Niles plans to remove Pucker Street Dam

Published 6:14 pm Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Pucker Street Dam.

Niles plans on demolishing the Pucker Street Dam if it can secure the funds to do so. Leader photo/AMBROSIA NELDON

The Pucker Street Dam’s days appear to be numbered.

Jeff Dunlap, Niles utilities manager, said the city is in the process of writing grant applications for funds that would be used for the removal of the dam, located north of Niles on the Dowagiac River.

“That will go before council to submit the grant, or grants, at the next [Niles City] Council meeting,” he said. “We would anticipate council approval to move forward in the next stage to competitively make applications for all the available grants and funding.”

Dunlap said removal of the dam is in the city’s five-year capital plan.

“It is on our radar as something we will actively pursue with the best available resources and the least amount of tax dollars expended as possible,” he said.

Andy Selle, fisheries biologist, engineer and dam-removal specialist with Inter-Fluve, Inc., of Madison, Wisc., gave a presentation concerning the removal of the dam at Monday’s council meeting.

Selle said while it is difficult to predict the success of a grant application, there are a number of things working in Niles’ favor. One being, a recent study ranked the Pucker Street Dam as No. 1 in regards to being a barrier of fish passage in the St. Joseph River watershed. The other thing going for Niles is there’s currently a restoration effort underway of the Dowagiac River upstream in Pokagon Township area.

“That shows not only are we going to remove the dam and reconnect the river so to speak, but when the fish move upriver they will have some place to go that’s better than what it is now,” Sell said. “Those two factors in my mind would rank it fairly high in terms of grant competition.”

Removing the dam would benefit Niles and the surrounding communities in several ways, according to Selle and Dunlap.

Selle said the Dowagiac River without the dam could attract more water sport tourism and improve fishing.

From the city’s standpoint, Dunlap said the dam is a liability that has to be either repaired or removed. It was last used by the city as a hydroelectric dam in 1995, but has been around since the mid 1800s.

The cost to bring the dam back online was estimated at $3.5 million in 2009.

“It is cost prohibitive to restore it,” Dunlap said.

Dam removal comes with some risks. Selle said sediment collected behind the dam could flow downstream and cause some issues for the first couple years.

“If you look long term, in a scale of decades, the long-term outlook is you actually have a restored river flowing through that section again,” he said.