Flint, MI—New federal funds are coming to Flint for removal of downtown’s Hamilton Dam.
Congressman Dan Kildee announced an $855,650 federal grant, made possible by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, to remove the dam, improve public safety, and enhance the health of the Flint River ecosystem.
“Michigan’s outdoor spaces like the Flint River bring people together and enhance our communities,” Kildee said from the downtown Flint riverbank on April 22. “That’s why I’m proud to announce this federal funding to remove the Hamilton Dam to help revitalize our community.”
The grant will be managed by the Genesee County Parks and Recreation Commission (GCPRC), which has been working on the ongoing Flint River Restoration Project for the better part of a decade.
“We’ve been working seven or eight years to accumulate enough money to rework the riverfront from Vietnam Veterans Park south to approximately Chevy Commons,” said Barry June, director of the GCPRC. “So this is really just one small piece of the Flint River Restoration Project.”
Hamilton Dam was built in 1920 to support the city’s once-booming logging industry. It’s now over 100 years old and is designated a “high hazard dam” by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources—a designation meaning there could be serious downstream effects if the dam were to fail.
“High hazard would be significant environmental, economic, or flooding impacts where people could lose their lives,” said Luke Trumble, supervisor for the Dam Safety Unit at the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy. However, Trumble added, “(the designation) doesn’t have anything to do with the condition of the dam or the likelihood of failure.”
The superstructure of Hamilton Dam—or most of the dam visible above water—was removed in 2018, which Trumble said did make headway on creating more downstream safety.
“(That) lowered the hazard somewhat, but still, full removal will completely eliminate the hazard associated with the dam,” Trumble said.
Aside from improving safety, removing the remaining part of Hamilton Dam—a portion called the weir—will reconnect 25 miles of the Flint River, including over 5 miles of lake sturgeon habitat.
“We’ve been doing baby lake sturgeon releases,” said Patrick Scanlon, executive director of the Flint River Watershed Coalition. “And part of this stretch is prime breeding territory for sturgeon.”
Scanlon said that removing the weir will not only make moving further upstream possible for sturgeon and other fish, it will make moving along the Flint River easier for those without fins, too.
“You can’t kayak through there—or at least, I wouldn’t recommend it,” Scanlon said with a laugh. “So the kayakers being able to move through there is great.”
June said he and the GCPRC team are looking forward to the same things the Coalition listed, adding that fishermen will also have more locations to choose from along the river once the dam is removed.
“People don’t realize how many fishermen—and how much people in this area really like to go outside and fish—use the water in general,” June said, citing his daughter, who will sometimes fish right outside the commission’s Mott Lake office.
June said he anticipates work to remove downtown Flint’s Hamilton Dam won’t begin until Fall of 2023 as the GCPRC needs to obtain permit and flood map approvals before breaking ground on the project.