Traverse City Record-Eagle

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October 8, 2012

Project managers go over flood damage

Cause of Saturday's Boardman River flood has yet to be determined

TRAVERSE CITY — The day after Brown Bridge Pond emptied in an unstoppable rush and flooded the Boardman River, managers of a project to restore the river to its natural state gathered to assess damages and figure out what went wrong.

Sandra Sroonian, an engineer who works with the Boardman restoration group, said the cause of the flood hasn't yet been determined. Inspections and other tests will be needed to learn the cause, she said.

Project officials declined to speculate on where failures occurred, but Sroonian listed four initial, major tasks that must now be tackled:

- Bridge inspection and reopening roads;

- Downstream reconnaissance;n Continued sediment monitoring;n Assistance for those affected by flooding caused by the breach of a newly built water control structure.

Sroonian is senior principal engineer for AMEC, an engineering firm hired by Traverse City to oversee the removal of Brown Bridge Dam and its pond, the first in a string of dams set to be removed.

Two engineers from AMEC and an independent engineer were expected to fly in Sunday afternoon to begin inspections at the dam site.

Bridge inspectors from the Michigan Department of Transportation and private consulting engineers also completed inspections to determine whether flooding damaged Garfield Bridge just south of River Road.

Local authorities on Sunday afternoon cleared all bridges on River and Garfield roads for all types of traffic.

Brown Bridge Pond was supposed to be drained at the rate of a foot of water per-day over a three-week period. Instead, all but 2 to 2.5 feet of the pond rushed downstream over about six hours on Saturday, the water flowing free adjacent to a "dewatering structure" that was supposed to drain the pond in measured steps.

It is believed that the river crested at Beitner Road Bridge Saturday at about 11:30 p.m. at 4.5 to 5 feet above normal levels, a county press release issued Sunday at 3 p.m. stated.

Downstream from Brown Bridge Dam, flooded homeowner Dave Hoyt had to tackle some tasks of his own. The Boardman River ran through his property sometime after 8 p.m. on Saturday.

Hoyt said the river "barreled" over a small bridge in front of his house and over his front yard. The river carried with it everything from docks to trees, he said.

"It was like whitewater when it washed over the road. I stepped off the back step of my house and I was in water up to here," Hoyt said, pointing to a thigh-high spot on his jeans.

Hoyt and his wife Pam evacuated about 9:30 p.m.

The water didn't enter their house but did wash through a crawl space where his furnace, hot water heater and water softener are located.

"My wife cried," Hoyt said.

The Hoyt house sits on a rise and was spared. Hoyt said neighbors both upstream and downstream endured flooding.

A final count of flooded homes is still being gathered. On Saturday night, emergency managers said a 6 to 8 homes were known to have flooded.

Hoyt said he was surprised to find all of the water on his property had receded by the time he returned home Sunday morning. He called Ed and Mary Flees, who live in the first house below Brown Bridge Dam, to learn of damage there. They lost only a dock.

Ed Flees, who has lived along the Boardman River since 1968, was chairman of the city's Boardman River's Advisory Committee for 11 years, but stepped down a few years ago during discussions on the dam removal and restoration project.

Flees and his wife opposed the project but did not join a local opponent group. Between them, they referred to the project as the "Death of Brown Bridge Pond." Mary Flees once had an wildlife sanctuary in the backyard.

"It was an act of God; no one got hurt or was killed," Ed Flees said of Saturday's flood. "It's a very unfortunate situation. We are fortunate Boardman Dam backed us up."

Torrents of water that rushed downstream flowed into Boardman and Sabin dam ponds, which both had been lowered in recent years, Boardman by Department of Environmental Quality order and Sabin as a result of the restoration project billed as the largest such effort in Michigan history.

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