Poor Little Dam….

OK – I’m having a sentimental moment about all this….

The Gun Lake Dam has been intertwined with my life for more than 20 years. I’ve seen amazing amounts of water pour over it as it maintains our lake level; and I’ve seen it either dribble water, or dry up completely. My grandkids like to take paddleboat or kayak rides down to see the dam and hear its not-quite-thunderous roar, complete with giggles and shrieks of “Don’t go over the waterfall, Grandma!!!” as if we’d paddled to the very edge of Niagara…

Of course, if we had gone over the edge, we’d just have clunked down on the other side. The water level was usually 8″ deep or so. Unlike some of the scary dams in Grand Rapids that readily drown people; ours was never much of a threat. Maybe a skinned knee?

There’s been some speculation (but how could we ever prove/disprove it?) that the fairly-strong earthquake 3 weeks prior to the late-May “Dam Emergency”, somehow caused some liquefaction under the dam.  I find that believable, considering that the whole south end of the lake is basically a swamp.  Water, that ever-pervasive eroder, started trickling UNDER the dam (that reaches maybe 6′ down), until it finally opened a hole??  And by May 27th, that hole was downright massive – EEEKS! (See my post titled “Saving The Lake”)

Anyway – the quick repairs saved the lake and the downstream farmers’ crops.  The several-hundred-tons of rocks are holding the dam in place nicely, and are even kind of pretty to look at.  I’ve seen a few fish swim upstream (and this will be a feature we’ll be encouraged to include when the new dam is constructed).  But the dam-saving rocks are large, meaning that underneath the dam, it’s rather porous?  So now, with a lower lake level, we have this:Dam1 We might have more water passing under the dam, than going over it?

The green oblong is an area that didn’t get many upstream rocks (keep in mind that when the repair was done, it was after 10 PM, dark, and the water was extremely muddy with all the activity); the pink area is a series of “boils” (upwelling water) where the ground appears to have sunken; and the gold is an area of upwelling where the ground has not sunken.

Dam2This other section in the middle (gold) is where the original BIG boil first appeared; thanks to the filter fabric and rocks, it’s now down to a mere trickle compared to its scary-big self last May.  There is also a “perched” (eroded) area on the NW end of the dam where it’s running between the concrete and the adjacent seawall – I’m assuming that the 1″ gap opened as the dam shifted during repairs?  At any rate – Russ Yarger and Brian Cenci (Barry Co. Dam Inspector) are aware of these problems.  The filter fabric should stop any huge erosion…..

I originally made it sound like maybe the repairs had been so fabulous, so indestructible, that the little dam could stay with us for many more years?   I mean, the dam and I have history – we’re almost the same age.  But now I realize the little dam is old and tired and leaky.  (Fortunately, I’m not quite there yet….LOL!) It’s time to let a new one take its place.


Barry County Owns the Dam Problem?

Today, there was a Gun River Inter-County Drainage (GRICD) Board meeting in Allegan, where the Board accepted the legal opinion of Clark Hill (a Lansing legal firm who specializes in this sort of thing), that Barry County owns the dam.

Specifically, in July 1922, a Warranty Deed from several landowners, was issued to Barry County, providing “the right to build and erect and perpetually operate and maintain a dam across the Gun River at the highway bridge or above….” in order to maintain the Oct 17, 1921 legally-set water level.  The original dam was finished in 1922.

The report by Clark Hill also recommended, since road improvements to Marsh Rd (replacing those failing culverts) are also needed, that the most expedient process would be to combine those under the Barry County Department of Public Works, who has the ability to “create Special Assessments for the costs of improvements to lands that benefit” (similar to how the Drain Commission works).  Happily, Russ Yarger is a member of that Board, along with the head of the Road Commission (Frank Fiala? Yay!), plus some elected commissioners/supervisors (whose names I didn’t ask).

