- Associated Press - Sunday, May 3, 2015

EATON RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) - Russ Hicks has spent the last six years trying to bring rapids back to his city.

On the north end of town, just off Main Street, a small, 4-foot tall dam cutting across the Grand River is standing in his way. The century-old structure, one of five dams in Eaton Rapids, is obsolete.

Getting rid of it would improve wildlife habitat and fish passage in the river. It would also open up four-tenths of a mile of river, making way for the installation of rocks - and eventually some white water.

“We have quite literally a foundation for something that has permanence,” Hicks told the Lansing State Journal (https://on.lsj.com/1P6fTvx ). “We’re Eaton Rapids for God’s sake. We ought to have a rapids, even if it’s a little one.”

But, in the last year, the project has hit a roadblock.

Attempts to qualify for grant funding from the state’s Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have failed, said Hicks, because the dam removal would only impact a small section of the river.

Now the retired school teacher and avid canoe enthusiast is asking for more local support for the effort.

He could very well get it.

Hicks said removing the local dam and creating rapids where it stands will be an economic boost to the community.

The idea already has support. The city has funded grant applications and some engineering designs - a few thousand dollars’ worth of investment. Another $100,000 worth of in-kind donations, including rocks needed to create rapids where the dam sits now, have been collected.

But Hicks said an estimated $85,000 to $90,000 is needed to complete the project.

He’s taking his case back to city officials.

“They have dollars invested to get to this point,” said Hicks. “They have a vested interest and I’m grateful for that but now it’s time to act on the construction phase.”

Eaton Rapids City Manager Jon Stoppels said officials are willing to listen. He called the dam removal a “critical” project that would enhance the local environment and boost recreation opportunities within the city.

“If you can do both you’re doing yourself a favor,” he said. “I think we’d probably put this effort on the top of the list to make the community more attractive to residents and to visitors.”

Stoppels said city officials will consider contributing more funding to the effort over the next three budget years.

“We’re looking at options to be able to do that,” he said. “We’ve been recharged a little bit. We believe the project isn’t dead and there are options for getting it done.”

The Quiet Water Society, an area nonprofit, has already agreed to partner with the city to allow for tax-deductible donations to the project. If $35,000 can be raised through that avenue another $50,000 will be needed to remove the Main Street dam and create rapids.

Hicks has long believed the dam is stagnating the natural flow of the Grand River.

He’s right, said Jay Wesley. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources official said dams can impact the environment in several different ways. The structures disrupt nutrient and sediment movement, trapping both, and often causing bank erosion on the river.

“One of the big issues is that dams prevent the movement of organisms from upstream to downstream,” said Wesley. “It’s a barrier actually.”

That matters because fish often seek varying habitats, traveling from season to season.

“We encourage the removal of dams that are obsolete,” said Wesley, adding that the DNR also offers advice and, in some cases, funding assistance to help owners remove them.

Sometimes the removal of a dam is all that’s needed to bring about some white-water movement.

“Dams are usually built on high gradient areas of the river so just by removing them you do allow for ripples and some rapids on the water,” said Wesley.

Removing the dam and replacing it with rocks would take about 10 days. Hicks said if funding can be secured that would likely happen in the summer of 2016.

Wesley said these projects are becoming more common. An average of five to 10 dams are removed in Michigan each year and most are small, like the structure in Eaton Rapids.

“A lot of these dams were built in the early 1900s and they’re failing,” he said.

Hicks said the project is closer than it’s ever been to being completed.

“You just never know until it’s done but I’m pleased that at least we have a tentative target date and are identifying funding to get rapids in place,” said Hicks. “I can see the end.”

The project isn’t about personal gain for him.

“I wouldn’t take my canoe down the rapids,” said Hicks. “My vested interest is not in using it. My interest is, it’s the right thing to do.”

___

Information from: Lansing State Journal, https://www.lansingstatejournal.com

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