Briggs Mill Dam in Paw Paw breaches

Village president says water flowing from Briggs Pond to Maple Lake is safe

Briggs Mill Dam, Paw Paw
Water rushes out of Briggs Pond after the Briggs Mill Dam breached on Oct. 15, 2017.

PAW PAW, Mich. (WOOD) — A Paw Paw dam classified as a “significant hazard potential” breached Sunday morning as a powerful current tore through the cement structure.

Village officials say the breach was discovered around 5 a.m. Crews were called in to open the additional spillway. The pedestrian bridge crossing the dam was closed.

Neither people nor properties are believed to be at risk, officials said.

Storm Team 8 says Paw Paw saw 8.55 inches of rain this weekend. According to a release from the village, the dam was checked periodically throughout Saturday due to heavy rain. The dam is normally checked twice per day. Officials say the last check happened at 11:30 p.m. Saturday, and there were no signs of any risk to the dam.

Paw Paw Village President Roman Plaszczak said the dam was built more than 100 years ago to generate electric power. It was among two that controlled flow from Briggs Pond (formerly Ismond Pond) into Maple Lake. The village’s website says that in the past, sediments have washed from Briggs Pond into Maple Lake.

>>App users: Photos of dam breach

Maple Lake was high Sunday afternoon and some surrounding benches were under water. The water flowing through the breach was black, but the village president said the water was safe.

“In Briggs Pond or the lake, there is arsenic, but everything is deemed as safe by (the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality). The water is safe and it is regularly monitored by them,” Plaszczak said.

According to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s website, dams are classified as low, significant and high hazard potential. Below is how the agency defines a significant damage potential dam:

“Dams assigned the significant hazard potential classification are those dams where failure or mis-operation results in no probable loss of human life but can cause economic loss, environmental damage, disruption of lifeline facilities, or can impact other concerns. Significant hazard potential classification dams are often located in predominantly rural or agricultural areas but could be located in areas with population and significant infrastructure.”

It’s unclear how long it will take to rebuild the dam. Officials say crews will evaluate the structure and make recommendations to ensure stability.

“Michigan has a long legacy of damming up rivers to make lakes. What we don’t have is adequate protections in place to keep things like this from happening,” fisherman Casey Sons said. “I wish the DEQ would kind of step up and come up with rules and regulations and guidelines that would keep this from happening in the future.”

Crews will continue to monitor the Michigan Avenue bridge and power plant dam.