Construction on Pucker Street Dam resumes

NILES — Visitors to Losensky Park will have continued access to the park through the spring and summer, but will see more construction activity beginning again on the Pucker Street Dam. The Pucker Street Dam removal process hit pause as COVID-19 impacted operational procedures of the main contracting company.

The halt spanned two weeks as contracting company, Millbocker and Sons, took time to ensure personal protection equipment was made available to its workers and to do further training.

Work on the dam removal site resumed on April 20. The roughly $12 million dam removal will allow the Dowagiac River to flow freely to the Saint Joseph River watershed, about two miles from the Pucker Street Dam. The city had been informed about seven years ago that it had the option to repair, stabilize or remove the dam. The dam was originally constructed in 1928. It includes five gates, which to this day, had to be opened manually. All but one gate was able to be opened, but the original purpose of the dam, to produce electric power, has long been out of use.

Residents can expect some changes to access in the river in May.

“The best news is that we’re doing construction,” said Suzannah Deneau, a Wightman engineer on the site. “We’re looking to start the middle of May, where we are actually going to start drawing down the river.”

The plan to begin moving the river away from Michigan 51 and restoring the banks of the river from erosion, 6 inches at a time, will close off a section of the river.

“The river will be closed from Arthur Dodd to Losensky Park to any boaters and kayakers,” Deneau said. She expects the closure to begin mid-May. “There will be signs going up in Arthur Dodd. The next section, I believe, is pretty rough anyway. We will keep it closed to protect everyone.”

Arthur Dodd Memorial Park is upstream from Losensky Park, and will have signs installed warning recreationists as the project progresses.

Another change that visitors to Losensky Park may witness is the presence of more downed trees. The trees were taken down earlier in the spring season.

“This whole project is actually under the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service,” said Jeff Dunlap, utilities manager for the city of Niles. “They’re our biggest grant contributor, so we’re under their umbrella. In this case, it becomes having it be managed to federal standards. So, all the trees had to be cut down by the end of March because of the Indiana long-eared bat, or we would have to do bat surveys.”

Cutting the trees down before the rest of the work began was a decision to keep the process moving.

“We can only work on the river from May to the end of September,” Dunlap said.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources extended the window in response to delays in the process due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Millbock and Sons will also be keeping its construction equipment at the site, but will be leaving parking available for visitors to the park.

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