Great Lakes Fishing Commission Gives FishPass Update

The Great Lakes Fishery Commission presented an update to the FishPass project during Traverse City’s Downtown Development Authority meeting Friday.

Bob Lambe, GLFC Executive Secretary, says that despite the injunction, and waiting for a hearing from the appeals court, the Union Street Dam must be removed.

“With the delays we’re looking at now, we’re still in 100% on this project, on this location,” he says.

Lambe hopes the hearing before the Michigan Court of Appeals will be in 2022. GLFC joined the lawsuit this spring believing the arguments for the project are strong.

“The need for this is never been greater than it is now,” he says. “We obviously have some pretty strong disagreements with basis of the arguments for the lawsuit, so we joined the appeal and we’re kind of in lockstep with the city going forward,”

Board of Directors for DDA asked Lambe whether the FishPass project would be moved elsewhere if delays from the lawsuit continue.

“The final design very much depends on the actual location for flows and with the river and all that kind of thing, this project as it is designed, is not portable,” Lambe says.

Union Street Dam will need to be removed whether FishPass is a part or not. Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy changed the rating of the dam to “fair-poor” in June. According to GLFC, that’s the same rating given to Edenville and Sanford dams near Midland before they failed, causing exceptional damage to the area.

“If I was in a position of authority and I had the rating EGLE has given, what has happened, not just in Midland, but in other areas where dams have reached this sort of state of disrepair, I’d be pretty concerned about the liability,” Lambe says.

“We as a fishery commission would have a difficult time with with the removal of the dam and nothing else happening because we know that habitat upstream is exactly what lamprey are looking for,” he adds. “if the dam were taken out and lamprey went upstream we are obligated, we have no choice, but to go in and start applying lampricide and it’s millions of dollars a year.”

Traverse City can choose to replace the Union Street Dam with a conventional dam for $8-10 million, but the city would pay for it. Meanwhile, FishPass, costing roughly $20 million, is paid for through the partnerships and federal dollars.

The FishPass project was set to start in January but Traverse City resident, Rick Buckhalter, sued the city to stop the project with a question as to whether the city would need to require approval from voters. In December 2020, court denied Buckhalter’s motion for a preliminary injunction to halt the project. Judge Thomas Power later expressed concern about the purpose of the project and it was put on hold. Great Lakes Fishery Commission joined in on the lawsuit as a defendant to defend their interests. In May, Judge Power said the project couldn’t move forward because it was built on park property. In July, Michigan Court of Appeals denied the lawsuit from being reconsidered in an expedited appeal. They would have had to decide whether to put the issue to a city vote before mid-August, but are now waiting for Court of Appeals to make a decision under a normal time frame up to a year and a half.