It sounds like Barry would be responsible for 90% of the reconstruction cost of the dam; Allegan would pay 10% (they only represent 6% of the Gun Lake frontage, but it seems the 90/10 split has been “historical”).  I’m not certain if the Barry DPW has the authority to assess those directly affected by the dam (or more importantly, threatened by the lack of it) who reside downstream in Allegan County.  It’s my opinion that they should share the burden of the dam replacement, since their valuable and productive farmlands would revert to swamp without the dam.

You might hear rumors that the dam is leaking – and it might be true.  DO NOT PANIC.  Russ, and Brian Cenci, the Engineer who inspects our dams, think they see some suspicious bubbling.  Given that everything that was dumped into the abyss that threatened to wash out the dam back on May 27th, was softball-sized or larger, the dam probably is rather “porous” underneath.  However, the 350,000+ lbs of rock that are anchoring the dam, aren’t going to wash out.  If the water level of the lake drops below the top of the dam, a simple test with dye could reveal the extent of the leakage.

Also – the Powers-That-Be (DEQ/DNR/Barry Conservation District) would all like to see fish passage added as a goal of the replacement  dam.  Granted, fish have been swimming upstream and making it over the dam anyway (especially now with all the rocks giving them a “leg up”, so to speak), but I think we should go on record as supporting it.  Most of our river visitors would probably be common carp; but they perform an important function in keeping our lake clean.  And if, *IF*, Asian Carp invade the Great Lakes, their entry into Gun Lake will come by BOAT, not by swimming.  There are too many huge dams that stand between Lake Michigan and Gun Lake via the Kalamazoo and Gun Rivers.

More Dam Stuff….

At last night’s Cuddy Drain Informational Meeting, I had asked Russ Yarger about the dam; specifically, that I had heard that Barry County owns the property under the dam. I had been hoping that the inevitable replacement would be a Gun River Intercounty Drainage Board project, since it would involve the same 3 awesome people (Russ, Denise Medemar, and Brady Harrington) I’ve been working with on the Cuddy.

Russ said that even if the County handles the dam replacement as a Public Works Project, they still have the ability to create Special Assessment Districts, similar to what the Drainage Board does. In other words, no matter WHO tackles the replacement, we can ALL pay for it. And now we’re talking thousands of homes sharing that burden, not just a hundred or so (like the Patterson Bridge Replacement)….

Stay tuned!

Updates on the Patterson Bridge Replacement

There was a good turnout, and last night’s meeting was yet another example of our elected folks listening to the desires (within reason, of course) of their constituents. The Informational Meeting set up by Mark Englerth, included Russ Yarger, Barry Drain Commissioner; and Dan Fredricks, Project Engineer. I’m just going to touch on some points brought up, and some dates for construction, since much of the information given has already been covered.

The all-important Timeline:

Bridge replacement will be in April/May, with Dan promising there will be a construction deadline of perhaps May 20th, so that summer traffic around the lake will not be affected. He even proposed a “late penalty” if the bridge is not completed by the desired date.  He said to expect detours for approximately 1 to 2 weeks, while the bridge is out.  (Deb’s note: The Road Commission will detour to paved roads, which in our case will be all the way west to 6th St.  If you don’t know where 1st St and 127th Ave are, I suggest you learn soon, because that gravel road will be a MUCH faster, shorter detour.  While you’re there – take a gander at the new bridge on 1st St: that’s what will be done at Patterson and it’s really nice!)

Upstream Improvements in Allegan County will go on all summer-of-2016 long.  This will include replacement of  failing culverts that are creating erosion; plus stabilizing eroded spots with rip-rap (rocks).  The upstream Sediment Trap will be reopened (and is projected to catch 90% of the sand that might be carried downstream); and a debris barrier erected.  There will also be an additional “sump” on the east side of Patterson, that will help catch more sediment.  The idea is to be able to remove any sediment from the ground using a land-based excavator, NOT to resort to the more expensive dredging.  While I’m thinking of it – a huge (((hug))) is due for Mrs Pam (Lettinga) VanDenArk, who has made her property available as the place to put the sand/sediment dredged.  Without a place to put that, we’d be out of luck.  I’d say “up a creek without a paddle” – but in our case, it would be more like “can’t get up the creek because there’s a sand island in the way”.

