CORUNNA — City council members Monday approved a $1.2-million bid to remove the outdated and decrepit dam on the Shiawassee River.
M.J. VanDamme Inc., of Gwinn, placed the lone bid of $1,223,650 during a second bidding period this spring. Council approved the bid, 5-0.
The city originally closed the project for bids May 17, but re-opened the process after receiving only one bid for the removal: $3.3-million from E.T. MacKenzie Company, of Grand Ledge.
VanDamme’s proposal is higher than the engineer’s estimate of $738,300 for the project, creating an approximate $411,450 shortfall for the city, according to City Manager Joe Sawyer.
“This has been going on for years…When we got the $3.3-million bid (from E.T. MacKenzie) that was devastating, because there was no way to close the gap on that,” Sawyer said. “Based on how this company bid Shiatown we were hopeful. It’s higher than what we were hoping, but not drastically higher, and with our funding sources kind of stepping up to help us out, I think it’s going to be a win-win for the city, for the funding sources that want this out, and for the contractor who’s making the long trip to come here.”
A former power-generating dam on the Shiawassee River at Shiatown has been mostly removed in the past several years. Some portions of the dam’s lower structure remain to be removed.
In Corunna, work is expected to include removal of the dam, earthwork, and restoration of the Shiawassee River and banks adjacent to the dam, placement of wood structures for bank stabilization, installation of stone grade control structures in the river, and planting native vegetation to stabilize and enhance the shoreline.
The project is also expected to include a carry-down watercraft launch, fishing pier, boardwalk, viewing platform and what will be the first handicap-accessible canoe/kayak launch in Shiawassee County.
During Monday’s meeting, Sawyer outlined several ways in which the city can close the funding gap.
“We think we have a good chance at some additional grant revenues,” Sawyer said. “It’s going to be a combination; some reduction in quantities, maybe a little reduction in scope.”
Sawyer suggested reducing the size of the viewing platform, from 1,900 square feet to approximately 1,200 square feet, as well as decreasing the quantity of boulder clusters from 330 tons to 221 tons. The changes would save the city approximately $86,289, according to Sawyer.
Sawyer also requested changes that would increase revenue for the project by roughly $216,603, including transferring an additional $100,000 from the city’s general fund, while also moving money around from the city’s improvement fund, major street fund and park improvements fund.
Furthermore, Sawyer believes the city can get additional grant funding for excavation, backfill, toe wood construction, seeding and live plantings and erosion control.
“Those five items, that’s $76,000 dollars worth of work,” Sawyer said. “One of our existing funding sources, the Fish and Wildlife Service, has said that they are interested in helping with those items…If we can get $50,000 to $100,000 from them, somewhere in that range, that would really make our day.”
Current grant funding for the project is being provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Fish Passage Program, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Dam Management Program and the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund, for a total of $745,800.
After all of the proposed adjustments, the city still has an approximate $113,000 funding gap it will need to close to complete the project. Sawyer said once he got to the $100,000 range, he felt the project was doable.
Sawyer said he will be in talks with VanDamme in the coming days and weeks to finalize the plans and cost of the project.
“We should be able to sit down and work everything out. There may be elements of that funding gap that stay open while we find the extra money, but meanwhile the contractor’s gotta get going. The next thing we’ll be looking at is what are things we can get the contractor started on and then we can cut extra things, such as the boulders, if we have to,” Sawyer said.
The dam was built in the late 1800s to supply water power for a grist mill and was in operation for approximately 100 years until it burned in the 1950s.
Since then, the dam’s structure has degraded and it has been deemed a significant safety hazard.
The city and the state fought for years over who the owner of the dam is, and who is financially responsible for its removal.
In 2010, the city filed a lawsuit against the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, claiming that the state, not the city, was the dam’s legal owner. The city lost the case and was ordered to repair or remove the structure.
After losing the lawsuit, officials in Corunna considered fixing the dam.
However, in 2010 residents voted down a millage request to finance the repairs and the DEQ rejected the city’s proposal of letting the dam fall apart on its own.
Work on the project has been delayed several times, most recently in 2018.
Corunna officials cited the need for more testing and survey work — and the slow release of $288,000 in grant funds.
Sawyer said he’s hoping to get the project done this year, though the city will still require some work by the engineers and approval from the state before proceeding.
If everything remains on schedule, Sawyer expects the project to be completed by mid-November.
“To some degree, this kind of has become our sesquicentennial project for the city of Corunna,” Sawyer said. “In 1969 they built city hall, so that was the centennial project. This is kind of our project…I’d like to get it done this year so it can be remembered as that because it’s going to be pretty neat.”
“A lot of people, especially older generations, have memories of the dam and the drive-in that was there at one time. They remember the grist mill, you know, and they had their wedding pictures there, their graduation pictures there because it’s a beautiful backdrop with that dam, and you know just the solace of having the running water and listening to it but the reality is it does not serve a function anymore other than aesthetic,” Sawyer continued.
“In the end, I think we’re going to build something that’s going to be pretty and attractive, and that’s why we have the kayak launch and the boat launch and we’re moving that channel of the river so that it can still maintain kayaks and canoe traffic even during the lower water levels…I think it’s going to be really beautiful when we’re done.”