Parting Shots–Looking back on 2018

Paw Paw’s Briggs Mill Pond Dam was the big news of 2017 after heavy rains in the fall of that year washed out the earthen section and let the south branch of the Paw Paw River flow through. But the village continued to struggle with its repairs and the associated costs through 2018. “Flexamat” mesh lain over the rebuilt emergency spillway to hold the earth in place allows for a pedestrian walkway from the wooden bridge over the river, but did not offer the stability it promised, and the village council began considering other options for the next phase toward completion of the repairs.Sections of the business districts in the communities of Mattawan were underwater following a rapid February thaw. Though temperatures rose to the 60s, the ground was still frozen and could not absorb the melting snow and rain. Drains overflowed and the excess water ran down the streets and made ponds of lawns and parking lots.  Sections of the business districts in the communities of Lawrence were underwater following a rapid February thaw. Though temperatures rose to the 60s, the ground was still frozen and could not absorb the melting snow and rain. Drains overflowed and the excess water ran down the streets and made ponds of lawns and parking lots.

    Van Buren County boasts its many inland lakes, streams, and rivers as assets to the quality of life here. It’s a water-wonderland for visitors and residents alike.  That will always be true. But in 2018, water was not a friend to local communities after Mother Nature decided to  play a few tricks with the weather. “Water, water everywhere” took on a whole new meaning.
    In October,Van Buren County Drain Commissioner Joe Parman presented his 2018 Drain and Lakes Assessments Report to the Van Buren County Commission. It included rain and precipitation data from February 18 to September 13, and groundwater table data.
    The report stated that during those seven months, the Paw Paw-Mattawan area received 33.72 inches of rain, compared to 19.71 inches the year before, and to the annual average of 39 inches. This came as no surprise to either municipality, as both had been addressing issues of too much water in varying situations all year long.
    For both communities, the water woes likely started during a super soggy October, 2017, which closed out with hard rains for several days straight, resulting in the wash-out of Paw Paw’s Briggs Mill Pond dam and some flooding in Mattawan’s  Bob-O-Links neighborhood. Ma Nature added a winter snowfall, followed by an unusually warm February 2018, causing a rapid thaw area-wide, and the ground around here was saturated.

    Following the completion in 2017 of massive village water and sewer systems replacement and upgrade projects, the Village of Paw Paw began 2018 faced with the enormous task of reconstructing a washed out dam and finding means for funding the costs. By the end of the year, council members were hearing of excessive water seeping into the basements of homes in the northwest section of the village, and had begun exploring possible causes and solutions for homeowners.

    At a special meeting in February, the Paw Paw Village Council took action to proceed with repairs on the Briggs Pond Dam and to begin the process of securing funding for the project.
    Though not whole-heartedly in agreement on what course to take to replace or repair the washed out earthen dam, trustees voted unanimously to move ahead with the plan they had approved in late October to rebuild the dam with an emergency spillway and pedestrian walkway. The Michigan Depart-ment of Environmental Quality had already approved an emergency conditional permit to allow construction to begin, but had added requirements that in-creased the cost significantly from the original estimate, sparking discussions  over several meetings of the council about looking at other options.
    Village President Roman Plaszczak voiced his concerns that delays caused by reviewing other designs would affect the repair schedule and funding options. “If we wait, we may not be considered an emergency anymore,” he said. Changes in the already-approved design could require restarting the permitting process at the state level.
    “The situation is not going to get any better,” Plaszczak stressed.
    In mid-May, repairs on the dam above the South Basin of the South Branch of the Paw Paw River were near completion.  A “Flexamat” material covered the rebuilt earthen dam creating a walkable emergency spillway. Future plantings of grass and other greenery in the mesh would add stability to the structure.  The covered bridge, wooden boardwalk and railings had been rebuilt as they were before the breach.
    By year’s end, however, faults had been discovered in this first phase of the dam replacement, and the council had engaged another engineering firm to assess the design concerns and make suggestions for repairs to proceed to the next phase of the dam’s upgrade.

