Kalamazoo River sediment cleanup project will soon begin

Kalamazoo and Battle Creek

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Cleanup on the Kalamazoo River is about to begin after a repair project on the Morrow Dam allowed sediment to wash miles downstream.

Survey crews were working along the river on Wednesday and the project could start as soon as this weekend.

Kyle Alexander, the Kalamazoo District Water Resources Division supervisor for the state, says settlement negotiations are underway with the owner of the dam and additional cleanup projects are expected.

“I think we’re really close to having a plan,” Alexander said.

Crews are preparing to move massive quantities of sediment that filled the river after water levels were lowered to replace the main spillway gates on Morrow Dam.

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy sent the owner of the dam a letter earlier this month stating cleanup needs to begin by March 1.

EGLE says the initial cleanup will cover 6,000 cubic yards starting with a side channel near Wenke Park.

“We know that in the first 7 or 8 miles downstream of the dam, there’s approximately 114, 115 thousand cubic yards of sediment deposits,” Alexander said. “You have to start somewhere.”

Crews begin cleaning up the Kalamazoo River after a Morrow Dam repair project washed sediment miles downstream. (Feb. 24, 2021)

Eagle Creek Renewable Energy, the company that owns the dam through its subsidiary STS Hydropower, will cover the cost of this initial cleanup project, which is estimated to take six weeks.

Jody Smet, vice president of Regulatory Affairs, was not available for an interview but responded to an email from News 8.

“STS is currently working with Michigan EGLE to identify and develop plans for additional sediment removal projects. STS currently expects these projects will commence later this year. The specific timeframe depends on a number of factors, including logistical considerations, weather and river flows, and the timing of obtaining necessary access agreements and regulatory approvals,” Smet wrote.

Ryan Baker, the president of the Kalamazoo River Alliance, says while he is encouraged the cleanup will begin, it is long overdue and concerns remain about the lasting damage to the fish population and the river ecosystem.

The group says the sediment keeps moving an even greater distance downstream.

“Why aren’t they doing anything to stop it from going further and ruining Plainwell, and Otsego and Allegan,” Baker said.

State regulators are not yet able to provide an estimate on how long the entire cleanup process will take and what measures will be taken to help wildlife recover.

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