Michigan Land Use Institute

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Jim Lively: Hooray! They Don’t Want a Dam!

Blog Archive | April 28, 2009 | By Jim Lively

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Last week the Grand Traverse region took a historic step toward enhancing the region’s already outstanding water resources when local leaders voted to remove three dams from the Boardman River.The dam removal project will be the largest ever in the state, and will restore this blue ribbon trout stream and 260 acres of wetlands.

This issue has been a political hot potato that pitted property owners on the ponds behind the dams with environmentalists, dam-safety regulators, and hydropower interests.

Moving an issue like this to a positive conclusion takes a tremendous amount of human energy that can only come from committed advocates willing to fight for the cause. We at the Michigan Land Use Institute know that because we have been demonstrating successful advocacy in northern Michigan for years on contentious issues like oil and gas drilling, Great Lakes water diversion, promoting natural rivers, stopping coal plants, and halting sprawl-inducing highway bypasses.

But we also know we can’t take on every issue. If we tried, we would dilute our effectiveness. So on the Boardman dams issue, we took a pass.

That is why it is so heartening to see other groups step up and deliver on such an important issue to our region and state. It was the Watershed Center - Grand Traverse Bay that provided the critical leadership and advocacy to remove the dams, with essential

support from other groups including the Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council, Trout Unlimited, Conservation Resource Alliance and Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. Along with leadership from state and county officials, these advocates persisted through an exhausting and exhaustive public process that ultimately resulted in a conclusion that will benefit the region for generations.

The highly inclusive public input process mirrored the process being undertaken simultaneously by the regional land use and transportation study called The Grand Vision. Ironically, The Grand Vision was spawned by a proposed bridge over the Boardman River that would have diminished the pristine recreation and wildlife habitat in the river’s largely untouched valley. In fact, The Grand Vision confirmed the overwhelming public support for preserving our natural and pristine water resources.

Ultimately, it was persistent advocacy by, and solid science from, the region’s water resource stewards that helped frame a positive decision by the city and county officials who own the three dams. We’re thrilled to see that leadership from our partner groups.

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