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EGLE Urges Eagle Creek To Start River Cleanup

A closeup of a pair of arms/hands, upturned, with muddy brown silt covering each palm
Courtesy photo
Jon Lee

The company that operates Morrow Dam says it’s almost ready to dredge a small amount of sediment from the Kalamazoo River. But its overall timetable for cleaning up the silt that poured out of the dam’s reservoir last year has not satisfied state regulators.

The Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, in a recent letter urged Eagle Creek Renewable Energy to dredge as much sediment as possible before the spring thaw, so it does not interfere with fish spawning or cause other potential harm to wildlife. The state wrote it “expects work to remove sediments to begin by March 1.”

Eagle Creek says it hopes to begin dredging 6,000 cubic yards of silt from the hardest-hit stretch of the river by that date. That’s about five percent of the 114,000 cubic yards identified in the first seven miles downriver, though the sedimentation continues beyond that.

Eagle Creek says additional dredging could begin soon after but it doesn’t have firm plans yet, according to Jody Smet, vice president for regulatory affairs at Eagle Creek subsidiary STS Hydropower.

“Sediment removal projects have their fair number of challenges that we’re dealing with. One being with we have to have access to adjacent properties to mobilize equipment,” Smet said.

But Kyle Alexander, district supervisor for the Water Resources Division of EGLE’s Kalamazoo office, says the company knows where the sediment is in the first seven miles, and could move faster to clean it up.

“We’re running into a situation where we’re kind of studying the problem to death,” Alexander said. “There’s a fine line between kind of getting all your ducks in a row and having enough information, and just not making any progress.”

The dam owner lowered Morrow Lake in the fall of 2019 so it could repair the gates. The project got delayed and was not finished for more than a year. Silt flowed out of the drawn-down lake for months, leading EGLE to cite the company for violating state regulations.

Alexander says the agency and the company are negotiating a settlement.

Sehvilla Mann joined WMUK’s news team in January 2014 as a reporter on the local government and education beats. Before that she covered a variety of topics, including environmental issues, for Bloomington, Indiana NPR and PBS affiliates WFIU and WTIU. She’s also written and produced stories for the Pacifica Network and WYSO Public Radio in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Sehvilla holds a B.A. in French from Earlham College and an M.A. in journalism from Indiana University.
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