BY GLENN PUIT
TRAVERSE CITY — Property damage claims from flooding on the Boardman River are swelling: officials said they've received 30 to 40 claims from homeowners swamped when Brown Bridge Pond abruptly emptied.
Grand Traverse County Emergency Management Director Dan Scott set up a flood damage hotline Monday to make it easier for homeowners to report losses. That number is (231) 995-6059.
"I've heard of some reports of up to two-foot of water in the home, to crawl spaces filling up," Scott said.
Flooding stemmed from the Saturday morning breach of a structure at the Brown Bridge Dam, which is being removed in a sprawling project intended to return the Boardman River to a more natural state. A construction company's crew was working to slowly drain the dam's pond part of a "dewatering structure" apparently failed and allowed pond water to barrel down the Boardman.
The torrent felled trees, threatened county bridges, killed fish and drenched riverside houses and property.
The exact cause of the accident is not known, but AMEC, an engineering firm that is supervising the project, and a construction company, Molon Excavation, are going to "make it right" for homeowners through reimbursement from the companies' insurance policies, Scott said.
"The engineering firm and construction company are discussing with their insurance carriers at the moment to determine how claims will be paid," Scott said. "There's not going to be any dispute. They need to get the nod of approval from the insurance company, but people are going to be taken care of. They've assured me of that."
Traverse City Manager Ben Bifoss offered a similar observation. Contracts issued for dam removal make clear AMEC is project overseer and Molon is a subcontractor, he said.
"It means AMEC is going to be responsible to take care of it," Bifoss said.
The city also has a $3 million insurance policy to cover dam removal project damages.
"I'm comfortable it's a high-enough limit," Bifoss said.
Sandra Sroonian, a senior principal engineer for AMEC, did not respond to a call seeking comment. A man who answered the phone at Molon Excavation referred questions to AMEC.
Todd Kalish, a Michigan Department of Natural Resources official who served on a Boardman River restoration committee, on Saturday said flooding began as construction workers removed one of several gates on the temporary dewatering structure. It's not yet known if the construction crew caused the problem or if equipment failure is to blame.
Meanwhile, experts continue to assess environmental damage to the Boardman. Reports Monday indicated dead fish in the river, though not in large numbers. DNR officials and other area biologists floated the river Monday to try and calculate damage to fish and aquatic habitat.
"I think the river is going to be okay," said Steve Largent, Boardman River program coordinator for the Grand Traverse Conservation District. "It's not going to wipe out the fish. We have tributaries that feed the Boardman the fish could escape to. It could have been worse."
Officials said the removal of huge amounts of sediment from the pond prior to Saturday's incident lessened the environmental impact. Also, previous lowerings of water levels at Brown Bridge and Keystone ponds helped avert a much more dangerous flood.
"Our first concern is for the safety of the people downstream, and those that have been affected by this and the damage to their homes and disruption to their lives," said Nate Winkler, a biologist with the Conservation Resource Alliance, which is part of the river restoration group.