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The Eastern Echo Sunday, June 16, 2024 | Print Archive
The Eastern Echo

The view of the Peninsular Paper Dam from Peninsular Place.

Peninsular Paper Dam removal nears finalization

Ypsilanti City officials are in the process of securing over $15 million in grants to finalize the removal of the aging and hazardous Peninsular Dam, restoring a natural flow to the Huron River.

This significant milestone follows recent awards of $800,000 from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and $1.6 million from Michigan's Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) Dam Risk Reduction Program. The Huron River Watershed Council (HRWC) anticipates dam removal and river restoration to begin in fall 2025 and conclude by fall 2026.

Built in 1867 for paper manufacturing, the dam was acquired by the City of Ypsilanti in the 1980s and later deemed a high-hazard structure by EGLE. Removal aligns with the goals of EGLE, city officials, and project partners to improve river safety, revitalize fish habitats, and create a healthier recreational space for the community.

The Peninsular Dam project isn't just about removing a surface hazard; contaminated sediment below the dam also poses a risk. 

To minimize downstream impacts, the project will actively manage the sediment. This may involve hydraulic dredging or other excavation methods, rather than allowing the sediment to redistribute naturally, according to Mario Sebastiani, a water resources engineer with AECOM, the project's overseeing firm.

Given the area's industrial past, extensive contamination testing was crucial. Out of 33 samples taken, only one showed arsenic levels potentially hazardous to human health.

"This project is a major step towards a safer and more resilient Ypsilanti," Daniel Brown, a watershed planner with the HRWC, said. "Removing this high-hazard dam is vital for our community's well-being, especially as we face the challenges of climate change."

The dam's removal will pave the way for river restoration possibilities. City officials are considering projects ranging from $5 to $22 million, each offering unique blends of landscaping, recreational features, and infrastructure. Popular options include a kayak launch and designs that seamlessly integrate the park with the surrounding natural environment.

"The dam's location in a busy urban area offers high visibility," Brown said. "Combined with the potential for significant ecological restoration in a crucial section of the river, this could become a park with dramatically increased use and enjoyment by the community."