Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 17, 2012

Attorney seeks records relating to Boardman River flooding

FOIA request involves Brown Bridge Pond Dam

By Glenn Puit, and LORAINE ANDERSON
gpuit@record-eagle.com, landerson@record-eagle.com

TRAVERSE CITY — A local attorney is seeking public records on the Brown Bridge Dam, reportedly on behalf of a construction company that was working on the dam when a breach flooded more than 53 properties on the Boardman River.

Attorney Peter B. Worden Jr. filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the city of Traverse City on Oct. 10 — four days after the flooding. The request seeks "any and all records regarding the Brown Bridge Pond Dam." Worden is also seeking the city's files regarding the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality's permit for the dam's removal, and city records "pertaining to inspections, permit applications, engineering or soil studies, and any and all other documents pertaining to said dam."

Worden would not say who he's working for; his records request does not identify who he is representing.

"I'm not going to comment on the matter at this time," Worden said.

City Manager Ben Bifoss said he understood that Worden filed the records request on behalf of Molon Excavating, which was working on the dam Oct. 6 when the Brown Bridge Pond unexpectedly emptied into the Boardman River. The resulting flooding raised the river by five feet, threatening bridges and homes downstream.

Ed Rice, director of Traverse City Light & Power, also said he was told Worden is working with Molon. TCL&P operated the dam for decades before relinquishing its ownership to the city.

TCL&P lawyer Peter Doren denied Worden's records request to copy all documents in the utility's possession, saying it was overly broad. However, Worden will be allowed to inspect the records. He also told Worden the city maintains separate records on the dam.

Meanwhile, a federal engineer said the Oct. 6 breach at the Brown Bridge Dam dewatering structure has had no effect so far on a study on the feasibility of removing the Boardman and Sabin dams that is now being drafted by the U.S. Corps of Army Engineers. But that could change as more information on sediment and other possible damages is gathered and analyzed.

"There are many unknowns at this time," said Army Corps district engineer Carl Platz Tuesday morning. "Many qualified people are working diligently now to get those answers with the local team. Certainly, if some of the materials (sediment) ended up in our project area (downstream), it could have impact to our project in terms of materials to be removed and costs."

Platz has almost completed 95 percent of the feasibility study and internal report on removing the Boardman and Sabin dams and modifying Union Street Dam.

The original schedule called for the feasibility study and environmental assessment to be put out for public review by sometime in the spring or early summer of 2013. If both are approved at each step, deconstruction work could start in late 2014 or early 2015, he said.

"At this point of time, we're moving forward with our process," Platz said. "As information comes toward us, we'll review it and adjust our report if we need to."

The approval process is lengthy because of the number of reviews and comment periods. Once the 95 percent plan is completed, it will be reviewed internally by the first layer of Corps engineers who will comment and make recommendations. Then Platz's office will begin writing the final plan, which will go to the next layer of Corps engineers.

Depending on comment, it will go for public review and comment and finally, to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, state and wildlife agencies.