Located on the Huron River in Ypsilanti, Michigan, the Peninsular Paper Dam was originally constructed in 1867 to provide power for paper manufacturing. The dam failed in 1918 and was rebuilt in 1920. However, it no longer generates power and all electricity-generating equipment has been removed from the powerhouse.
The City of Ypsilanti owns the dam and is responsible for maintaining it. Michigan DEQ inspected the dam in 2014 and is requiring the city to submit a maintenance timeline to bring the dam up to safety standards.
The City of Ypsilanti approached HRWC to discuss options for repairing the dam or removing it. In 2018 the City of Ypsilanti and HRWC hired an engineering firm, with some funding support provided by the Friends of Pen Park, to do a feasibility study for removing the dam, restoring the river, and revitalizing Pen Park.
The feasibility study is complete (link below) and was presented to Ypsi’s City Council in December 2018. The City Council hosted a Town Hall meeting on February 20, 2019 to share the findings with the community and get feedback before making a decision. The City then collected feedback from the community via its website. The deadline for feedback was March 6.
What you can do
Because the council has not voted on this issue yet, you can continue to give them your feedback. You can use this Pen Dam Removal Support Guidance document if you’d like.
Having participated in dozens of dam removal projects in Michigan, yours appears to be as smooth a path to success as anyone can hope to have, especially when the size of the dam and river are considered. We see no fundamentally challenging or limiting impediments or obstacles to removing this dam.
–Dr. Bryan Burroughs, Executive Director, Michigan Trout Unlimited (letter to City of Ypsilanti, Feb. 20, 2019)
Frequently Asked Questions
WHEN AND WHY WAS THE DAM BUILT?
The dam was originally constructed in 1867 to provide power for paper manufacturing; it failed in 1918 and was rebuilt in 1920. The Peninsular Paper Company Dam powered a paper mill in Ypsilanti that produced newsprint for Chicago for a century from the 1860’s to the 1970’s. In the mid-1980s, the Peninsular Paper Company donated the Peninsular Paper Dam and land to the City of Ypsilanti. The city created a park on the land and is now responsible for maintaining the dam.
WHAT PROBLEMS EXIST BECAUSE OF THE DAM?
The City of Ypsilanti is responsible for managing the dam and paying for inspections and repairs.
• Under State law, the dam is not compliant with safety standards. The city is legally obligated to fix it up– or remove it. The cost to repair it is estimated at $807,000.
• Once repaired, there will be ongoing inspection and maintenance costs.
• The aging dam can be hazardous and is a liability for the city if an accident occurs.
• It does not provide power anymore and it would cost far more to fix up the dam to generate electricity again than the revenue it could gain from the newly generated electricity.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF REMOVING THE DAM?
- Pen Dam is a high hazard dam that no longer generates power and costs taxpayers money to maintain and fix.
- The dam does not meet state safety standards and the city is legally required to fix or remove it.
- Without the dam Peninsular Park and the Huron River become more accessible for recreation and enjoyment.
- The improved park and building will support businesses by creating a renewed area for residents and visitors.
- Removing the dam will cost taxpayers less in the long run than repairing and maintaining it.
- The dam harms the environment. The health of the river and wildlife would improve, which would also raise the quality of life for all in the area.
Making the dam generate electricity again is not an option because the dam can’t produce enough power to pay for conversion, permitting, and maintenance.
HOW MUCH DOES/WILL IT COST TO KEEP THE DAM?
If the dam is repaired ($807,000), the costs for maintaining it will continue and increase due to the aging infrastructure. Furthermore, the city will have to do inspections every 3 years. There are no grant funds available for repairing the dam so the City will need to pay for it.
HOW MUCH WOULD IT COST TO REMOVE IT?
Grants for dam removal are a potential funding source for supporting removal and restoration costs. The feasibility study estimates the cost for removing the dam at $1,734,000 with additional costs for scour protection and reinforcement at two bridges (see the report for details.)
WHAT ABOUT THE PARK AND THE PEN PAPER MILL BUILDING?
With the dam removed, the size of Peninsular Park would increase to include the land on the north side of the river that is currently submerged behind the dam. The full potential of Pen Park can be realized because the entire stretch of waterfront would no longer be divided by the dam. The former powerhouse, with its distinctive architecture and landmark neon sign, could be preserved and restored to provide a signature waterfront location for community residents to come together, celebrate Ypsilanti’s local heritage, and enjoy the river. It could also provide commercial opportunities, such as canoe, kayak and bicycle rental or other ventures.
The City of Ypsilanti owns the building so the community needs to decide the future of the building and park.
HOW DOES THE DAM AFFECT RESIDENTS AND BUSINESSES IN YPSI?
The City is required to pay for inspections and repairs of the dam so it has fewer funds to spend on community programs and infrastructure. Also, since the dam harms the river and wildlife, the quality of life in the community is compromised.
HOW WILL REMOVING THE DAM AFFECT RESIDENTS AND BUSINESSES IN YPSI?
Because the dam blocks the flow of the river, people who fish have less to catch and canoe/kayakers have to remove their boats, walk around the dam, and put their boats back in. If the dam is removed, river recreation will increase and businesses near the river will have more customers.