(An artists' rendering of a possible reworking of Allegan's riverfront if the dam is removed)

Allegan council wants dam guarantees

By: 
Virginia Ransbottom, Staff Writer

At an Allegan City Council workshop on Wednesday, Sept. 4, to discuss Superfund clean-up at the city-owned dam, council members gave some suggestions of what they’d like to see on the table before deciding whether it stays or goes.

Council member Nancy Ingalsbee said she wants an independent engineer to look at plans to determine if the river will be a trickle or agree it would be a healthy 180-foot-wide flowing body of water with exposed banks viable as recreational areas.

“I’ve worked with natural resource issues for 20 years and the sad thing is the EPA has given the impression it will be something great and it hasn’t turned out that way,” she said. “We have no comfort level.”

Council member Traci Perrigo said it will be a change if the dam goes and is becoming a change if the dam stays because of sediment build-up filling in the riverbed and containment areas.

“We all love the riverfront and everyone up here wants to make the right choice for the community but either way there will be change and we already have to remove and demolish the condemned powerhouse (which will cost $1.2 million),” she said. “I’m scared, too, about the financial responsibility.”

Perrigo asked if it were viable for the city to go to the table with state and federal Superfund groups and responsible parties to ask for 100 percent funding to remove the dam in order to move forward.

City manager Joel Dye said, “I don’t see why not. If the community makes a decision the best thing to do is remove the dam at an estimated cost at $5-10 million and we don’t have it, we can’t move forward with that project.”

Council member Patrick Morgan said if the EPA wants the dam out, the city should not have to pay for it. “We like what we have,” he said.

On top of the financial assurities for residents, Morgan suggested adding a guarantee residents won’t be left with mud and when the DEQ walks away, they don’t leave it a mess.

Mayor Rachel McKenzie said it’s one thing to have a riverfront that’s pretty to stare at but when it’s a resource that people cannot step into and the water itself is not attractive—then getting rid of contaminants is tops on her list.

While the DEQ is currently retesting the sediments for PCB action levels and finding some sediments that are 13 feet deep, Delora Andrus asked to keep conversations open until those test results can be shared with the city.

Mayor pro-tem Charles Tripp agreed.

“In order for us to make a correct decision we need to look at all the reports,” he said. “We need to know how deep the clean up would be.”

It will be winter before those test results are in, according to Dye. He said if the council doesn’t have an answer to the DEQ by the end of winter, “instead of us directing them, they will direct us.”

Council member Mike Manning was absent.

Ingalsbee asked what was left in the sinking fund and was informed the capital sinking fund, which needs voter approval to use, was more than $2.5 million. The reserve sinking fund, which is interest the council can utilize stood at $180,496.

DPW director Aaron Haskin said it costs $26,000 annually for regular maintenance on the dam and one of the three spillgates needs work.

“Where the fountains are, we keep adjusting them because it’s getting shallower and 50 to 60 years ago, there were no islands upstream of the M-89 bridge,” he said. “So we have sediment loading, environmental concerns and the dam won’t last forever.”

Even if there were no PCBs, the city would still be dealing with the riverfront getting shallower by the minute, said Dye, asking the council to think about what that means 50 to 60 years in the future.

While Tripp said he was ready to vote, others were not. The next regular council meeting is Sept. 23. Both Tripp and McKenzie will be on vacation and with four votes of the council needed to pass a decision, it could end up in a 3-2 failure again, which is what happened when council voted to place the question on the ballot for residents to decide. The city attorney also said the council is required to make the decision.

 

Public comments

During public comments George Mohr gave a PowerPoint presentation that ended with a warning that removal of the dam would leave a river drained to practically nothing.

Sandra Savage and Dave Armintrout agreed. Armintrout said his dock would be high and dry. He said the river is beautiful the way it is and he also believed the PCBs were going away.

Dean Smith said Allegan needs to remove the dam. After witnessing the Portage Creek clean up, he said it would make the riverfront more beautiful than it is now—which is currently a cesspool.

Jack Ephofen said the EPA would take out the dam to its bedrock and every ounce of black silt 1 ½ miles upriver.

“They would use local contractors and that dam can’t hold back every spring thaw or rain—the flood gates can’t control it,” Ephofen said. “Think about that.”

Devyn Morris, toting a young child, said there seemed to be a generational divide.

“I feel like the older generation is focused on the aesthetics and wants to leave things as they are but as a parent I would like to see the river cleaned up,” she said. “I would like a place where I can take my child down to the water—right now we go down behind the library but it is too dirty—I’d like to get out of the parking lot that is the riverfront now and be able to have grasslands and wetlands to walk through.

“We need to think about the impact on the future and the environment of the people who will be here for many more generations.”

Dye, along with city staff gathered Wednesday’s information for future reference and to follow up on council requests. The meeting was also streamed live on the city’s Facebook page. The city’s website has the feasibility study and conceptual design along with other information. For information on the full scope of the Superfund project, the Kalamazoo River Superfund Site Community Action Group meets Thursday, Sept. 26, at 6 p.m. at Otsego Township Hall, 400 N. 16th St.

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