Friday, December 19, 2008

All For Nothing

One million dollars later and the decision on what happens to the Boardman River Dams is being left to the City of Traverse City and Grand Traverse County.

R-E: No consensus on Boardman River dams

IPR: Dam Decision

Below is an abridged version of the letter I submitted to the Boardman River Dams Project:

My Boardman River Vision

...the most important things for me are to return the River to as natural a state as possible; create additional recreational opportunities; and maintain water level impoundments as best as possible in order to minimize private landowner impacts.

I'll address my vision by working from upstream to downstream.

Brown Bridge Dam
I know that the impoundment behind this dam is a large draw for many people and therefore a complete removal of this dam is not likely. However, since there is space available I would love to see a structure that allows overflowing water but without the dangers of a low-head dam. My vision is reminiscent of the limestone bedrock in southwestern Ohio. There the rivers flow over large limestone "steps" and the effect can be quite stunning. I would love to see this natural feature replicated by a series of wide concrete steps where Brown Bridge Dam currently sits; structures that would retain a pond of some size behind it yet allow water to flow downstream and the migration of fish.

Boardman Dam
Remove or breach Boardman Dam but throw in boulders or a "rock" dam in order to allow fish migration, fast water habitat, rapids for canoeing/kayaking, yet maintain elevated water levels behind the structure to lessen the impact on waterfront property owners. Build a high two-lane bridge for Cass Rd. so that hikers may pass underneath it and along the river.

Sabin Dam
Remove it completely; let this area return to a natural state. Make the reclamation a feature of the GTCD Nature Center.

Union St
At the very least modify the structure to allow salmon and sturgeon to migrate upstream while keeping out lampreys. As a pie-in-the-sky dream, create a whitewater park between Cass Rd and Union St. This would likely become a regional destination as many U.S. cities are recognizing (e.g., Spokane, Des Moines, Flint, Reno, etc) and I've read about the enthusiasm the surf park in downtown Munich, Germany has created. It could also serve as the hub for TART's regional trail network.

Boardman Lake
I think consideration for Boardman Lake should also be part of any dams decision.

It almost seems sad that a river as recognized as the Boardman is forced through undignified steel tunnels under S. Airport Rd. Not only are they ugly but these tunnels make it very difficult to put-in downtown and paddle up the lake to points further upstream. In my case, when canoeing with my dog he refuses to go through the tunnels! Plus, the steel tunnels just are not inviting for paddlers.

I propose to replace the single eastern Boardman River tunnel with a larger and more natural-looking tunnel-like structure. Something that is big enough to allow two paddlers through at a time but low enough to keep out motorboats, And wide enough to allow a spur of TART's Boardman Lake trail to safely pass underneath S. Airport Rd. so that it could eventually connect to the GTCD Nature Preserve.

And to compensate for the slight reduction in nesting areas due to lower water levels further upstream create a no-wake zone along Boardman Lake's western shore area from in front of the Boardman Lake Condominiums south to S. Airport Rd. in the hope that this will allow loons and other waterfowl to find nesting areas.

To conclude, theses are exciting times for the Traverse City area. There is a great opportunity to link the decision on the Boardman River dams with the new Traverse City master plan and the Grand Vision initiative. I hope my ideas are useful.