After decades of danger, the Shiatown dam is moving toward removal in 2016. The Friends of the Shiawassee River have been working with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and several stakeholders to restore the Shiawassee River at the site of the former dam, improve the habitat for fish and other wildlife, and enhance recreational opportunities at Shiatown Park.
The Friends of the Shiawassee River recently held an informational meeting to share the current project status and gather public input. Stakeholders from state and local government, property owners, and paddlers provided input. After approvals, removal of dam remnants is planned to begin in July, with complete restoration likely by September. In addition, Shiawassee County is updating their plans for Shiatown Park. After the river restoration is complete, improvements to the Park will then be possible.
The Friends of the Shiawassee have been working with different funders to remove the dam beginning with a US Fish and Wildlife grant in 2012. Since then additional funds have been awarded by the Saginaw Bay Watershed Initiative Network (WIN) and the Michigan DNR. The most recent grant was a $365,000 Aquatic Habitat Restoration Grant awarded in 2015. A group of stakeholders, including local officials, have been meeting with consulting engineers since 2014 to determine the best options for restoration.
Plans for 2016 are to remove the remaining concrete structures at the dam site, fill in the dangerous hole below the dam, and restore the natural flow of the river. Upstream, a river course will be set, aquatic habitat areas created, erosion controlled, and vegetation replanted. Dirt from this project will be used to make improvements at Shiatown Park. Other recreational improvements include small boat launch, fishing opportunities, and improved parking.
The dam has presented significant danger to the public for the last several decades. Numerous people have drowned at the site, most recently in the spring of 2012 when a 12 year-old girl died. The decaying dam has also presented a flood hazard. High water events in 1974, 1981, and 2001 almost caused the dam to be overtopped by flood waters.
Work done in the fall of 2012 removed four feet of the dam, reduced flooding dangers, and caused the impoundment to drop. Since then, the river has been finding its course and restoring itself. The Friends have been conducting water quality sampling and find the health of the River to be improving both below and above the dam. However, additional work is necessary to return the river to its natural state, enhance fish passage, and allow for the safe recreational use of the site by canoers, kayakers, anglers, and park users.
A dam has existed at Shiatown since 1840. A hydroelectric facility at the site was abandoned in 1955, and the dam was owned by local governments until sold in 1986 to private owners who were unsuccessful in an attempt to restore hydroelectric generation capacity. In 1999, delinquent tax payments caused ownership of the dam site to revert to the State of Michigan.
The Shiawassee Township Hall is located at 625 Grand River Road in Bancroft, MI 48414