Traverse City Record-Eagle

Boardman River flood

October 12, 2012

Boardman flood leaves frustration in its wake

TRAVERSE CITY — Pam Hoyt knows the furnace, tools and water softener can be replaced.

It's the damage to mementos of her son's childhood, irreplaceable snapshots that trace life, that causes her voice crack as she tallies damage from Saturday's flooding on the Boardman River.

"The biggest thing is the stuff you can't put a price on," Hoyt said Thursday, her brimming eyes staring downward at now-wrinkled sketches and news clippings from her son's youth.

"All of the newspaper articles, his drawings," Hoyt said. "That's the stuff they can't make me throw away."

Hoyt's neighbor, Claude Scramlin, wrestles other emotions. He's frustrated and angry at the botched removal of the Brown Bridge Dam, which emptied Brown Bridge Pond and sent a wall of water over the Boardman's banks and into his front lawn.

Flooding washed out his dock and left it tattered along the river. His Harley Davidson motorcycle, snowblower and shed are damaged. So too is his faith in the dam removal project on the Boardman.

"I'm pissed off," Scramlin said. "Now we'll be dealing with this every time there's a hard rain."

Details emerge

On Thursday, authorities with the Boardman River Dams Implementation Team publicly released more details on events that led to the flooding. The group oversees removal of three dams on the Boardman River with the goal of returning the river to a more natural state.

Brown Bridge Dam was the first slated for removal.

A construction crew was at the work on the dam Saturday when the pond let loose into the river. The crew was working on a "dewatering structure" adjacent to the dam when the breach occurred.

The dewatering structure is supposed to allow for a slow release of water over a period of weeks, but the pond flushed into the river in the space of a few hours, and caused the Boardman to rise as much as five feet.

A lengthy press release issued by the implementation team Thursday offered more details. Chuck Lombardo, the group's spokesman, said the dewatering structure "was engaged to allow water into the structure" on Saturday at 10 a.m.

Ten minutes later, workers noticed "an estimated three-foot drop in water level ... upstream of the structure."

Water began to flow back up into the device, and Lombardo said water was observed "coming in from the south side of the dewatering structure at the northeast corner of the dam at an uncontrolled rate."

Next, workers saw a sinkhole form next to the dewatering structure, and the pond was dropping fast. An emergency evacuation order was issued at 11:45 a.m., and construction crews scrambled to dump boulders and concrete into the pond to stem the flow.

By 3:30 p.m., the dam's north bank was stabilized and water at the structure receded. The mandatory evacuation was lifted at 4:30 p.m. Michigan Department of Environmental Quality officials are trying to pinpoint what happened.

Biologists are examining the river to determine the extent of the damage to the blue ribbon trout stream.

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