Updated February 10, 2017, Corunna, MI - After decades of decay, the Corunna dam will be removed and the Shiawassee River restored, thanks to grants from the State of Michigan, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the privately-funded Saginaw Bay Watershed Initiative Network (WIN). Work is expected to start this summer.
The City of Corunna received a $301,500 grant from the Michigan of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in the beginning of 2016, and was also awarded a $33,500 grant from US Fish and Wildlife Service. With this funding in hand, the City has sufficient resources to remove the remnants of a dam that has troubled the community for several years.
In December of 2016, Corunna got notice of a $288,600 grant from the Michigan Natural Trust Fund to make recreational improvements at, around, and near the dam site. These include a walkway along the westside of the river, creation of fishing opportunities, an accessible kayak launch, and parking lot upgrades. Taken together these grants will transform the obsolete and dangerous dam into a community asset.
The dam has also been a barrier to small boat passage with no good opportunity for portage. Dam removal and replacement with a passable riffle section will further support a future national river trail designation for the Shiawassee. Work is expected to be undertaken in 2017.
The Friends of the Shiawassee River played an early role in this effort by bringing together federal, state and local officials to investigate dam removal options. A US Fish and Wildlife Service grant awarded to the Friends was used to hire an engineering firm that analyzed the situation, consulted with stakeholders, and presented alternatives. The Friends also supported the City of Corunna in its recent application for a restoration grant from the Saginaw Bay Watershed Initiative Network (WIN). The Friends issued this statement in support of the City of Corunna:
“Corunna has seen that restoring the Shiawassee River at the dam site offers opportunities for a healthier river, improved recreation opportunities, and the reduction of economic and legal risk. We are pleased to be able to help them with this effort. The mission of the Friends is to care for, share, and enjoy the Shiawassee River, and the removal of the dangerous dam in Corunna will help us achieve these goals.”
The restoration of the dam site will include the replacement of unsightly concrete with several rock riffles at the site of the dam. Fishing opportunities will be enhanced at the site with the creation of several fishing holes upstream from the dam. The additional recreational funding from the state will improve the existing Heritage Park at the site, add a walkway along the river, and create an accessible kayak launch.
A dam was first built across the Shiawassee in Corunna in 1841, and dams in the location provided first power for sawmills and then grain mills. The dam has served no economic use since 1954 when a mill at the location burned down. Ownership of adjacent lands changed hands, and the legal ownership of the dam has become a topic of legal dispute in recent years. With no agency or private owner taking clear authority for the dam, it has continued to decay and to present a hazard. Several people have drowned at the damsite, and the water level was lowered several years ago to reduce the risk of dam failure.
The City of Corunna for several years looked at several options for rebuilding or replacing the dam, but no grant sources were found. In 2010, voters in Corunna rejected a millage proposal that would have raised local taxes to fund repair of the dam. Meanwhile legal disputes with the State over dam safety responsibilities and ownership rights complicated other potential solutions. Subsequent to Michigan Supreme Court action that determined the City had legal responsibilities, the Friends of the Shiawassee and various stakeholders began to meet with the City to investigate options for dam removal.
The Shiawassee is increasingly becoming a free-flowing river on its major branch from Byron to the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge. In 2009, replacement of the dam in Chesaning opened up 37 miles of the Shiawassee to fish passage, including the spawning migrations of walleye. Upstream from Corunna, the Friends of the Shiawassee are helping on the removal of the Shiatown Dam, with the State of Michigan, owner of the dam. The next phase of restoration work is planned for this summer.