The latest Property Rights Network video relates the horrors experienced by property owners on the Boardman River outside Traverse City. Of the four dams on the river, three have been slated for removal by city and county officials. On its surface, removal of the dams seems like a good idea. In reality, however, elected officials and bureaucrats are using every tool in their arsenal to usurp the rights of individuals who own land on the dam impoundments.
Proponents of the dam removals include city and county officials and such groups as Trout Unlimited — all wishing to see the Boardman River flow freely through Grand Traverse County as it winds its way to Lake Michigan. Without dams, they argue, the river will attract tourism dollars from the fishermen, kayakers and canoeists who will flock to a river that doesn't require portaging around the dams.
Grand Traverse officials also intend to turn the Boardman's banks into an extended park for picnics, hiking, bicycling and other activities. These officials also intend to plant hundreds of trees along the banks to enhance the area's natural beauty.
But, for the individuals who own property on the current dam impoundments, the plans have created a nightmare. In preparation for removal of the dams, up to 15 feet of water has been drawn down — with plans to drawdown even further. As a result, homeowners on the impoundment lost more than 100 feet of shoreline — up to 350 feet in some cases — from the docks they built for mooring watercraft and viewing nature. Where wildlife and verdant scenery once abounded, homeowners now cope with mosquito infestations and a view of mudflats.
The drawdown also presents several safety issues. The lowered water exposed several pieces of land that have been hollowed from underneath by years of erosion. Anyone stepping on the land, unaware that it is unsupported below, could be subjected to a 15-foot fall onto hundreds of unsubmerged rocks.
Additionally, the river's banks have been home for many types of industry over the past 150 years. Exposing the riverbed disrupts the contaminants — many of them toxic — that have settled there, potentially endangering hikers and explorers who could be infected by contact with the toxins.
What's more, ownership of the exposed bottomland beneath the impoundment is being challenged by the city and county officials, who say that this land now belongs to the public despite plat maps and deeds of the homeowners that specifically state that their property extends to the waterline - wherever that waterline may be.
The Property Rights Network's 10-minute video (viewable at www.mackinac.org/11140 and www.youtube.com/watch?v=TYzzqaKKXi4) addresses the plight of the homeowners on the Boardman Dam impoundments. It includes interviews with several of the homeowners, attorney Robert Kaufman and Traverse City Mayor Mike Estes. Another video is in the works that discusses the impact the water drawdown has had on the area's wetlands, as well as the viability of returning the dams to their original purpose — creating hydroelectric power.
Bruce Edward Walker is manager of communications for the Mackinac Center's Property Rights Network and editor of The Refuge. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.