Traverse City Record-Eagle

May 21, 2013

Property owners sue over flooding

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

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — A group of Boardman River property owners filed a lawsuit over removal of the Brown Bridge Dam, saying their property values dropped when the river’s water levels rose.

The owners, all of Boardman Plains Road, contend in the new lawsuit that an Oct. 6 breach during the dam’s removal caused floodwaters to badly damage their properties. One of the plaintiffs, David Hoyt, said he and his wife, Pam, continue to struggle with mold issues at their residence. They are also convinced their home is now at greater risk for flooding.

“This was our dream house,” David Hoyt said. “We always wanted to live on the river … but when we get those weather conditions with lots of rain, it’s really, really scary.”

The lawsuit’s plaintiffs also includes property owners Phil and Barbara Reneaud, Shelley Wesley, Edna Wilder, and the Boardman Plains Homeowners Association. The suit names as defendants the city of Traverse City, engineering firm AMEC, Molon Excavating and the Boardman River Dams Settlement Agreement Implementation Team. Chuck Lombardo, spokesman for the team, said “the matter has been referred to the attorneys and insurance carriers of the parties involved.”

Not everyone agrees the removal of the dam left riverfront homeowners more susceptible to flooding. John Wyrwas, a resident with property on the Boardman, disputed claims from some homeowners that flooding on the Boardman this spring — the first since the dam’s removal — was more extreme than in the past.

Wyrwas said he’s seen worse, noting flooding in 1991 that sent water up over his yard.

“What we are having now is just normal,” he said in April.

What is undisputed, though, is that the drawdown of the Brown Bridge Pond did not go as planned during the dam’s removal. The 170-plus acre Brown Bridge Pond was supposed to be lowered gradually. Instead, a construction device known as a temporary dewatering structure failed, sending much of the pond into the river at once. The flooding swelled the river, damaged 66 properties and threatened bridges.

The lawsuit filed Friday by attorneys Kristyn Houle and Karen Ferguson contends the drawdown was botched. Members of the implementation team were warned flooding risks would increase after the dam’s removal, the suit alleges, and the river was damaged by a washdown of arsenic-laden muck.

Houle said supervisors of the pond drawdown were in a hurry and trying to save money. She said the use of the dewatering structure that failed was not part of the original plan, but saved approximately $130,000. Supervisors should have exhibited more caution upon learning that the dewatering structure was built directly on top of old material used when the dam was built in 1921.

“It’s sort of common sense at a certain point,” Houle said. “If you do it cheaper and faster, you are going to run into trouble.”

A cause of the breach is still under investigation, said Byron Lane of the Michigan Dam Safety Unit.

Traverse City Manager Ben Bifoss wrote a letter in February saying the engineering firm AMEC, the lead contractor on the dam removal, agreed to assume liability for the project.