Division H20 problem gets $20k, City: Not our fault but we’ll try to fix it

division street flooding webBenjamin Gohs

News Editor

Boyne City officials have approved a plan to attempt to reduce the amount of standing water on some of its property that has apparently inundated one neighborhood with flooding over the past few years.

The Boyne City Commission voted unanimously, at its regular Tuesday Oct. 28 meeting, to spend up to $20,000 on the matter after Boyne City Manager Michael Cain gave a rather extensive overview of the matter followed by list of potential solutions.

“There are ongoing issues with standing and underground water occurring on Division Street between approximately Lewis and Grant streets,” Cain said.

The water issues have allegedly affected residents west of the aforementioned area as far as Wilson Street.

“Thirty-five years of taxes and now my house, I couldn’t sell it,” said property owner Bill Kuhn. “That whole investment is worth nothing.”

Kuhn added that he will not continue paying taxes on a house that no longer has value.

“There have been theories expressed that our reconstruction of Division Street, in 2008, has somehow affected the water flowing in its natural, or at least its historic, course from the south, which is from Avalanche (Preserve) and the hills rising up from it to the north towards the lower levels of Mud Lake, Boyne River and ultimately Lake Charlevoix,” said Cain.

Attorney Kevin Klevorn contacted the city, on behalf of some of those affected, concerning the matter in an Aug. 20 letter.

“I have been contacted by a number of area residents along Division Street because of the high water table that continues to cause significant damages to the properties of area residents that is made obvious by the standing water at the southeast corner of Division Street and the entrance to Parkview Apartments. This is Avalanche Preserve property, the finger that connects to Division Street and was used by walkers and snowmobilers, etc. until the water table got too high,” Klevorn stated…. “[A] culvert(s) that went under Division Street and was apparently removed or blocked had done the trick, while in the last four years the water table has progressively risen so that Mr. Kuhn … who had a septic field installed approximately eight years ago in dry land now has a well pit with four to five feet of standing water in it.”
He further stated, “There is simply too much water that has built up over the last few years to blame it on the weather. This is something that will require engineering and reconstruction of the water flow issues so that the continued damage to people in and throughout the section of Division Street, where the water has backed up, will only have their problems become more acute.”

Cain said there are some options—including repositioning an existing water drainage structure—to remove standing water and thereby reduce the amount of water which collects at nearby properties.

“We’ve also been noticing increased and unusual water complaints and observations from all over the city over the last couple years from all over the city, that have nothing to do with the Division Street work,” said Cain…. “But, with all that said, there is still high water in that area and it is on city property and there’s no doubt that it has been affecting some of the abutting property owners.”

Other options could include reducing the water level by nearly 12 inches by cutting into the road near the city’s new structure and relaying the pipe; or, the city could reduce the water level by three to four feet by taking the pipe west to the front of Parkview Apartments and tying into the stormwater main stub which is installed there.

If the city could obtain an easement from Parkview to do so, the project would cost nearly $15,000. If the city is unable to obtain the easement, it would have to take a different route, which could cost between $50,000 and $60,000.

Cain gave a rundown of what the city has learned and understands about the issue as of now:

The swamps and areas around the city’s waterworks building on Division Street, which is to the west of the main affected area, has been the site of beaver dams and the communities original flowing of water system going back over a hundred years.

The area north of Division Street used to contain fishing ponds.

In the early 2000s, the city extended its stormwater collection system from Lake Street to collect water from the east flowing from the waterworks building and Parkview Apartments stormwater collection ponds.

In 2010, the city rebuilt Division Street from Pleasant Ave., east, to M-75 south.

“As a lower curb and gutter road, with a much more thorough extensive water collection system nearly its entire length, and those ultimately discharge into Lake Charlevoix,” Cain said. “So, instead of moving water from one area to the other up there, whatever water it picked up took well away and didn’t move it onto abutting neighbors.”

In 2013, reports of surface and below ground water issues were raised by a Division Street property owner who owns several properties in the area.