    Residents of Charles Street and George Court came to the Paw Paw Village Council in August, asking for the village’s help with water seeping into basements throughout their neighborhood. As far back as 2010, some residents began to discover the problem. Those situations had continued and gotten worse, as more of the neighbors began to have the same issues. Almost all had invested in and installed sump pumps that are operating daily to try to keep up with the unwanted water. They noted more than 15 homes in the neighborhood were affected.
    “We need help!” the residents said, and asked if there was possibly a fault in the village’s water system that was causing the problem. They also voiced concerns about the quality of the water coming into their homes.
    At the council’s September 10 meeting, Public Works Director John Small informed trustees and village residents that a representative from Michigan Rural Water had used an electronic listening device and had discovered a leak in a hydrant seat located in the neighborhood. The leak had been repaired, and was not considered to be the source of the excess water, Small said.
    In October, on the request of the council’s public services committee, the village council approved a third-party study of the neighborhood’s high water problem and hired Abonmarche engineers to evaluate existing reports and sample data to identify the source of the water and suggest other tests, if necessary; and create concept plans and cost estimates for potential long-term solutions for water management in the neighborhood.
    The committee wanted Abon-marche to review data, prior studies, cost estimates, topographic surveys, and other pertinent information to get an understanding of the current conditions and then report those findings to the council.
    Abonmarche engineer Chris Cook returned to the council in November with a report     stating that the rainfall data from the past several years indicates that groundwater levels have risen across West Michigan. “Ground-water follows a plain from one spot to another,” he said. “The water is on its way to Maple Lake, flowing west to east. Surface water may want to pool in this area.”
    According to Cook, the elevations including the Charles Street neighborhood are some of the lowest on the west side of Maple Lake.  He told the council he found nothing to indicate the village’s water system was contributing to the increased water levels.
    Trustee Mary McIntosh asked Cook, “What do communities do?”
    “Unfortunately,” he responded, “this is a situation that falls on the residents to solve.”
    The Charles Street neighbors, in the meantime, had reached out to John Yellich, a certified professional geologist from Western Michigan University, who presented a brief geological study of Charles Street, George Court and the area surrounding. He told the council that his findings indicated a source other than high groundwater is contributing to the excessive water levels in the subdivision. He asked for permission to measure the groundwater himself. He would like to include WMU students, who will hand-auger holes around the homes on Charles Street and George Court for the placement of piezometers.
    Council members expressed their approval of his plan, but took no formal action.  They are also reviewing a written report from Abonmarche to continue the discussions in 2019.
    At the end of March, the Mattawan Village Council approved  a petition for the maintenance, improvement and extension of the Bob-O-Links Estates 433 Drain. Some residents in the 58-parcel subdivision had experienced flooding in October and again in February, and noted conditions after the thaw of water over the road as high as a pickup truck’s bumper.
    Further south along Main Street, with temperatures in the 60s but the ground still frozen, Payne Creek, which runs parellel to the road, then makes an abrupt turn to the west near Campbell-Murch Memorials and runs under Main Street, overflowed its banks. Inches of standing water covered parking lots and lawns in the McGillen’s Crossing-City Center Circle part of town, and Western and Alvord avenues, requiring sandbagging along the roads’ and creek’s edges.
    In Parman’s annual report, he noted that a pump was installed to relieve flooding on June 1, and roughly more than 200 million gallons of water a day was pumped to the Cook Drain, a half-mile to the west, where  a drain pipe was installed over N. Main Street to help alleviate the overflow.
    Parman said three different pumps were in use at the time, and planning and research for a long-term solution was underway.

     In February, the Village of Lawrence and Lawrence Town-ship experienced extensive flooding. Parking lots at village businesses and roads throughout the township were underwater; so deep is some places that motorists were stranded and vehicles had to be towed out of the high waters. The Van Buren County Jail Work Crew helped sandbag areas around the Van Buren Intermediate School District. Many area roads were  impassable, due to standing  water or damaged/destroyed roads.

The Courier-Leader & Paw Paw Flashes

The Courier-Leader & Paw Paw Flashes
32280 E. Red Arrow Hwy. • P.O. Box 129
Paw Paw, MI 49079
(269) 657-5080

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