Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Corunna seeks hearing with state over dam

Corunna seeks hearing with state over dam

Posted: Tuesday, August 10, 2010 12:00 pm

By JULIANNE MATTERA, Argus-Press Staff Writer | 1 comment

CORUNNA — Following a series of correspondence between the city and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the Environment concerning the future of the Shiawassee River dam, the Corunna City Council voted Monday to set up an administrative appeal hearing with the DNRE over what to do with the aging dam.

“It’s part of the administrative procedures that we have to follow to protest. Next step is if we can go to circuit court we could sue the state. Not saying that we want to, not saying we’re going to, but it’s not even an option until we’ve done the first step,” City Manger Joe Sawyer said, adding he hopes the disagreement between the DNRE and the city will be resolved at the administrative hearing. “The lower level that we can resolve things at, the better obviously.”

There is no date scheduled for a hearing.

According to the Shiawassee history website, the Corunna dam was constructed in the mid-1800s to provide power for a grist mill. The dam consists of a 200-foot wide overflow spillway with a 25-foot wide stoplog bay section located adjacent to the right abutment (west side of river). The dam has a height of 10 feet, a normal head of 7 feet and creates an impoundment with a surface area of about 17 acres.

The dam has been the site of several drownings in the last 150 years. The most recent fatal drowning took place in 2008.

Since the DNRE ordered the city to draw down the Shiawassee River dam and address its deficiencies in December 2009, the city and the DNRE have mainly corresponded by letter in the process of trying to resolve what work the dam requires.

Relying on recent reports from engineer Gary Croskey and those from more than 30 years ago, the city felt allowing the dam to deteriorate naturally does not pose a hazard to homes downstream, Sawyer said. Conversely, a review by Croskey indicated a “draw down to the impoundment would create more hazards than it would alleviate,” Sawyer wrote in a letter to the DNRE.

Yet, the DNRE has repeated its order to draw down the dam and present the state with a long-term plan for repairing the structure, removing it or building rapids or a dam in its place, Sawyer said.

“Now the long-term plan, that part of it we really can’t address until after November because we have to know, ‘Do we have any financial wherewithal to replace, repair or to build?’” Sawyer said, referring to the city improvement millage appearing on the November ballot, which would allocate funds to repairing, improving or replace the dam. “The state, realistically, they know that a long-term plan is potentially a one-, two-, three-year process to get there.”

If residents vote against the millage during the November election, the city will lack the funding to repair the dam and will resort to the cheapest possible option, Sawyer said.

Speaking about the city’s most recent correspondence with the DNRE, Sawyer said the DNRE’s letter in July was “frustrating.”

After sending a letter to the DNRE in June including Croskey’s engineering analysis of the dam, as well as questions regarding the DNRE’s analysis of the dam and potential impacts of a draw-down, the city received a short letter from the DNRE in July requesting the city submit a plan and schedule for fixing the deteriorating dam.

“They seemed to ignore many of our questions and many of our concerns,” Sawyer said. “They seemed to just write them off. In one point in the letter they suggest that if we have these concerns, we should hire an engineer to evaluate them.”

But Byron Lane, chief of the dam safety program at the Michigan DNRE, said he felt the letter adequately addressed the city’s concerns while advising the city of its obligations under the law.

“We have an obligation to enforce the statue, and the fact that someone asks a question doesn’t mean we have an obligation to respond to it,” Lane said. “If they have a legitimate question then sure, we will respond to it and clarify the law but, as you might guess, with 1,300 regulated dams in the state, we can’t afford to answer every question, every phone call, every letter we get. We do the best we can to provide accurate relevant information, but that aside, we can’t fulfill every request.”

Now, with the city council’s approval to seek the administrative hearing, there’s a chance the city and the DNRE will be able to work out their differences in court.

“One thing about juries is they believe in fairness, and I think we definitely can demonstrate they’re not being fair to Corunna,” Sawyer said.

Posted in Corunna, News local on Tuesday, August 10, 2010 12:00 pm
blog comments powered by Disqus