Located on the Huron River in Ypsilanti, Michigan, the Peninsular Paper Dam was originally constructed in 1867 to provide power for paper manufacturing. The dam failed in 1918 and was rebuilt in 1920. However, it no longer generates power and all electricity-generating equipment has been removed from the powerhouse.
The City of Ypsilanti owns the dam and is responsible for maintaining it. Michigan DEQ inspected the dam in 2014 and is requiring the city to submit a maintenance timeline to bring the dam up to safety standards.
The City of Ypsilanti approached HRWC to discuss options for repairing the dam or removing it. In 2018 the City of Ypsilanti and HRWC hired an engineering firm, with some funding support provided by the Friends of Pen Park, to do a feasibility study for removing the dam, restoring the river, and revitalizing Pen Park.
A feasibility study was completed in 2018 and was presented to Ypsi’s City Council. The City Council hosted a Town Hall meeting in February 2019 to share the findings with the community and get feedback before making a decision. The City then collected feedback from the community via its website. On May 7, 2019, Ypsilanti’s City Council voted in favor of a resolution to approve the removal of Peninsular Dam. (Resolution No. 2019-101)
Having participated in dozens of dam removal projects in Michigan, yours appears to be as smooth a path to success as anyone can hope to have, especially when the size of the dam and river are considered. We see no fundamentally challenging or limiting impediments or obstacles to removing this dam.
–Dr. Bryan Burroughs, Executive Director, Michigan Trout Unlimited (letter to City of Ypsilanti, Feb. 20, 2019)
The decision to remove the dam is the first step of many. HRWC is committed to supporting the City with applying for funding, reviewing proposals and other construction needs, and assisting the community with its plans for the adjacent park and surrounding area. Currently HRWC is providing technical expertise, advice, support, and facilitation. All decisions are made by the City.
Our role is to help make sure the project is safe, transparent, and improves ecological and public health.
The City is leading a public engagement effort as part of this project to maintain transparency, convey information, answer questions, and encourage residents to guide the vision for river restoration. Public Engagement is led by a committee comprised of volunteers, stakeholders, and City officials. The committee's meetings are public; agendas, minutes, and links to meetings can be found through the Agenda Center on the city website under the heading "Pen Dam Public Engagement Committee." The meetings are scheduled to occur virtually at 7:30pm on July 21, 2021; August 4, 2021; August 11, 2021; and September 1 2021.
Zoom Link - https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89195853988
WORKSHOPS AND TOWNHALL MEETINGS
The Public Engagement Committee is leading three workshops with targeted focus groups and one town hall-style meeting. The meetings will be held virtually via Zoom, with the option to join via phone or internet. As scheduled, these meetings include:
Landowner Focus Group: August 18, 2021, 7:00-10:00 pm* Focus Group Presentation 08/18/2021 (PDF)
Recreationist Focus Group: August 25, 2021, 7:00-10:00 pm*
General Public Focus Group: September 8, 2021, 7:00-10:00 pm*
Town Hall: October 6, 2021, 7:00-10:00 pm*
Zoom Link - https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89195853988
Meeting ID: 891 9585 3988
Toll Free Phone Numbers: (888) 475-7799 or (877) 853-5257
*Please note that the meetings have the ability to last until 10 pm, but they may end sooner depending on the duration of discussions. You may attend the meeting for as long as you are able and are not obligated to stay a full three hours. The City appreciates participation at any level.
SUBMIT A COMMENT
If you are unable to attend the public engagement meetings, or have attended and would like to submit additional feedback, we want to hear from you! Please tell us your thoughts on the project. All input will be logged and considered as the project moves forward. You can leave a comment with the Peninsular Dam Removal Input Form (link).
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
WHEN AND WHY WAS THE DAM BUILT?
The dam was originally constructed in 1867 to provide power for paper manufacturing; it failed in 1918 and was rebuilt in 1920. The Peninsular Paper Company Dam powered a paper mill in Ypsilanti that produced newsprint for Chicago for a century from the 1860’s to the 1970’s. In the mid-1980s, the Peninsular Paper Company donated the Peninsular Paper Dam and land to the City of Ypsilanti. The city created a park on the land and is now responsible for maintaining the dam.
WHAT PROBLEMS EXIST BECAUSE OF THE DAM?
The City of Ypsilanti is responsible for managing the dam and paying for inspections and repairs.
• Under State law, the dam is not compliant with safety standards. The city is legally obligated to fix it up– or remove it. The cost to repair it is estimated at $807,000.
• Once repaired, there will be ongoing inspection and maintenance costs.
• The aging dam can be hazardous and is a liability for the city if an accident occurs.
• It does not provide power anymore and it would cost far more to fix up the dam to generate electricity again than the revenue it could gain from the newly generated electricity.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF REMOVING THE DAM?
Pen Dam is a high hazard dam that no longer generates power and costs taxpayers money to maintain and fix.
The dam does not meet state safety standards and the city is legally required to fix or remove it.
Without the dam Peninsular Park and the Huron River become more accessible for recreation and enjoyment.
The improved park and building will support businesses by creating a renewed area for residents and visitors.
Removing the dam will cost taxpayers less in the long run than repairing and maintaining it.
The dam harms the environment. The health of the river and wildlife would improve, which would also raise the quality of life for all in the area.
Making the dam generate electricity again is not an option because the dam can’t produce enough power to pay for conversion, permitting, and maintenance.
HOW MUCH WOULD IT HAVE COST TO KEEP THE DAM?
If the dam is repaired ($807,000), the costs for maintaining it will continue and increase due to the aging infrastructure. Furthermore, the city will have to do inspections every 3 years. There are no grant funds available for repairing the dam so the City will need to pay for it.
HOW MUCH WILL IT COST TO REMOVE IT?
Grants for dam removal are a potential funding source for supporting removal and restoration costs. The feasibility study estimates the cost for removing the dam at $1,734,000 with additional costs for scour protection and reinforcement at two bridges (see the report for details.)
WHAT ABOUT THE PARK AND THE PEN PAPER MILL BUILDING?
With the dam removed, the size of Peninsular Park would increase to include the land on the north side of the river that is currently submerged behind the dam. The full potential of Pen Park can be realized because the entire stretch of waterfront would no longer be divided by the dam. The former powerhouse, with its distinctive architecture and landmark neon sign, could be preserved and restored to provide a signature waterfront location for community residents to come together, celebrate Ypsilanti’s local heritage, and enjoy the river. It could also provide commercial opportunities, such as canoe, kayak and bicycle rental or other ventures.
The City of Ypsilanti owns the building so the community needs to decide the future of the building and park.
HOW DOES THE DAM AFFECT RESIDENTS AND BUSINESSES IN YPSI?
The City is required to pay for inspections and repairs of the dam so it has fewer funds to spend on community programs and infrastructure. Also, since the dam harms the river and wildlife, the quality of life in the community is compromised.
HOW WILL REMOVING THE DAM AFFECT RESIDENTS AND BUSINESSES IN YPSI?
Because the dam blocks the flow of the river, people who fish have less to catch and canoe/kayakers have to remove their boats, walk around the dam, and put their boats back in. If the dam is removed, river recreation will increase and businesses near the river will have more customers.
For study reports, plans, and more resources, please visit the Huron River Watershed Council Page.
The following grant proposals have been made available: