Archived Story

Niles has dam tough decision ahead

Published 11:19pm Monday, February 28, 2011

The City of Niles has plenty of options of what to do with the Pucker Street dam.

The city council heard a presentation Monday night from a third company interested in the old dam on the Dowagiac River, which has been idle for about 20 years.

Where Falling Waters LLC differs from the other two companies that have submitted proposals is in technology.

Peterson Machinery in Casa Grande Ariz. and Hope Renewable Energy LLC out of Grand Rapids outlined proposals to the council last June. Both the companies are interested in making repairs to restore the dam to produce hydroelectric power and sharing the revenues with the city.

But Falling Waters LLC, which began in 2009 in South Bend, would upgrade the dam to use the newest hydroenergy technology — a multi-consecutive generation system that would increase the efficiency of the dam.

Roland Klockow, the founder of the startup venture, said the new technology would allow for the dam to triple its production. He estimates the dam could power up to 650 homes.

Klockow, who has 35 years of engineering experience in the water and waste water field, said his company is interested in buying the property outright but would give the city first right of refusal. The company would invest $7.9 million in the upgrades, estimating it would be able to recoup its costs within 16 years.

The technology, which would utilize three turbines, would be ” eco- and aquatic life-friendly,” Klockow said.

“Fish can swim through the turbines without any damage whatsoever,” he said.

The company also would install a new portage around the dam to encourage use of the river, while still allowing public fishing. The upgrades would not involve expanding the impoundment.

Falling Waters LLC is eyeing other sites in Michigan, Indiana and Ohio but Klockow told the council that the offer made to Niles is the only one on the table currently.

After the presentation council member Dan VandenHeede expressed some hesitance in selling the property outright to a startup that has not done any such projects yet.

Mayor Mike McCauslin said Falling Waters offered a “very interesting proposal.”

“The other two (proposals) involved traditional technology … I’m very impressed with this new technology,” he said.

During public comment, Jay Wesley, a district fisheries biologist for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, again told the council the DNR recommends dam removal for ecological reasons.

He reminded the council that grants are available to fund a removal project, although he admitted budget restraints at the state and federal level would make it a little more challenging.

“If the dam does stay, I’ll still be around monitoring,” he promised.

Ken Crowne, an Illinois resident who is leading the Dowagiac River Keepers group, also encouraged the council to consider dam removal, arguing it is best for the ecological well-being of the river. He also argued that a dam-free river would encourage recreational use and tourism and would be “a greater economic opportunity” than selling the dam.

While the dam property is owned by the city, it is located in Niles Township.

“I have spoke with homeowners who have had continual flooding,” Crowne said.

McCauslin said he has “no idea” when the council will take formal action on the dam issue.

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