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DEQ Settles Claims Against UPPCO for Dam Failure Near Marquette

Contact: Robert McCann (517) 373-7917
Agency: Environmental Quality

June 5, 2009

Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Director Steven E. Chester announced today that the department has entered into an agreement with Ishpeming-based Upper Peninsula Power Company (UPPCO), resolving the state of Michigan's claims for natural resource damages related to the May 2003 failure of UPPCO's dam on the Silver Lake Reservoir of the Dead River, approximately 30 miles upstream from the city of Marquette.

During the 2003 spring thaw, the Silver Lake Dam allowed the release of a tremendous amount of impounded water and sediment to downstream reaches of the Dead River and additional impoundments.  The rush of water uprooted trees, toppled power lines, damaged bridges, and harmed aquatic life within the river. 

Immediately following the event, DEQ staff began working with UPPCO representatives, in consultation with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), to discuss a strategy for recovering lost resources and mitigating damage.  Prior to entry of the Consent Judgment filed today with the Marquette County Circuit Court, UPPCO conducted extensive recovery activities within the Dead River and its impoundments, spending over $18 million to date, including rebuilding the dams on Silver Lake.

"This agreement will ensure that ongoing recovery activities will be completed, and the ecosystem in and around the river will be restored," said Director Chester.  "I offer my thanks to our DEQ staff, our attorneys, and our partners in other agencies involved in responding to this environmental disaster."

The Consent Judgment requires that UPPCO complete remaining recovery activities and monitor completed work through implementation of a number of work plans appended to the agreement.  In addition, a variety of mitigation activities will be completed by UPPCO to enhance existing natural resource functions and compensate for those damages where recovery is impossible, such as lost fishing days and other recreational uses of the river system.  Projects to be completed by UPPCO include:

  • Improved public access to Silver Lake;
  • Vegetation management in Silver Lake during basin refill;
  • 4.5 acres of new wetland with 12 additional acres restored;
  • Connors and/or Mulligan Creek improvements;
  • Habitat enhancement in lower half of Hoist Basin;
  • Landowner education on fishery habitat in Hoist and McClure Basins;
  • Efforts to reduce erosion downstream of County Road 550;
  • A donation to the city of Marquette for development of boating access; and
  • Habitat enhancement between County Road 550 and Lake Superior.

UPPCO has also agreed to fund mitigation activities to be conducted by the DEQ or DNR in the western Upper Peninsula including:

  • $150,000 for fish stocking and maintenance activities in Silver Lake and the western Upper Peninsula;
  • $200,000 toward development of a replacement coldwater fishery;
  • $175,700 dedicated to freshwater mussel monitoring and research; and 
  • $50,000 for fish tissue monitoring in the refilled Silver Lake Reservoir.

A separate agreement entered between the DEQ and the Marquette Board of Light and Power (MBLP) governs recovery activities within the former Tourist Park Basin.  The MBLP has also committed to rebuild a handicap-accessible fishing pier that was lost during the 2003 event.

Finally, UPPCO has agreed to reimburse the state for $325,000 in enforcement costs and will pay for future oversight of remaining recovery and mitigation activities.

Editor's note: DEQ news releases are available on the department's Internet home page at www.michigan.gov/deq .   

"Protecting Michigan's Environment, Ensuring Michigan's Future"