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Boardman River renovation will continue in 2012

The Brown Bridge Pond in Traverse City, Mich., shows signs of a draining process than began the week of Sept. 18 as part of a project to remove the Brown Bridge and the Boardman and Sabin dams on the Boardman River. The river that feeds into Lake Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay has been undergoing extensive restoration work in 2011, and the pace of the work is expected to pick up in 2012, making it one of the largest such efforts in the Great lakes region. (AP File Photo/Traverse City Record-Eagle, Jan-Michael Stump)

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — The restoration of a stretch of the Boardman River feeding into Grand Traverse Bay, including the deconstruction of dams, will continue next year as part of a major effort to undue the effects of decades of human intervention.

Traverse City-area authorities have been at work in 2011 to remove dams and recreate the Lake Michigan tributary’s original flow pattern. The project includes the removal of the Sabin, Boardman and Brown Bridge dams and the rehabilitation of the Union Street Dam.

“This is the largest river restoration project in Michigan, and one of the largest in the Great Lakes,” said Andy Knott, executive director of The Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay. “This last year has seen the most progress in terms of that restoration work. Next year will be an even bigger year.”

A fisherman sits near the Boardman River dam near Union Street in Traverse City, Mich., recently.

Traverse City owns the Union Street and Brown Bridge dams, and Grand Traverse County owns the Sabin and Boardman dams. The governments decided to remove all but the Union Street dam after Traverse City Light & Power decided to stop generating power at the other three sites, according to the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

A team including federal, state and local agency representatives has overseen the project and is preparing for major steps next year.

City Manager Ben Bifoss said he expects Brown Bridge dam to be removed in 2012. He said officials are working on permits, and 2012 will bring dam deconstruction and restoration along the river.

The team has raised $3 million to help pay for the project, and fundraising efforts are continuing.

Brown Bridge pond was lowered by about 6 feet in the fall in preparation, and Sabin Pond was lowered by 3 to 4 feet.

Sabin Dam removal could begin as early as fall 2012, county Administrator Dennis Aloia said. He said about $500,000 of the estimated $2.5 million needed for that site has been raised so far.

Some nearby residents say they are troubled by how the project is proceeding.

Bruce Carpenter, an artist who makes animal wood sculptures, has seen the river and pond he lives near diminish greatly as drawdowns continue.

“As a nature-inspired artist, it’s been very difficult watching the waterfowl, the mammals and the reptiles just fade away and die — because they’re gone,” he said. “There’s nothing but weeds, invasive weeds … that are taking (over) the whole area.”

According to Kalish, the drawdown provides a “better sense” of “how the river is going to interact” when the dams are removed and how to plan for restoration.

“We’re seeing the river channel find its old course and its natural course, and this is just sort of the first step in the long-term restoration of the river,” Knott said.

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