By guest blogger Beth Gibbons

Beth Gibbons, Executive Director of the American Society of Adaptation Professionals

The thing about once in a lifetime opportunities is that they only come along once. That is only one part of what makes the opportunity to remove the Peninsular Paper Dam (Pen Dam) so exciting and what makes it so important to do right.

The City of Ypsilanti is currently undertaking a series of major, forward-thinking projects that will bring our community together, prepare us for the future, and protect and restore our most cherished natural features. Removing Pen Dam is one of these projects. It will restore the natural beauty and function of our treasured Huron River.

The removal of Pen Dam and the restoration of Ypsilanti’s Huron River corridor is notable, not only for it how ambitious it is, but because of the deliberate, extensive science and assessment which is informing the city’s work and the immense opportunities the City has to attract federal, state, and private funding to support the removal and restoration—all of which will ensure the job is done right.

In my role as the executive director for the American Society of Adaptation Professionals (ASAP), a leading professional society for people working on climate change adaptation, it’s my job to understand what we should do to prepare for climate change and how we can fund the actions we need to take.

Removing the Dam Improves Our Resilience to Climate Change

Beth Gibbons lives in Ypsilanti. Pictured her paddling with her family.

Removing this dam is among the best climate strategies our region can deploy. Removal of this dam is going to win us climate adaptation, mitigation, and social justice benefits. Climate mitigation benefits are those reaped when we remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or lessen our greenhouse gas emissions. Removing the dam offers these benefits by reducing the methane emissions from the artificial pond behind the dam. Methane is an exceptionally potent greenhouse gas, far more potent per molecule than carbon dioxide.

Removing the dam will also help our communities adapt to climate change. We will reduce the risk of severe storms by allowing the river to move water freely and without obstruction. We will restore the natural, free-flowing environment for fish to spawn, adding to the resilience of the fish population. We will minimize flood risk for homeowners along the pond and river by reducing and anticipated floodplain and flood zone. And we will recreate a natural migration corridor so birds, fish and other species can thrive and adapt in a changing climate.

Funding Opportunities

Funding from the recent Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) will soon become available to cities like our own. This is good news. Our once in lifetime opportunity to remove this dam is fortunately timed with a once in a generation investment in infrastructure projects, climate resilience projects, and specifically dam removals!

Here in Michigan in 2021, the state invested $1.8 million dollars in dam removal. Additionally, the state coordinated an additional $1.6 million dollars from private finance and funders to cover match for dam removal projects.

Nationally, opportunities are growing, geometrically. There is $800 million in the IIJA for Dam Removal! This includes:

There are joint public-private funding opportunities as well. The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Resilience Communities Fund, for example, has $140 million available for nature based solutions to climate change available in 2021 and there is every expectation that the next two years will have similar opportunities.

Rebuilding Hydropower at Pen Dam is Not Preferable

Some people want to suggest that IIJA could provide for funding to repair the dam or even add power generation to it. Adding hydroelectric power to the Pen Dam is not a realistic idea. The dam, in its current state, cannot have support power generation systems being added onto it, there is no transmission system, and there is no entity in a position to serve as a public utility for this energy supply. Finally, and most importantly, it is uncertain whether meaningful power generation would be possible from the dam. The IIJA is limited in the dollars it has available for installation of new hyrdoelectic systems. There is $125 million in the IIJA, but we can assume that priority would be given to locations with any of the above characteristics: ready infrastructure for installation, existing power grid infrastructure (transmission station, power lines, and a willing utility). Without these, its unthinkable that Pen Dam would be competitive, if even eligible, for any of those limited dollars.

Removing Pen Dam is Part of a National Trend

This investment in removal of dangerous, obsolete infrastructure is part of a national and regional trend to recognize that our communities depend upon nature and that nature depends upon us. We can achieve great well-being for places and our people when we design ambitious plans that connect and restore those relationships.


About the Author

Beth Gibbons is the Executive Director of the American Society of Adaptation Professionals. She is a 2022 Yale Public Voices on the Climate Crisis Fellow and an author of Midwest Chapter of the National Climate Assessment. She has over 20 years of experience working in community development and climate change adaptation. She is a dedicated community leader and extends her passion for resilient places and justice into her service and volunteer work; she serves as a sustainability commissioner in her beloved community of Ypsilanti, MI and is a former Peace Corps Volunteer, having served in Togo, West Africa. She holds a Master of Urban Planning from the University of Michigan.

About Pen Dam

For more information about Pen Dam, go here.