Presentation of Dam Replacement (A must-read!)

There will be a Barry County Commission of the Whole meeting on April 4th, 9 AM, at the Barry County Courthouse/Commission Chambers. A presentation will be given by Dan Fredrick, Land and Resource Engineering, regarding the replacement of our dam. Dan has given me permission to link to his report:  (thank you, Dan!)

If you don’t have time to read the 61 pages (it’s fascinating stuff,  really!) – here’s the upshot of all the engineering work:
The sandy soil under the dam will continue to erode.
A new sheet-piling dam, driven down 15′ should be built just in front of the existing dam.
Cost: $300,000
Assessed via GLIB’s structure; plus contributions from the townships that abut the lake.

Deb’s note/opinion: we need to share this cost further upstream, to include at least Payne Lake; and downstream throughout the Dam-failure Flood Zone.  A battle we’ll save for later…..


The Dam, the Bridge, and Google Earth

Burn these images into your brain:


During the search for “Who Owns The Dam”? – it was brought up several times by a few different entities that the Gun River Inter-County Drain (GRICD) runs south from Patterson Rd – NOT from the dam.  The stretch from the dam to Patterson is simply the Gun River.  It’s squiggly (blue line, and lies in Barry County) – not nice and straight like a county drain (orange line, and lies in Allegan County)

Furthermore, thanks to the amazing ability of Google Earth to turn back time – this next image (that I have used countless times for research on the Cuddy) after a fresh snowfall in March 2010, clearly shows ALL standing water in ditches, drains, creeks, etc.  And it shows that the nearby fields (tinted yellow) are drained into the GRICD just south of Patterson.  Of course they drain there – the Allegan Drain Commission has control over that stretch.


Why is this important?  The culverts under Marsh Road that carry the Gun River have deteriorated and need to be replaced.  It only makes sense to include that as part of the dam replacement project.  Right now, the Barry County Rd Commission would have to pay for the new bridge; and the watershed residents will be assessed a portion of the dam replacement cost.  That’s only fair; the dam benefits every single one of us.  But if the blue stretch of the river is annexed onto the GRICD – then we have a bridge-over-a-drain situation again; and the watershed residents will be assessed for a bridge replacement, too.  Ask any Cuddy Drain resident how much fun it is to pay for even a part of a bridge,  (they were assessed for a portion of the new one on Patterson)….. <insert frowny face>

I’m not implying that this will happen.  I’ll bet about 1600 property owners hope it doesn’t.  But I have seen time and time again, that some of our elected folks on the Barry Board of Commissioners, really don’t want to own the problem of replacing THEIR dam; and the Barry Road Commission likely doesn’t have the money for the bridge (we don’t pay a Road Millage in Barry County).  Annexing that quarter-mile stretch of the Gun River onto the GRICD would be a win-win for the County and Road Commission – and a big “You’re Screwed” for the residents of Gun Lake.

In my opinion, residents paying for ONE HEAVILY-USED BRIDGE was enough.

Dam Update

Last Sunday, I poked around at the dam with Russ Yarger, Mark Englerth, Vivian Conner, and 2 gentlemen (whose names I didn’t get) – freaking out some passers-by who thought we had another failure happening…LOL! We created some furrows for water to follow, to protect the aging culverts under Marsh Rd; and to assess how much water is leaking under the dam.

The dam is definitely allowing water to pass below it – the rocks that are securing it into place are large, so it’s somewhat porous underneath.  The dam itself is fine – it’s still VERY secure.  The amount of water seeping underneath is probably not draining the lake as fast as the normal evaporation that takes place every summer.  People have commented that the lake level is low – but I’ve seen it lower than this in my 21 years of living here.  My neighbor wondered if the entirety of the dam has sunken with the addition of 400,000 lbs of rocks (let’s face it – Barry County is just a swamp anyway) and while I doubt that, once we get an engineer hired, hopefully they will measure that aspect?

I figured we could have Russ dump some smaller gravel in front of the dam, hoping it would plug some of the holes??   Mark Englerth says there’s a special concrete that would plug the bottom for good – he knows this kind of stuff because he’s done it before.  But the governmental wheels are slowly turning – the dam is now under the ownership of the Barry County Dep’t of Public Works.  Department head Michael Brown plus the Barry Commissioners are reviewing the applications of 4 engineers who have applied for the job of replacing the dam.  New DEQ permits will have to be applied-for, and some of those may require “public comment” for 90 days.  While it would certainly make sense to replace/repair the dam during its late-summer into-winter low water point, I don’t see that happening this year.

