Conditions of dams in the Upper Peninsula

Local News

Correction: This story was changed to correct the statement that there are six dams with high downstream hazard ratings, there are seven dams in the Upper Peninsula with high downstream hazard ratings.

MICHIGAN (WJMN) – Dams in the Upper Peninsula are mostly in satisfactory or fair condition and all of the seven dams with a high downstream hazard are in satisfactory condition.

Dan Devaun a dam safety engineer for the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy says the hazard ratings take several factors into consideration.

“Is there, first of all, going to be loss of life or the potential for loss of life, if the answer is yes to that it immediately becomes a high hazard dam,” said DeVaun.

Hazard ratings take into consideration the impact that a dam break would have on people or the environment downstream. The hazard ratings defined by EGLE are;

  • High Hazard: Expected loss of life, severe impacts. A dam located in an area where a failure may cause serious damage to inhabited homes, agricultural buildings, campgrounds, recreational facilities, industrial or commercial buildings, public utilities, main highways, or class I carrier railroads, or where environmental degradation would be significant or where danger to individuals exists with the potential for loss of life.
  • Significant Hazard: Possible loss of life, significant impacts. A dam located in an area where its failure may cause damage limited to isolated inhabited homes, agricultural buildings, structures, secondary highways, short line railroads, or public utilities, where environmental degradation may be significant or where danger to individuals exists.
  • Low Hazard: No loss of life, minor impacts. A dam located in an area where failure may cause damage limited to agriculture, uninhabited buildings, structures, or township or county roads, where environmental degradation would be minimal, and where danger to individuals is slight or nonexistent.

DeVaun says they do inspections based on the hazard rating for a dam. Dams rated as having a high downstream hazard are checked every two years, those with a significant downstream hazard are inspected every three years and dams with low downstream hazard ratings are looked at every five years. He was recently in the Upper Peninsula looking at dams in several areas. He says he visited at least a dozen different dams, some with private owners and some owned by the DNR.

“I started off down in Manistique just taking a look at the Manistique dam, that is another of the high hazard dams, it is actually is one of our kind of problematic dams mostly in the sense that it technically doesn’t have an owner at the moment.” said Devaun. “The owner had actually filed bankruptcy and so we’re working through that process right now legally as well as pursuing our options for addressing issues.”

Currently EGLE, the DNR, Fish and Wildlife Services and the Army Corp of Engineers are all working to maintain the dam. Another dam DeVaun visited was the Redride Dam, The dam will be getting some repairs hopefully this fall according to Stanley Vitton an engineering professor at MTU that has been working with others in the community to save the historic site.

“One major steel beam got severed the other problem is I mentioned these holes that they cut into the steel dam, the water comes through that during flood time and below it is concrete and it’s eroded the concrete quite badly,” said Vitton.

The Calumet dam will also be getting repairs in the future. Tim Gasperich the township supervisor for Calumet says they are waiting for funding before they can begin work on the dam. They have a project plan set for the repairs and an estimated cost of 125,000 dollars.

Two other dams in the Upper Peninsula that are in poor condition do not have current plans for fixes. According to Lisa Klaus, a public affairs officer for the U.S. Forest Service, says Bulldog Lake Dam in the Ottawa National forest does not pose a risk to people or the environment for it to need to be fixed.

“If a future dam breach occurs,  the dam poses no downstream hazard due to the dam height and volume of water stored,” said Klaus. “As the dam foundation is on bedrock, it is likely that sediment discharge during a breach would have limited downstream impact on aquatic species.”

The National Forest Service does not plan on making any changes to the dam, but will continue having the dam inspected.

“The Ottawa National Forest has decided to let the dam naturally attenuate and continue with the 5-year inspection cycle required by the State of Michigan,” said Klaus. “This decision is based on Bulldog Dam’s remote wilderness location, the limited value of the dam, and the desire to bring the area back to pre-dam conditions. The slow deterioration of the dam would reduce the risk of potential downstream sediment impacts through attenuation.”

DeVaun says he visited this dam a few years ago and that it required a hike and paddling to reach it. The dam is in a very remote location within the Ottawa National Forest. He said it has a leak but somewhat controls the flow between White Deer Lake and Bulldog Lake.

Gulliver Lake Dam is owned by Schoolcraft County and also could use some updates. Jean Frankovich, Managing Director of the Schoolcraft County Road Commission, says they aren’t planning anything yet because the risk is very low and the money isn’t there to fix it.

Schoolcraft County does not have a drainage district, so no taxes go toward maintaining the dam. Frankovich said conversations on creating a drainage district were beginning, but put on hold because of COVID-19. Frankovich said she thinks if the dam were to break it would have little impact on the lake levels.

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