Traverse City Record-Eagle


October 7, 2012

Rising Boardman River alarms residents

TRAVERSE CITY — It was mid-morning when Connie Weese spied a message on her cell phone about a flash flood warning on the Boardman River.

Weese lives on River Road, about 500 feet from the river's bank, so she walked down to the river and stared in amazement.

"The water level had gone up about two feet in 25 minutes," Weese said. "I just watched it."

Flood water quickly engulfed a small dock that jutted from a cabin on Weese's property.

"In about 25 to 30 minutes, the dock was gone," Weese said. "It was underwater. You could tell it was rising very quickly, so I walked back to the house and grabbed my dog."

Weese evacuated and went to her neighbor Rita Hansen's house to make sure she was safe. She called the experience "nerve wracking," and added "I'm still a little scared."

Her account was among many to surface Saturday in the aftermath of a breach at the Brown Bridge dam removal project that caused the Boardman River to rise by as much as five feet.

John Wyrwas said he noticed the river rising at about 11:30 a.m.

"The river was discolored and brown; coffee colored," Wyras said.

Wyras did not think he was in danger. The bottom of the joists of his house are 24 inches above the river's 100-year high water mark.

When he left home, the water was still three feet from the joists.

"The fire department was coming along the road telling people it was a mandatory evacuation," Wyras said. "I think it was largely precautionary."

Rita Hansen lives in the 200 block of River Road East. Her home is about 70 feet from the river bank.

Her phone began to ring by mid-morning. Friends warned her to evacuate.

"They were wondering if I had a place to go," Hansen said.

She watched the river rise from her dining room window.

"When they first called, it wasn't any higher than it was two days ago," Hansen said. "The next time I looked, it was coming up."

Hansen watched construction trucks rumble up her road. The trucks were loaded with boulders used to plug the breach.

"Everything they were trying to plug it up with was washing out," Hansen said. " I saw Elmer's (trucks) and big truckloads of boulders going through."

John Riser's family owns a cabin on River Road on the Boardman's banks. He's been an adamant opponent of the dam removal and is livid about the breach.

"We knew this was going to happen. I was against this all along," he said. "I went to all of the meetings about the dams."

Riser's sister stayed at the cabin Friday night. When word spread of flooding, Riser headed to the cabin to try to save the family's belongings.

"We got everything we could and we set it up high, and we took a lot of furniture and stuff out of the house," he said.

Riser was dismayed to see the rising, muddy water as it neared the cabin's deck.

"I wandered down there and dunked my hand in. There was so much silt," he said. "It's going to kill all the trout."

Eventually the Risers were ordered to leave. The cabin remained dry when they left, and they eagerly waited for news at John's home in Mayfield.

"We're hoping water didn't get in there," he said. "We'll go down as soon as we can to check it out."

Weese said she thought the dams should be rebuilt instead of removed.

"I assumed they knew what they were doing," Weese said. "You figure they are the experts. They put it together, they should take it apart. I'm still a little scared right now. In the end, hopefully they'll figure out what they need to do and take care of it."

Wyras said he still supports the dams removal project.

"I'm for it," Wyras said. "The science and the technology and the ecology called for removing these dams. They've got to go."

Hansen always thought dams removal was a bad idea. She wasn't surprised at Saturday's dramatic turn.

"We tried to tell them not to do it," Hansen said. "What can you say? I thought they would have it all under control and know what they were doing. I still think they shouldn't have done it."

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