The City of Ypsilanti owns a retired dam, the Peninsular Paper Company Dam, which powered a paper mill in Ypsilanti that produced newsprint for Chicago for a century from the 1860s to the 1970s. We all know this as Peninsular Park, or Penn Park. Including the dam, a neighboring piece of land, and the abandoned mill building, the site is, in a way, the Water Street of the 1980s.
Huron River Watershed Council approached the city about the possibility of removing the dam and we agreed to look into this potential project with them as a partner. HRWC has successfully done this in Dexter, and is looking for more opportunities to make the Huron River healthier and better prepared for climate change. The first step of considering the removal option is to conduct a study that would look at the feasibility of removing the dam including assessing the costs, risks, and impact on the surrounding infrastructure as well as testing the bed for contaminates and hazards. That study will be complete later this summer.
Like everything that we consider doing, there are people with strong feelings about removing and keeping the dam. People who live upriver, primarily township homeowners, have a real estate investment in owning land along the river. These township residents are part of Friends of Penn Park, a strong park advocacy group who have done very solid work on the park to help improve it. They have valid concerns about the impact of the dam removal on the value and aesthetic quality of their properties. Environmentalists and water sports enthusiasts are looking forward to the river being easier for kayak/canoe recreation, and healthier flow for fish breeding among other possible benefits.
The funds to remove the dam are likely available through federal and state programs with some matching from the city. The funds to repair the dam are less available through those means and will likely be shouldered by the city. If we decide to the keep the dam, no worries, we will try every means possible to help pay for it. I am merely stating the available sources of funds for each decision are not balanced.
One of my jobs as a council person and possible Mayor is to protect the city from risk. The dam represents a risk to the city, either by removing or continuing to maintain it. The cost to repair it is roughly $1M at this time and we will need to do that work in the next 2-4 years most likely. The cost and risks to remove it are unknown until the study is completed.
As a strong advocate for the environment, I have a personal preference for removing the dam. As an elected official of the city, I will help the city do whatever represents the safest long term decision. If it makes sense to keep the dam due to risks assessments including short and long term costs, I will work to make that happen.
Protecting our city from risk as well as looking for opportunities for us to grow is a delicate dance in this case. That park could be much more of an asset to the city than it is. The building could be developed and become a destination restaurant or brewery. There could be a canoe livery there. There is a lot of potential. That said, I will only advocate for the decision that makes the most sense based upon the study that is being conducted.