The Ypsilanti City Council voted five to one in favor of removing the Peninsular Park Dam rather than repairing it on May 7.
The decision is one that will not only improve the environmental quality of that section of the Huron River but also will spare the city from fixing the decaying piece of infrastructure.
Although enticing, Ypsilanti should focus on dam removal before discussing ambitious plans of what will be done to the dam’s abandoned powerhouse and surroundings afterwards. The Water Street purchase over a decade ago was made with similar promises, and that investment resulted in financial disaster.
The current Peninsular Park Dam was completed in 1920. It produced hydroelectric power for the Peninsular Paper Company until the factory closed in the 1970s, shifting ownership to Ypsilanti. This has created a number of problems, mostly financial, for a city currently millions of dollars in debt because of Water Street.
The first problem is that the dam is not compliant with state safety regulations. At almost 100 years old, Michigan state engineers have classified it as a “high hazard for downstream communities should there be a breach.” The CIty of Ypsilanti is therefore legally required to take action.
The estimated cost of fixing the dam is $807,000, much more than the $500,000 Ypsilanti city council has allocated to its removal. Total dam removal costs will be in excess of $1 million, but city council is confident that the majority will be paid for via grant funding. On the other hand, no grant funding is available for dam repairs.
The decision to remove the dam is the correct one when considering cost. Some have opposed its removal, arguing it should again produce hydroelectric power. Unfortunately, the revenue gained from the electricity produced would not come even close to matching the cost of fixing it.
While renewable energy is key, the Peninsular Park Dam and the more than 100 dams on the Huron River are actively harming Michigan’s environment. This leads into the second problem caused by the dam. It prevents the natural flow of sediments and fish within the Huron River, lowering its water quality.
Sediment build-up, a by-product of dams, often results in the build-up of harmful chemicals and metals within the sediment, worsening water quality. This subsequently impacts the river’s plant and animal life, negatively affecting its biodiversity. Dam removal will return this section of the Huron River to its natural state.
While these two main problems are reason enough for Ypsilanti to remove the Peninsular Park Dam, council members need to ensure that they do not get carried away with future visions that may ultimately fail to materialize. The city, along with the Huron River Watershed Council, has already drawn up fantastic images of a restored Peninsular Place powerhouse as a restaurant with a beautiful surrounding park and canoe livery. While it would be amazing if these images come to fruition, they are eerily reminiscent of those drawn up during the city’s purchase of the Water Street property.
Ypsilanti needs to take this process one step at a time. Before grandiose images of a future Peninsular Park powerhouse can be realistically considered, grant funding needs to be acquired to begin the dam’s removal. Removal is paramount and will be successful even without the extras. Only after this has actually occurred should Ypsilanti begin thinking about what comes next, no matter how enjoyable it can be to fantasize about the future.