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Contract Approved to Monitor Aged Dam in Michigan

That money will pay for a checklist of items, including assessing erosion at the toe of the earthen dam caused by seepage, evaluating gaps in metal sheet piling, installing survey monuments and assessing underwater components.

Street Flood
(TNS) - Union Street Dam will get a closer look after a new inspection led to its condition rating being downgraded.

City commissioners agreed 6-0 at their meeting Monday to pay up to $134,600 to AECOM, the same engineering firm that managed the Boardman and Sabin dam demolition projects for the Boardman/Ottway River Restoration Project. Commissioner Roger Putman was absent.

That money will pay for a checklist of items, including assessing erosion at the toe of the earthen dam caused by seepage, evaluating gaps in metal sheet piling, installing survey monuments and assessing underwater components through dive or video inspections, documents show.

Jason Plum, a project engineer for AECOM, said the work can all be done without violating a court order in place preventing any construction, earth moving or tree removal on the dam. And the state Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy has some emergency powers if the dam's found to need urgent repairs.

Thirteenth Circuit Court Judge Thomas Power placed that injunction before ruling that FishPass, the dam and fish-sorting channel that’s set to replace Union Street Dam, doesn’t serve a park purpose and needs a citywide vote to move forward, as city resident Rick Buckhalter argued in a legal challenge.

His ruling came in January, days before construction on FishPass was set to begin.

The Union Street Dam remains in place while the city challenges Power’s decision in the state Court of Appeals, and on Monday Mayor Jim Carruthers and city Commissioner Brian McGillivary said the money they’re spending on the monitoring project won’t be the last.

“I’m disappointed we have to spend this money,” McGillivary said. “I don’t think there’s any question we have to spend this money. I think we have an aged, old dam we were planning on taking out and we were prevented from doing so.”

McGillivary said he received a number of emails from people who didn’t believe the monitoring contract was necessary. He disagreed, and thinks the opposition stems from fears that the assessment will show it’ll cost millions to keep the Union Street Dam.

Money spent on monitoring the dam wouldn’t be spent on other city infrastructure needs, McGillivary said, and one of the considerations is to remove some stop logs from the dam. That would lower the Boardman Lake’s water levels, which is done seasonally on some man-made lakes.

“This is what it’s come to, but I don’t think there’s any question that we have to move forward on this,” he said.

Replacing or repurposing the Union Street Dam was always part of the plan for the river restoration project, which has been nearly 20 years in the making, Carruthers said. FishPass sought to replace it without putting the cost on the backs of city taxpayers — much of the $20-million-plus project would be paid for by state and federal grants.

“This is going to cost our city a lot more for stalling this project, which is a good project that we’ve been working on for a decade to accomplish,” he said.

City Manager Marty Colburn said the latest EGLE inspection was initially waived because the Union Street Dam was set to be replaced. Inspectors downgraded it to a “fair to poor” rating, as previously reported.

Court of Appeals judges rejected the city’s ask to have the new inspection report added to the appeal record, and Jay Zelenock, an attorney for Buckhalter, previously said the city’s arguments about the dam’s poor state were undercut by the city using it as a pedestrian detour while the South Cass Street Bridge is being overhauled.

Power previously was unmoved by the city’s arguments about the dam’s condition based on an earlier inspection. He also said during a past hearing that FishPass being largely free to the city, while a good argument for the project, had nothing to do with whether building it on what he determined to be parkland without a public vote violates the city charter.

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