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Freeport Dam on the Coldwater River: Is it Historic or Not?
Midwest Region, July 17, 2014
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Photo 1.  The original Freeport Dam was a wooden structure built around 1890’s just north of the existing dam on the Coldwater River, near Freeport, Michigan.
Photo 1. The original Freeport Dam was a wooden structure built around 1890’s just north of the existing dam on the Coldwater River, near Freeport, Michigan. - Photo Credit: Aaron Snell, Streamside Ecological Services
Photo 2.  The Freeport Dam built around 1910 to provide power for the saw and grist mill near the Village of Freeport.
Photo 2. The Freeport Dam built around 1910 to provide power for the saw and grist mill near the Village of Freeport. - Photo Credit: Aaron Snell, Streamside Ecological Services
Photo 3.  The photo taken in March 2014 shows the failing condition of the Freeport Dam and house (old powerhouse).
Photo 3. The photo taken in March 2014 shows the failing condition of the Freeport Dam and house (old powerhouse). - Photo Credit: Rick Westerhof, USFWS
Photo 4.  Deconstruction of the Freeport Dam old powerhouse on the Coldwater River.
Photo 4. Deconstruction of the Freeport Dam old powerhouse on the Coldwater River. - Photo Credit: Aaron Snell, Streamside Ecological Services
Photo 5.  Deconstruction of the Freeport Dam abutments on the Coldwater River.
Photo 5. Deconstruction of the Freeport Dam abutments on the Coldwater River. - Photo Credit: Aaron Snell, Streamside Ecological Services
Photo 6.  View of the Freeport Dam after removal of the house and abutments May 2014.
Photo 6. View of the Freeport Dam after removal of the house and abutments May 2014. - Photo Credit: Aaron Snell, Streamside Ecological Services

In 2013, the Coldwater River Watershed Council (CRWC) was funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (Service) National Fish Passage Program (NFPP) to remove the Freeport Dam and replace two culverts on the Coldwater River to reconnect 17 miles of quality habitat for fish and aquatic species.

The Coldwater River travels 42 miles where it flows into the Thornapple River, which in turn flows 88 miles where it flows into the Grand River near the Ada, Michigan. The Grand River gradually flows 70 miles and empties into Lake Michigan near Grand Haven, Michigan. The Coldwater River has 34 species of fish and much of the river is designated “trout stream” by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

There are numerous fish passage barriers, such as dams and culverts, on the Coldwater River including the Freeport Dam near the little Village of Freeport, Michigan. In 2011, the Timberland Resource Conservation and Development was provided funding through theService’s NFPP to inventory fish passage barriers in the Lower Grand River Watershed (http://timberlandrcd.com/uploads/Lower_Grand_Barrier_Report_v4_Final.pdf). The Freeport Dam was identified as one of the barriers adversely impacting the Coldwater River and recommended for removal.

The original Freeport Dam was constructed of wood on the Coldwater River near the town of Linden, later changed to Freeport, around 1890 (Photo 1). Then in 1900 the dam was moved south and rebuilt to provide power to run a saw and grist mill. There was one sluiceway and a small brick building that housed the original turbine (Photo 2). Sometime between 1910 and 1946, Consumers Power purchased the Freeport Dam and added a second turbine to the original structure. The original brick building was removed by Consumers Power and they poured a new concrete building (date unknown) on top of both sluiceways to house the turbines.

In 1946, all of the hydropower generating equipment was taken off line and removed. Consumers Power sold the dam, powerhouse and 27 acres of land to a private party. The private landowner used the old powerhouse for a barn until 1951, when they converted it into a house (Photo 4). They added a kitchen, bathroom, porch and dining room to the old powerhouse. The sluiceways were both enclosed with a concrete block wall, and windows and doors were added. The upstairs of the house was added and constructed with concrete blocks covered with clay tile on the outside. The roof was made of wood and covered with shingles. The inside of the building was remodeled into living space. A garage was constructed, but only the concrete block foundation remains. The house was occupied until about five years ago. Since then the house (old powerhouse) has suffered damage from weather, water and animals. The dam, associated abutments and walkways have deteriorated and were a major safety and liability issue for the owner. The abutments and walkway on top of the dam are unsafe to walk on and catch logs and debris in the spring, which resulted in flooding in 2012 that washed out a 20 foot section of the river bank upstream. The current owner of the dam, house and property was very interested in selling the property.

