Corunna Dam Removal and Restoration Project
September 2019 Update on Corunna Dam Removal
Dam removal and river restoration in Corunna is happening this fall. The contractor, VanDamme Trucking, has begun the process of gradual lowering of the former impounded water area. This is slated to continue September 11-13 by staged breaching of the center of the dam. A boom with turbidity curtain and a sediment trap will be in place to capture and limit downstream sediment migration. Full time project work is slated to begin the week of September 30. The parking area at Heritage Park is being closed for safety. Paddlers are advised to avoid the river reach from Lytle Road to Corunna this fall.
July 2019 Update on Corunna Dam Removal
Removal of the Corunna dam has begun in the next step toward restoration of a free-flowing Shiawassee River. This effort will enhance the health of the Shiawassee River, improve fisheries, and expand recreation opportunities. In addition to the removal of the obsolete remnants of a dangerous dam, natural engineering elements will be installed to manage flow and create new aquatic habitat. After dam removal, recreational enhancements will be added including a walkway, fishing opportunities, and an accessible kayak launch.
This is a project of the City of Corunna with funding from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Saginaw Bay Watershed Initiative Network (WIN), a private philanthropy. The Friends of the Shiawassee River support this effort, but have no legal role in the project.
“We congratulate the City of Corunna for their vision and perseverance in removing this unsafe dam” said Lorraine Austin, Executive Director of the Friends of the Shiawassee River. “This community improvement will not only create a more natural river, but will also provide for more of its enjoyment”
Early on, while the City of Corunna was in a legal dispute with the State of Michigan over ownership of the dam, the Friends brought together federal, state, and local officials to investigate options for river restoration. A US Fish and Wildlife Service grant awarded to the Friends was used to hire an engineering firm to study the aging dam and develop alternatives for its removal. This work helped give direction to the City of Corunna and facilitated their applications for funding.
Major project elements include breaking down the old dam, removal of concrete and the deteriorated mill raceway. The rock from the timber and rock portion of the dam will be used, along with existing and imported stone and boulders, to construct a rock riffle in the area of the former dam. This is to include a center channel for small boat passage under low flow conditions.The banks on both sides of the dam will be regraded to better define the river channel in the area of the dam.
On the west side, upstream of the dam site, “toe-wood” will be installed to protect the riverbank and provide for improved habitat and fishing access. A walkway will extend from the improved parking area at Heritage Park to a viewing\fishing platform at the bend in the river by the Ambulance facility. The sidewalk will be installed at road elevation on the river side of the guardrail.
Recreation opportunities will be enhanced with the fishing platform, the creation of pools for fish habitat, and new paddling options. The existing launch at the north end of Brady Street will get a major upgrade including an accessible kayak launch.
The Friends of the Shiawassee River office at 538 State Road in Corunna has a view of the dam removal project and the new walkway will pass right in front of the office. Following dam removal and stream work, the Friends Stream Team will be monitoring river habitat and aquatic insects both upstream and downstream from the existing dam to help document changes related to the project.
Updated February 10, 2017, Corunna, MI - After decades of decay, the Corunna dam will be removed and the Shiawassee River restored, thanks to grants from the State of Michigan, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the privately-funded Saginaw Bay Watershed Initiative Network (WIN). Work is expected to start this summer.
The City of Corunna received a $301,500 grant from the Michigan of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in the beginning of 2016, and was also awarded a $33,500 grant from US Fish and Wildlife Service. With this funding in hand, the City has sufficient resources to remove the remnants of a dam that has troubled the community for several years.
In December of 2016, Corunna got notice of a $288,600 grant from the Michigan Natural Trust Fund to make recreational improvements at, around, and near the dam site. These include a walkway along the westside of the river, creation of fishing opportunities, an accessible kayak launch, and parking lot upgrades. Taken together these grants will transform the obsolete and dangerous dam into a community asset.
The dam has also been a barrier to small boat passage with no good opportunity for portage. Dam removal and replacement with a passable riffle section will further support a future national river trail designation for the Shiawassee. Work is expected to be undertaken in 2017.
The Friends of the Shiawassee River played an early role in this effort by bringing together federal, state and local officials to investigate dam removal options. A US Fish and Wildlife Service grant awarded to the Friends was used to hire an engineering firm that analyzed the situation, consulted with stakeholders, and presented alternatives. The Friends also supported the City of Corunna in its recent application for a restoration grant from the Saginaw Bay Watershed Initiative Network (WIN). The Friends issued this statement in support of the City of Corunna:
“Corunna has seen that restoring the Shiawassee River at the dam site offers opportunities for a healthier river, improved recreation opportunities, and the reduction of economic and legal risk. We are pleased to be able to help them with this effort. The mission of the Friends is to care for, share, and enjoy the Shiawassee River, and the removal of the dangerous dam in Corunna will help us achieve these goals.”
The restoration of the dam site will include the replacement of unsightly concrete with several rock riffles at the site of the dam. Fishing opportunities will be enhanced at the site with the creation of several fishing holes upstream from the dam. The additional recreational funding from the state will improve the existing Heritage Park at the site, add a walkway along the river, and create an accessible kayak launch.
A dam was first built across the Shiawassee in Corunna in 1841, and dams in the location provided first power for sawmills and then grain mills. The dam has served no economic use since 1954 when a mill at the location burned down. Ownership of adjacent lands changed hands, and the legal ownership of the dam has become a topic of legal dispute in recent years. With no agency or private owner taking clear authority for the dam, it has continued to decay and to present a hazard. Several people have drowned at the damsite, and the water level was lowered several years ago to reduce the risk of dam failure.
The City of Corunna for several years looked at several options for rebuilding or replacing the dam, but no grant sources were found. In 2010, voters in Corunna rejected a millage proposal that would have raised local taxes to fund repair of the dam. Meanwhile legal disputes with the State over dam safety responsibilities and ownership rights complicated other potential solutions. Subsequent to Michigan Supreme Court action that determined the City had legal responsibilities, the Friends of the Shiawassee and various stakeholders began to meet with the City to investigate options for dam removal.
The Shiawassee is increasingly becoming a free-flowing river on its major branch from Byron to the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge. In 2009, replacement of the dam in Chesaning opened up 37 miles of the Shiawassee to fish passage, including the spawning migrations of walleye. Upstream from Corunna, the Friends of the Shiawassee are helping on the removal of the Shiatown Dam, with the State of Michigan, owner of the dam. The next phase of restoration work is planned for this summer.