Dredging the Cuddy and Island Dr Channels:  There’s a lot of prep work that will need to be done prior to dredging.  Since there’s no way an excavator/digger can traverse all our front yards along the channel, the dredging will be done hydraulically from a barge floating in the channel, and the water/sediment sucked up by the dredger will be pumped to the “Spoils Containment” area west of Patterson.  That is a LOOOONG way to pump anything; and that infrastructure needs to be in place first.  That groundwork will be done in the summer months, so that dredging can begin in the September/October time frame.  The hope is that most folks will have their boats out by then; and hopefully boat lifts, too.  If someone has a structure that can’t be removed, and they wish to have sediment removed from that area, they will have to figure out a way to blow/dig the sediment out into the channel for the dredger to capture.  The machinery will NOT be able to snake in and out of boat slips.  As we get closer to that date, there will be more informational meetings.  Pat Gillespie has graciously offered to be a neighborhood outreach sort of person to help keep everyone informed.  Pat – you are AWESOME!

Paying for all this:

Not much has changed – we’re still looking at a $1.2 million-dollar project.  When the bids for construction come in, we’ll have a better idea of the price, but Dan says he’s comfortable with those numbers which have a 10% contingency built into them.  The Allegan Road commission stepped up and offered to pay for half of the bridge cost (Hugs to them!); and some of the other entities who will pick up part of the tab will be the Barry Road Commission; both counties; and both townships.  The portion that will be assessed to the Barry County/ Cuddy Drain District residents has been *guessed* to be between $5000 and $10,000 per parcel, with that spread over a 10 yr (maybe even 15 yr) time period.  But some residents won’t be assessed for the dredging, for example, if they don’t live on the channel.  In my opinion, the assessments have been divided very fairly, by who stands to benefit the most (or, who created the most problem).

As we get closer to completion, every drainage district resident will be sent a letter showing their assessed amount, and a Day of Review will be set for those who wish to tell Russ that they’d “like to pay more, please” (just kidding!).   Needless to say, those who live on the Cuddy Channel are going to get whacked the hardest, because dredging a channel for navigational purposes is NOT a function of the Drain Commissioner.  Those residents get to pick up the tab for the whole $300,000+ enchilada.  Dan and Russ said the numbers should be finalized around Christmas 2015?

“Guarantee of performance”.  The last time the Cuddy Channel was dredged, it didn’t go so well.  Dan assured the crowd that THIS time, the contractor who wins the bid will be licensed and bonded.  The dredging will be guided by GPS and something called bathymetric scanning (or something like that).  The new channel will have a 20′ wide bottom that is 5′ deep.  Period.

Celebrate.  This whole project is going to test the patience of the Cuddy residents; yet they’ve remained resolute in their desires to fix the problems.  Even if it means coughing up a pile of money.  The people who attended last night’s meeting asked thoughtful, polite questions.  They answered some hypothetical questions asked by Mark, about how to allocate the assessments.  Once again, I feel that the people leading this project are listening to the wishes of the residents.  So maybe, when this whole project is over, we need to celebrate?  I will leave that to people who are good at organizing fun stuff; but I think a good “Block Party” will need to happen?  Or maybe a “Good Riddance” party when the channel’s ever-growing “island” finally gets dredged away 🙂


If you would like to see the Powerpoint presentation given by Dan Fredricks last night, click on this link:   Info Meeting Presentation

(Thanks to Deb Rousseau, Yankee Springs Twp, for getting this!)

Informational Meeting for Residents

Mark Englerth is hosting an informational meeting for the residents of the Cuddy Drain, to keep them up-to-date on the bridge replacement and drain improvements project. While the project is running a bit slower than first anticipated – it IS moving along! Dan Fredricks, head engineer, will also be present.

The meeting will be Sept 15th at 7 PM at the Yankee Springs Township Hall