Prior to removal of the dam and culverts, the Service must do National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Policy Act and Sea Lamprey Program reviews. Clearance or approval is necessary for all the reviews before the structures can be removed. All these reviews were completed by the Green Bay Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (GBFWCO) staff with assistance from numerous partners. The partners on the project include: CWRC, Streamside Ecological Services, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, Barry County Road and Drain Commissions, Barry Conservation District, Frey Foundation, Vogt Foundation, several Michigan Trout Unlimited Chapters and Kent County.

The NHPA requires a field survey if the structure is older than 50 years, to determine if it is eligible as a “historic property” under the National Register of Historic Places. With guidance from the Service’s Regional Historic Preservation Officer, the GBFWCO staff set out on a fact finding mission. With survey template, camera, measuring tape and clipboard in hand, staff traveled to the Freeport Dam on March 4, 2014 to meet with Streamside Ecological Services staff and two representatives from the CWRC to survey the dam, house and other structures. Upon arrival at the dam, there was snow on the ground and the temperature was in the teens – not ideal weather for a survey. The survey started with taking pictures of all the structures inside and out, taking measurements of all buildings and rooms, drawing floor plans, determining construction materials and noting the type of construction. This information was needed to determine what was original or added on when the building was converted into a house.

The survey information was used to determine that: The original brick mill building was gone and the original sluiceway made of poured concrete still remained. The second turbine and sluiceway constructed by Consumers Power was made of poured concrete and still remained. The new building on top of the sluiceways was made of poured concrete and currently had clay tile on the outside, which was painted white. The house had been damaged by animals, water and weather both inside and outside. The upstairs floor was unsafe to walk on, the roof leaked and the inside structures were damaged by animals. Most of the windows throughout the house were broken or didn’t function properly. Also, a public meeting was held to explain the Freeport Dam removal project, a survey was handed out requesting information, Consumers Power was contacted and the current landowner was interviewed to gather more information.

After reviewing all the available information, it was determined that the Freeport Dam was made of poured concrete and had no special engineering qualities. The current house was modified so much from its original structure and had no special engineering qualities. Information gathered from the City of Freeport, Consumers Power and the public meeting lead us to believe that there was no historic event that happened at the Freeport Dam or house either. The current condition of the Freeport Dam and house was documented in the Powerpoint presentation and sent to the Service's Regional Historic Preservation Officer for review. The Regional Historic Preservation Officer reviewed all the information and then sent a letter to the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office in Lansing Michigan for review and concurrence that the Freeport Dam, house and associated structures were not eligible as “historic sites.” The NHPA is just one of the necessary reviews that must be completed before a structure like the Freeport Dam and old powerhouse can be removed. Determining whether a structure is “historic or not” is just one piece of the puzzle to ensure historic sites are protected. On April 30, 2014 the house and abutments on top of the dam were removed to prevent flooding from large woody debris catching on the dam and backing up the river, like it did in 2012 (Photos 4-6). The Freeport Dam will be removed later this summer.

Once completed, the removal of Freeport Dam and replacement of the two culverts upstream on the Coldwater River will reconnect 17 miles of coldwater habitat to migrating fish and aquatic species, and permanently restore a critical link between the Thornapple River and the Coldwater River. At the same time, the project will enhance a popular fishing area, reduce the liability associated with the dam and build relationships between partners for future conservation efforts. Removal of the dam is the first step in the long term vision of creating of a public riverfront and natural area in Kent County, Michigan.


Contact Info: Rick Westerhof, 231-584-3553, rick_westerhof@fws.gov
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