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DNR begins plans for next phase of removing chemicals and dam from Kalamazoo River

The state is working on new plans to clean chemicals that were illegally dumped in the Kalamazoo River.

The state is working on new plans to clean chemicals that were illegally dumped in the Kalamazoo River.

These efforts are part of an ongoing restoration project between Plainwell and Allegan, by the Department of Natural Resources.

Tuesday, Mark Mills, field operations manager for DNR’s wildlife division, discussed plans for the next phase of the renovations. The project, which originally started in the Otsego area, will now take place on the Trowbridge Dam.

“This is where we’re heading next. The DNR is starting to work on removal designs for this dam to get it out of the river,” Mills said.

Mills explained Trowbridge Dam, completed in 1898, was the first large dam to be built on the Kalamazoo River.

“This dam sent electricity all the way to Kalamazoo. It was an extremely new thing and we’re hoping to bring something new by taking it out,” Mills said. “The DNR is working proactively to come up with designs as to how to best remove this whole failing structure.”

Removing the dam is part of an ongoing project to help restore the Kalamazoo River to its natural state. The first portion of the project just finished in Otsego, where a dam was removed and contaminated soil was cleared.

“Paper companies were dumping their waste in the water in the river and using the river as a sewer,” Mills said. “That waste built up in these impediments—the water would slow down, the waste would settle out and there it sits.”

Mills explained the paper mills, which closed long ago, will be held accountable for the chemicals in the river, commonly known as PCB’s. The DNR will work with the paper mills and the Environmental Protection Agency in all tasks for testing and removing the contaminated sediment near the Trowbridge Dam.

“Basically, the banks would be split into sections, those sections would be sampled, and it would be determined where that soil needs to go. If it is contaminated, it has to be dug out, hauled off site, and then those banks restored,” Mills said. “We really can’t remove [the dam] until the EPA and those responsible parties, those paper companies, work with us to get that contamination removed.”

Mills explained, once the contaminants are cleared, the dam will be removed. Once the work clears, between two to three years, he believes it will help bring more outdoor recreation and economic boosts to the area.

“If we can get passage through here, if we can get wildlife back, we’re going to see increased recreation, we’re going to see the public really wanting to be in here and that’s good for Otsego, that’s good for Plainwell, that’s good for Allegan downstream,” Mills said.

The DNR is currently finalizing engineering plans for dam removal. Mills said crews would like to begin work on this project by summer 2019.

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