Traverse City Record-Eagle

April 18, 2013

Mich. attorney general could review Boardman River flooding

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Michigan environmental regulators are mulling a number of enforcement actions to ensure repair of the Boardman River, roughly seven months after a man-made mishap at the Brown Bridge Dam sent floodwaters surging down the waterway.

Brian Jankowski, a district supervisor for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality in Cadillac, confirmed a state investigation into environmental damage to the Boardman is expected to be “referred to the attorney general’s office.”

Jankowski declined to speculate on the referral’s potential outcome. “There’s a lot of alternatives available,” he said.

Heather Krieger, an enforcement specialist with the DEQ’s Water Resources Division in Lansing, said the DEQ considers the Boardman River inquiry an “escalated enforcement action.” The matter has not yet been referred to the attorney general’s office, and the DEQ is “still looking at our options here and evaluating them.”

An Oct. 6 breach during dam removal caused the Brown Bridge pond to empty into the Boardman River, damaging 66 properties and threatening public safety. In November, the DEQ sent notice to the property owner, the city of Traverse City, that the flooding constituted a violation of a permit issued for dam removal.

Krieger said the investigation also focuses on the “unauthorized discharge of high levels of water that contain sediment.”

Krieger said possible outcomes of enforcement actions include an administrative consent order or compliance programs aimed at repairing damages to natural resources. Civil fines and penalties are levied in some cases.

Chuck Lombardo, spokesman for the Boardman River Dams Implementation Team – which oversees the planned removal of three dams on the river -- said an engineering firm that supervises the Brown Bridge Dam removal, AMEC, prepared a lengthy response to the DEQ’s notice of violation. The response details AMEC’s work to assess the river’s environmental health and its labor to help homeowners cure damage to properties.

The engineering firm reported to the DEQ that:

-- Flooding damaged 66 properties, and 36 had damage to structures.

-- Four homes had more than $50,000 in damage. Six homes had damage ranging from $20,000 to $50,000.

-- AMEC’s insurance company, Zurich North America, has worked to resolve property owners’ claims. As of April 11, Zurich settled 30 claims with property owners.

-- AMEC’s labor costs and other expenses associated with dealing with environmental assessments, property claims and other tasks is $992,054.

Traverse City Manager Ben Bifoss declined comment.

Dave Downer, who lives on the river, said he observed a black muck on portions of the Boardman River bottom. He said he sent testing of the material to Traverse City-based SOS Analytical lab for testing, and test results showed levels of arsenic in the muck that exceed the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s cleanup criteria.