Traverse City Record-Eagle

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.

All clear?

Scramlin said he learned of the flooding Saturday mid-morning and chose to ride it out at his riverfront house. He knew the dam failed and that a huge volume of water from Brown Bridge pond was coursing into the river.

Scramlin has lived at his home on Boardman Plains Road for 27 years, and he wasn't going anywhere. He sat in his living room and waited for the flood to come. The river continued to swell as he watched television reports at 6 p.m. that said the danger was over, that the emergency evacuation of homes along River Road was lifted.

But Scramlin watched for the next hour as brown, muddy river water rose above an embankment and flooded his property. He was amazed to see the water nearing the deck of a private bridge on the river.

"You couldn't have floated a box of toothpicks under it," Scramlin said of the bridge. "That's how high it was."

Hoyt offered a similar account. She said after the evacuation order was lifted, she arrived at her home at approximately 7 p.m. but noted still-rising water. She described a terrifying ordeal of a raging river and floodwaters racing through her property.

"Instead of having a 20-foot-wide stream, we had a 100-foot-wide stream," Hoyt said. "We saw a raging river crossing the road. It was up to the second step of our porch."

Hoyt was struck by the sounds of the river. It was "loud. Very loud," she said.

The river jumped the bank, swept through her front yard, flooded her crawl space and shed. Her son's pictures and mementos were in plastic bins in the shed.

"How could this be happening?" Hoyt said to herself. "I can't believe this is happening."

The water began to recede hours later. The last few days, she said, were spent drying out belongings, talking with contractors trying to fix her house, and filing insurance claims.

Grand Traverse County Emergency Management Director Dan Scott said 53 damage claims have been filed with the county. He has not received calls questioning whether the emergency evacuation order was prematurely lifted.

"We felt comfortable allowing people return back to homes," Scott said.

Hoyt is concerned about the long-term health of the river.

It used to be crystal clear, she said, but now it's different.

"You could always see the bottom of the river," Hoyt said. "Now it's like chocolate milk."