Traverse City Record-Eagle

May 13, 2013

Woman fends off Crystal Lake flooding

BY GLENN PUIT gpuit@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — FRANKFORT — Betty Wortelboer has had a tough time over the past five weeks.

In April, Wortelboer, 73, helplessly watched as floodwaters from the Crystal Lake outlet channel in Benzie County swamped her home along M-115 and forced her to live with relatives until high water subsided this week.

“I’ve gotten a little bit of water before, but this was so fast I couldn’t take care of it,” she said.

Wortelboer’s house is directly adjacent to the channel used to moderate Crystal Lake water levels. Lake levels are raised or lowered by inserting boards into the outlet, but this year, officials said, it’s been particularly difficult to protect Wortelboer’s residence while also balancing the needs of lakefront homeowners who’ve also witnessed high water this spring.

“We had a lot of heavy, wet snow, lots of cold temperatures, and the ice built up,” said Benzie County Drain Commissioner Christy Anderson. “(Snow melt) happened very fast and it just created a lot of water. The water level is still high on the lake.”

The experience frustrates Wortelboer’s family. Her nephew, Keith Priest, brought Wortelboer into his home for a couple of weeks, and other family members also helped out. Priest questions whether authorities are doing enough to protect his aunt’s well-being, or if favor is being shown to wealthier lakefront owners.

“I’m very upset about it,” Priest said. “It’s really painful to see it. I’m not in the position to help much and other family members are helping out. I know she doesn’t have a lot of money, but we’re going to try and make it work.”

Terry Money is the county’s former drain commissioner. He spent 12 years in the position and said he’s never seen a spring snow melt like this year’s. He said the drain commissioner’s actions -- and the regulation of water coming out of Crystal Lake -- is dictated by a nearly half-century-old court order that stems from long-ago lake level disputes between property owners.

“The road commission was concerned about the culvert on M-115,” Money said. “They had to get rid of water in a hurry, be aware of this lady’s position and her place, and the road commission was worried about water backing up around the culvert. You’d hate to undermine 115 and blow the culvert out or cause damage.”

Wortelboer is glad to be back in her home but she, too, is frustrated. She has to pay extra for flood insurance and faces the hurdle of chasing damage reimbursement from her insurance company.

“I’m glad to be back in,” she said. “I wanted to get back.”