CORUNNA — Former Owosso resident and sculptor Joe Rundell would like to ensure that his father’s contributions to the city of Corunna are enshrined in bronze.
On Aug. 5, Rundell, speaking to the city council during public comment, offered to construct a full-size statue of his father, also named Joe Rundell, who built the city’s existing dam on the Shiawassee River in 1912, after an early thaw destroyed the previous structure built in the mid 1800s to service a grist mill.
Rundell’s father served as the head miller at the Corunna grist mill from 1904 to 1916, before deciding to open his own grist mill in Owosso, at the corner of Corunna Avenue and Washington Street.
Rundell said he would build his father’s statue for free, on the condition that the city cover the foundry fee to coat the statue in bronze and pay for the base, which he said would come to about $30,000.
For a project of this nature, Rundell said he typically charges bout $25,000 for his services.
“The Egyptians always thought that if somebody says your name you live again and oddly, because of what’s happening in that park with the dam’s removal, his name is out there again,” Rundell said. “He probably had more to do with that piece of property than anybody and I would not like to see that piece of property named after some politician or something like that…but I think he deserves it and it would kind of bring him to life again.”
Rundell presented a clay bust of his father to the council during the meeting, which he said took about two weeks to form and shape. The entire statue would take about three months, he added.
“I kind of went out on a limb, you know, this may not take place, but at least it gives anybody that’s looking at it an idea of what it can be,” Rundell said.
The project would be far from Rundell’s first, as he has erected nine full-size statues in and around the city of Flint, where he now resides, including two at Bishop International Airport: One of Buick co-founder Charles Nash and one of Walter P. Chrysler.
City Manager Joe Sawyer said it was very special to be approached by an artist of Rundell’s caliber.
“I think it’s neat. The Heritage Park area…we’ve got different opportunities to memorialize people there, we just need to verify some of the history, which we know is there, we just have to get the data but also, there may be other memorials that we want to mix in there, or that other people step forward on…there’s an awful lot of history there of people that were highly involved and contributed over the years.”
Sawyer added that the city will do its homework before making a decision on the statue.
The path toward the removal of the dam has taken more than a decade.
Corunna filed a lawsuit against the state Department of Environmental Quality in 2010, objecting to DEQ orders regarding repairs to the dam. The city argued it was not the owner of the dam and therefore was not responsible for repairs. The dam was abandoned long ago, the city claimed, with ownership reverting back to the state of Michigan.
Attorneys for the DEQ countered that when the city purchased land on the west side of the Shiawassee River in 1979, the purchase included the dam.
Circuit Court Judge Gerald Lostracco agreed with the state’s position, saying that under riparian laws owners of riverfront property own the bottomlands to the middle of the river plus anything that has been built on it, such as a dam.
Philip Ellison, an attorney representing Corunna, said a dam should be treated as personal property, not real estate. He compared the dam to a utility pole that remains the property of the utility company regardless of who owns the land it sits on.
In 2013, the city lost in 35th Circuit Court, it then lost at the state appeals court and Michigan Supreme Court, in 2015.
Estimates at the time suggested the cost to build a new dam would top $1.8 million with repairs to the current structure nearly as high.
Removal will cost about $1.2 million with the majority of that covered by state and federal grants. The city council accepted a bid for removal on July 1. Work could begin as soon as later this month.