On several occasions, the city pumped standing water off of what seems to be one of the low spots in the area, which is city property immediately south and west of Division Street at the intersection of Division Street and the Parkview Apartments driveway. The water was pumped into the storm sewer system in summer and fall of 2013 and spring of 2014 on several occasions.

“Water problems that were identified in 2013 continued and intensified through that winter and through the spring of 2014, with concerns regarding water emerging on both the north and, ultimately, on the south sides of Division Street,” said Cain.

The city and an engineering firm it hired subsequently met with property owners. In the late spring of 2014, the city constructed a storm water collection system in that area that was tied directly into the city’s stormwater collection system.

“After initially lowering the water level around the structure significantly, the water level again appeared to be increasing,” said Cain. “Then, in August, we received a letter from attorney Kevin Klevorn … regarding water issues associated in this area.”

In the early fall of 2014, the city removed the filter fabric from around the structure the city created on Division Street to increase the water flow, and that water level at that corner lowered. Shortly after doing that, the city installed six well points in pairs on the north and south sides of Division Street in three different locations. After that, the city met with Klevorn and two of the affected property owners where they discussed possible solutions to the issue.

“Based upon the verifiable information that I have seen or been made aware of to date, to me it demonstrates that the Division Street project, nor anything else that the city has done or hasn’t done, has affected … what the water is doing in this area,” said Cain. “This issue did not arise until a couple of years after our project was completed. The issue has arisen during a period, especially in the last two years, where we were about 12 and four inches above our annual precipitation levels. I think the trends are continuing this year as well.”

Cain said this year is expected to be well above average as well.

“Despite persistent rumors that there was a culvert across Division Street in the vicinity of Division and Parkview Apartments and the Grant Street intersection, we have been unable to find any evidence that this ever existed,” said Cain, who added that the city has found plans which show when the senior center was built that they constructed an extensive underground water collection system but those structures were nowhere near the road project.

There was a culvert farther east on Division Street toward Lewis Street but it was not functional and was capped.

Cain said there seems to be two main levels of water: the first being surface and shallow ground water, and the second being lower levels of water which the city pumps water from that are south of the waterworks building. Those lower levels remain fairly constant, according to Cain.

“There has been a theory expressed that, since we don’t use well number 3, which is our southern most well … that it has somehow raised our water wells,” said Cain, who said the water levels have remained consistent, and that there is no evidence for the claim.

Boyne City Commissioner Tom Neidhamer said the commission is not made up of engineers, and he would like to see a more comprehensive solution proposed to address the issue on a long-term basis.

Boyne City Commissioner Delbert “Gene” Towne said he liked Cain’s option “C” which would reduce water levels by three to four feet and also look at the possibility of adding a culvert.

Boyne City Commissioner Derek Gaylord said there are compelling arguments on both sides of the issue.

“Why is it not right in front of the senior center but down at that region and the only logical explanation explanation would be that the material underneath the roadbed that changes density that would direct flow that was backed up,” he said. “I’m not an engineer but that would make sense.”

Gaylord asked about a 2007 document from C2AE, the city’s chosen engineering firm, which discussed a potential huge tributary drainage area considered a detention pond to mitigate runoff discharge to the storm sewer.

Larry Fox, from C2AE, said it referenced surface runoff water. It was not talking about groundwater. He said they ultimately built a stormwater system that could handle the flow instead of building detention ponds, which would be used to slowly drain extra water into smaller stormwater systems.

However, he did say the area has been acting as a retention basin, which explains the standing water.

“If the city took any action to cause or exacerbate the problem, then my point is or my feeling is we do what is necessary to correct what is obviously unintentional,” Gaylord said, adding that if the city was not to blame, if it’s a naturally occurring issue, it should still discuss what the right and wrong thing to do is to take care of its citizens.

Boyne City Commissioner Laura Sansom asked how many residents homes are affected. Cain said he did not know.

There are at least five homes and some apartments, but Klevorn said he is hearing from more and more people as people learn that the issue is being investigated by the city.

The commission voted unanimously to allow city staff to spend up to $20,000 to address the water issue.

EDITOR’S NOTE: In the spirit of full disclosure, it should be noted that Attorney Kevin Klevorn has represented the Boyne City Gazette in legal matters.