Further restoration of the Shiawassee River will be achieved as the final remnants of the Shiatown Dam are now being removed. The project has been long in coming (see history), and the Friends of the Shiawassee have worked with several state and local stakeholders to gain sufficient funding, meet regulatory requirements, and achieve safety, environmental, and recreational goals. By the end of 2019 the Shiawassee River will be free-flowing at the site of Shiatown County Park.
The Shiatown Dam is owned by the State of Michigan Land Bank, and they have sought to eliminate liability by removing this dangerous and obsolete dam where several children have drowned. In 2010, the Dam Safety Division of the State of Michigan had ordered steps taken to reduce the danger of dam failure, and in 2012 partial removal of the dam was accomplished. The State of Michigan asked the Friends of the Shiawassee River to assist with removal and restoration of the site.
The Friends have sought not only to eliminate a hazard in the river, but to take steps to restore the natural aspects of the Shiawassee River, create fish habitat, and expand recreation at Shiatown Park. To accomplish these goals, the Friends worked to secure funding from several state and private sources. Most notably, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources have provided both dam safety funds and an Aquatic Habitat Restoration Grant. Additional funding was secured from the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Saginaw Bay Watershed Initiative Network (WIN). Shiawassee County officials have lent technical advice and provided on-the-ground input on project design.
Securing these grant awards, meeting funding requirements, and coordinating different grants from different sources were the first challenge of the project. Gaining regulatory approval for the restoration of the River, which will involve work in the riverbed itself and the movement of a considerable amount of dirt, was the second challenge. The offices of State Representative Ben Glardon, and his successor Ben Frederick, helped move the project forward. All of it required patience and persistence from the volunteers working with and through the Friends. Four different executive directors for the Friends have been involved with the project. None of it could have been possible without the long-term commitment of GEI Consultants who provided engineering expertise.
Now, with water levels lower, a bid has been awarded for the final removal and restoration work. The contractor has begun work and will be putting in long days Monday to Saturday and plan to get most of the work done by Labor Day. Booms to collect sediment, called turbidity curtains, are one of several steps taken to protect water quality.
For safety reasons, access to all of the site has been limited. The small boat launch at Shiatown East Park just downstream from the dam is closed. The next downstream public access is the Vernon launch. Paddlers should either avoid, or take extreme caution, with any paddling trip in the area. Watercraft must exit the river well upstream of the dam. Once the project is complete there will ready access to the launch and no need to portage. The Shiawassee offers many other excellent paddling alternatives (see our Paddling Resources).
The Friends of the Shiawassee River continue to work with State and local governments to help with the removal of the Shiatown Dam and support the restoration of the adjacent County Park. A presentation with current plans was shared with stakeholders that showed example photos of restored conditions. A set of Goals and Objectives have been adopted for the project. While the dam site is owned by the State of Michigan, the Friends are coordinating engineering work, grants, and regulatory approvals. Currently, we have an application pending with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ).
The Shiatown Dam has been a community landmark in Shiawassee County for more than a century. Over the years, the structure and its adjacent millpond have served a variety of functions, from power generation to recreation to wildlife habitat. While these uses have evolved over time, the site has remained a well-known feature in Shiawassee County. As with any building or structure, time took its toll on the Shiatown Dam. The structure has not produced power or been regularly maintained for over 50 years. In 2010, the dam was ordered to be repaired or removed, and work began in the region to resolve the challenges this presented, to develop plans, and identify funding to bring this community vision to fruition.Read more