2018-06-07 / Life in Leelanau

Community to decide fate of Mill Creek Dam

By Jen Murphy
Of The Enterprise staff

POND NO more? Mill Creek Pond may disappear if the Mill Pond Dam is removed. The pond was originally intended to be used to wash logs and hold them for processing. POND NO more? Mill Creek Pond may disappear if the Mill Pond Dam is removed. The pond was originally intended to be used to wash logs and hold them for processing. A local nonprofit that concentrates on environmental issues is seeking removal of the dam that creates the Northport Mill Pond.

The group is not alone, as a consortium of groups including the Michigan Department of Natural Resources supports the dam removal. So far, though, Northport Village government is neutral on the issue.

Removal of the dam would destroy the Mill Pond, which is home to a popular fishing derby held every spring when the Northport Sportsman’s Club plants rainbow trout for kids to catch.

According to a study called the Northport Creek Report initiated by the Leelanau Forum, the water quality, biological integrity and stream habitat of Northport Creek range from moderately to severely impaired.

Mill Pond Dam was originally created in the mid-1800s to form a “log pond” — an area designated for washing logs and holding them for processing. It was reconstructed in 1935.

Some say the dam and pond today are causing more harm than good.

“The dam has resulted in many negative impacts on the aquatic ecosystem in this stretch of Northport Creek,” the Northport Creek Report states.

DNR fisheries biologist Heather Hettinger conducted some of the research for the report. Hettinger thinks the dam needs to go, but she doesn’t plan to push the issue.

“This happens with pretty much any dam you build,” Hettinger said. “It’s intended purpose is long gone. The purpose of streams and rivers is to move sediment. If you build a dam, you block that.”

And when sediment builds, it negatively impacts fish habitat and reproduction.

“The village has dredged the pond,” Hettinger said. “But it’s shallow, weedy and hot. The pond is past its prime. The dam is past its prime.”

However, Hettinger said the dam poses no immediate threat. “There is time to discuss. Time for people to get informed. Time to make a decision,” she said.

The window of time is exactly what Leelanau Forum members like David Brigham are using to spread the word.

Formed in 1987 as an all-volunteer organization, the mission of the Leelanau Forum is “promoting preservation of land and natural resources of Northport Village and the surrounding area through effective planning, managed growth and informed citizenry.”

And informing is what Brigham has done.

“There’s never been a study of this scope of Northport Creek,” he said. “It should be clear to everybody that report is based on sound science. Anyone who is environmentally minded, or cares about the environment, should appreciate that document.

“It’s a long process that ultimately needs community support,” Brigham said.

To date, he has distributed copies of the Northport Creek Report to the Watershed Center, Leelanau Conservancy, Leelanau Clean Water, Inland Seas Education Association, Leelanau Township, Village of Northport, Northport School and Northport library.

“The more people that read that report, the more people will understand,” Brigham said. “It’s just a matter of educating the public. We need to continue to help the public understand, and then give them the opportunity to raise questions.”

Northport Village and Leelanau Township leaders have reviewed the material. So far, no action has been taken.

Township supervisor Doug Scripps said he’d like to study the report in detail. Scripps acknowledged hearing discussions about dam removal within the community.

“I’d be in favor of removing the dam, just because of spawning lake trout,” Scripps said. “But I really see this as a village issue because the stream flows through the village.”

Hettinger agrees.

“When it comes down to removing something like a dam, it’s up to the owner. This dam just happens to be owned by a government entity,” she said. “But for kids’ fishing ponds, we have a bunch of them in Leelanau County, and it’s not the best one.”

Since the village owns the dam, the decision will need to be made by its leaders.

To date, the council has not discussed the report or dam removal.

President Phil Mikesell said the issue will not be acted on anytime soon.

“It bears a lot more study,” Mikesell said. “I’ve read the material from the Leelanau Forum. It’s still in the very early days.”

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