Shiatown Dam Removal Project Completion Commemoration Ceremony April 29, 2022

Wednesday, April 20, 2022 10:50 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

On April 29, 2022, Arbor Day, from 1:00 to 1:30 p.m. a commemoration ceremony will be held at Shiatown Park to celebrate the completion of the Shiatown Dam Removal Project that began back in 2003. Speakers and those present will include representatives of the many parties involved throughout this process, including the Friends of the Shiawassee River, the State of Michigan, Saginaw Bay WIN, and Shiawassee County Representatives. The general public is invited to attend this ceremony. 

In 2003, the Friends of the Shiawassee River (FOSR) conducted a dam removal study with the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources. The reservoir behind the dam had filled in with silt over 100 years and was no longer a body of water fit for recreational use or generation of hydroelectric power. The scour pit below the downstream apron of the dam was 18 feet deep and with about a 60 foot diameter. The waters below the apron were characterized with unyielding roiling backwash that had trapped too many people, resulting in drownings. Public safety was an influential factor in the removal decision. 

The dam had reverted to the Michigan Land Bank (the dam owner) for back taxes and was considered an unsafe structure by the State Dam Safety Division. The Land Bank and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources enlisted the FOSR to engage the local community and search out grant funding for a potential project. 

In 2012 a $30,000 feasibility study, including partial reservoir drawdown and sediment analysis, was conducted with grant and technical assistance from the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) Fisheries. In 2013 MDNR awarded a $162,700 grant for dam

removal. This was supplemented by a $62,500 grant from Saginaw Bay WIN. FOSR then conducted stakeholder and community meetings in Bancroft, with the assistance of the Shiawassee Township Supervisor, to evaluate options and settle on a final design concept. This added upstream channel and floodplain restoration and aquatic habitat enhancements to the project scope. The WIN “match” funding allowed attainment of additional MDNR grant funding: including a $365,000 aquatic habitat grant in 2015 and a $108,000 supplemental dam management grant awarded in 2017. 

Plans and specifications were prepared by GEI Consultants with several iterations and extensive negotiations over 2 years to obtain the required Michigan Department of Environmental Quality permit within budget. 

In 2020 the dam removal and stream and floodplain restoration were completed by M.J. VanDamme, Inc. from Gwinn, Michigan. The total project cost was in excess of $730,000 with $635,700 in MDNR grants, $62,500 from Saginaw Bay WIN and over $35,000 in local volunteer support. This does not include the reforestation and Park enhancements, such as the small boat launch and expanded parking facility needed for the increased paddling on the now popular river stretch from Geeck Rd Park to Shiatown. 

The river now flows briskly and freely through Shiatown and visibly demonstrates why early settlers grasped the significance of water power for sawmills and grist mills. The contractor’s final act was to seed a two-acre area to grasses, a stable yet barren landscape that the Shiawassee County Parks and Recreation Commission decided to reforest. It was to be returned to the forest that hadn’t been at that 

location since 1840, when Shiatown was a busy settlement which included a hotel, stores, and a post office. That project is to be completed on April 23, 2022, the day after Earth Day, with tree planting assistance from many parties, headed by the County Buildings and Grounds Department. 

The 20-year history of the deconstruction of this dam is a testimonial to persistence, coordination, and dedication from key individuals, engineers, private contractors and agencies. With a free flowing river, the macroinvertebrates (the base of the food chain for fisheries) and fish movements are unimpeded, as are the movements of fishers and paddlers. When a dam and reservoir lose relevance and compromise the valued character of a natural area, the actions of involved people, and strong general public support, effect positive change. This is a commendable story for a credible Midwest river and is being replicated all around our water wonderland that is Michigan.

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