Dam Project

What is The Boardman: A River Reborn?

People in our community have an appreciation for the Boardman River as it meanders through our forests, fields and towns.  A river of this quality is a globally rare resource and a priceless community asset.  Proper care and stewardship of this gem are critical to its long-term health. The removal of dams on the Boardman will allow it return to a more natural state as a free-flowing, cold-water river.  It will truly be a river reborn. The removal of the three Boardman River dams will be the largest dam removal project in Michigan's history, and the largest wetlands restoration in the Great Lakes Basin. 


In 2005, Traverse City Light and Power determined that it is not economically feasible to produce hydropower at the Sabin, Boardman and Brown Bridge dams. Dam owners – the City of Traverse City and the Grand Traverse County – organized the Boardman River Dams Committee to gather community feedback, encourage community involvement and manage an engineering and feasibility study to assess the environmental, economical and social benefits and detriments of retaining, modifying and removing the Boardman River dams. After thorough review and discussion the dam owners decided to remove the Sabin, Boardman and Brown Bridge dams and modify the Union Street dam.

Facts at a Glance

Phase I: Brown Bridge Dam Removal

Brown Bridge Dam removal was completed in January 2013 and resulted in the reestablishment of 2.5 miles of river channel. Revegetation and restoration work in the project area is ongoing.

Phase II: Removal of Boardman and Sabin Dams, Replacement of Cass Road Bridge, and Modification of Union Street Dam

The goals of Phase II are to:

  • Re-establish 2 miles of river channel, function and reconnection to floodplain
  • Reconnect an additional 13 miles of river channel for fish passage, creating 157 miles of free-flowing river upstream of the Sabin Dam site
  • Return the Boardman River to a more natural, free-flowing, cold-water stream
  • Improve 2 miles of habitat between the current Boardman and Sabin impoundments, and downstream of the current Sabin impoundment
  • Rehabilitate over 107 acres of wetland and associated upland habitat
  • Modify Union Street Dam for improved fish passage and sea lamprey control


Rebirthing the Boardman is a long-term investment in a priceless community asset. The cost for Phase I Brown Bridge dam removal and restoration was $4.2 million.  The estimate to complete Phase II is $12.9 million, including replacement of Cass Road Bridge. Funding is being pursued through federal, state, tribal, local government and private sources.


In addition to the environmental benefits, the rebirth of the Boardman is also a community development project with many long-term benefits.


  • Enhance and restore habitat for native and naturalized fish species and organisms preferring cold water.
  • Restore over 3.4 miles and reconnect 160 miles of high-quality river habitat.
  • Restore more than 250 acres of wetlands and nearly 60 acres of upland habitat.


  • Impact the local economy by stimulating increased recreation and tourism 
  • Promote business growth and new opportunities from increased interest in water-related activities, including fishing, kayaking and canoeing.
  • Support the long-term goals of the Grand Vision guiding principle of “protecting and preserving the water resources, forests, natural areas and the scenic beauty of the region.”


  • Engage all interests, cultivating a sense of ownership in the project and outcome, and ensure that the process is sensitive to community needs and concerns.
  • Secure unparalleled cooperation among federal, tribal, state and local government agencies and nonprofit entities.
  • Document and archive the process in detail as it unfolds, and initiate the development of a model that will be transferable for use by other communities faced with similar issues.
  • Continue to involve a diverse group of individuals and organizations throughout the process, and into the future, to ensure the long-term health of the Boardman River.


  • Create an on-the-ground laboratory for local schools. Support a variety of scientific research initiatives to assess the impacts of dam removal.