The Barry County Road Commission would also like to replace the aging/failing culverts under Marsh Rd where it crosses the headwaters of the Gun River, at the same time the dam gets fixed.  That way, traffic on Marsh Rd will just have one time period where it gets re-routed; as a rule, they don’t like to block lake access roads during the summer high-traffic months.  I’m going to look into my crystal ball and say this is a project for late 2017?

I’ll also squelch a rumor before it gets started: one of the advantages of the Barry Road Commission tagging onto the dam replacement project, is financing.  We don’t pay a Road Millage in Barry County, so the money to replace those culverts has to come from somewhere.  Joint financing is a good solution.  THIS DOES NOT MEAN THAT THE LAKE RESIDENTS WILL BE PAYING FOR THE BRIDGE REPLACEMENT.  The cost for the dam will be shared lakewide-and-beyond: the dam controls the water level for Gun, and Payne, and maybe more; plus there will be a downstream assessment, too.  (Russ said that as dams go, this one will be “pretty cheap”).  The dam also protects valuable farmland downstream – there could be a couple thousand households sharing this expense?  But the bridge passes over the Gun River.  About a half-mile downstream, it becomes the Gun River Intercounty Drain….. but by the Grace of God, our little bit to be spanned is “river”, not “drain”.  In this case, the residents do NOT have to pay for the new bridge.


The Dam, and the Roosevelt Pavilion

Recently, I attended a Barry County Commission Meeting where they approved an official declaration of ownership of the Gun Lake Dam. It was a unanimous vote – however, the mood in the room was not exactly “cheery”. Picture an episode of Maury Povich, where Maury announces “Yes Michael, the test results show you’re the father! Oh, and by the way, your kid needs some expensive surgery…” I overheard murmurs of “Are we supposed to owns dams?” and “Can we give it to somebody – like the Drain Commissioner?” (Russ Yarger is going to own this baby one way or the other…LOL!..and that’s OK with me!)

So at least the first step has been taken – but I get the impression this “walk towards replacement” is going to be quite the trek….. and being the impatient person that I am – it seems like anything the government does, moves in slow motion.


BUT – things DO get accomplished!!!  (doing a Happy Dance!)  I think it was in his first year as the Yankee Springs Supervisor, that Mark Englerth invited Michigan Senator Rick Jones, Representative Mike Callton, several county and township commissioners (plus a handful of local residents), to go on a guided tour of Yankee Springs State Park.

The property for the park was purchased in the 1930s by the Federal Government; and through the efforts of the CCC, it was developed into a beautiful, wooded getaway and learning center, destined perhaps, to become a National Park?  But WWII had the Gov’t divesting itself of things not related to war efforts, so in 1943, the park was given to the State of Michigan.  And through the years, maintenance for the State Park was often underfunded, and some of the landmark buildings began to show their age.

So Mark’s tour group found themselves standing inside the beautiful Roosevelt Pavilion, on the east side of the Day Use area, and looking up at rotting beams and seeing daylight where bits of the roof were simply gone.  The big structure that had provided shade and shelter for thousands of beachgoers, company picnics, wedding receptions, and countless gatherings for decades, was looking a bit shaky.  A sturdy long table, hand-hewn from the local trees and still sporting its CCC identification tag, was being threatened by leaking rain, year after year.  The buildings needed MAJOR structural repairs.  Mark implored our elected officials to not let these pieces of history be lost.


Maybe a year later – lo and behold! – money became available from the State, earmarked for the restoration!!!!  I’m sending a huge (((HUG!))) to our elected officials who made that happen.  And it took almost another year for the crews to finally show up – but yesterday, I took this picture of the Roosevelt Pavilion after its lengthy makeover, looking strong, protective, and dignified once again.



PS:  These are some of my kids/grandkids at a family celebration held at the Pavilion a year ago – you can see the pine trees have been removed, which will probably help the shingles last longer now that they’re not buried in pine needles.  Yes, I truly love this building!!


Dam Funding

In a previous post, I had wondered if the Barry Dep’t of Public Works had the authority/ability to assess properties downstream of the dam (in Allegan County) for a portion of the dam replacement costs, since those farms depend on the dam every bit as much as the lakefront owners do?

The answer at this point, is “no” – BUT:  they can hand Allegan County a bill for their share of the costs; and then Allegan can pay (or assess to property owners), as they see fit.

The powers-that-be are still figuring out the best way to handle the replacement of the dam (and probably the Marsh Rd culvert replacement, at the same time).  Stay tuned…..

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.