supply, log transportation, flood storage and recreation," he said.

Freiburger added that about 75 percent of Michigan's dams are privately owned, with many of these facilities, as well as those in public ownership, falling apart as shown by the fact the American Society of Civil Engineers recently gave the state a "D" in its 2009 Dam Infrastructure Rating.

"Generally there are no funds for dam repair," he said. "However, in most cases we can get the dam out of there. I could write the script for village councils discussions regarding their aging dams in towns and villages. It's never, 'We want to remove the dam.' They are very passionate about keeping it. They look at the cost of a new dam and too often it's in the millions. Then the folks that don't live off the mill pond, that don't have access, are not happy. Then the question becomes, 'Who's going to pay for this?'"

Freiburger said residents in the community often know the dam and mill pond as part of their heritage.

"There are memories and they are losing a sense of identity. It's difficult to accept if the pond and dam are gone," he added. "But overall they have been happy with it. We as a division support removal."

Freiburger said the Dam Management Grant Program will provide funding and technical assistance to local and state units of government, non-profit groups and individuals to manage dam removals or repair/major maintenance projects that will enhance aquatic resources and fishing opportunities in Michigan. It will focus on projects that reduce long-term infrastructure costs and address those that are an imminent public safety issue and are deemed of unsatisfactory condition by Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) dam safety or are under DEQ order. The program will be administered by the DNR.

"There were six projects funded with $2.35 million this year," he said. "Only two of the projects were for repair the other four were for removal. There is a growing crises in these infrastructure issues; however, the plan is to fund the grant program again with only $350,000."

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