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Hundreds gather for Pine Lake flooding update

The Pine Lake flooding project meeting Tuesday night drew more than 400 people  to the Delton Kellogg Middle School gymnasium.

Luke Froncheck

Staff Writer

 

Pine Lake, along with many other lakes in Barry County, is flooded.

But an informational meeting Tuesday night at Delton Kellogg Middle School may have provided some hope to residents.

Unlike many lakes in southern Barry County, Pine Lake has a legal lake level -- 890.5 feet above sea level. This past year, the flooding has brought Pine Lake to 3.5 feet above that level - or 894.1 feet.

Since Pine Lake straddles the county lines of Barry and Allegan, Drain Commissioners Jim Dull of Barry County and Denise Medemar of Allegan County attended to provide information about the flooding relief project that began in July 2019.

The informational meeting, led by LRE engineer Dan Fredricks, was attended by more than  400 people.

Starting roughly a year ago, Dull said he began receiving phone calls about high water and road flooding in the Pine Lake area.

In response to those complaints, drain commissioners held public meeting on July 3, 2019, to find out what lake residents were experiencing and  if there was a mandate for them to move forward with a relief project.

During the meeting, both received an overwhelmingly large response in favor of moving forward with a gravity outlet for Pine Lake.

Pine Lake resident Tom O’Connell said he and his wife just completed their move from Chicago to Barry County.

O'Connell said that, although his property is high enough up that his house is not flooded, he has neighbors who have had to run pumps 24 hours a day to keep water out of their homes.

Most of the lake is located within Barry County -- in Sections 5, 6, 7, and 8 of Prairieville Township -- with a sliver in Allegan County, Section 12 of Gun Plain Township.

The lake covers 660 acres and has a 1,700-acre watershed. There is 12 miles of shoreline and, at its lowest point, is 34 feet deep. Because the lake is partially in Allegan County, it is an intercounty lake, making the project an intercounty drain project.

In the 1960’s, the lake was at 888 feet, which led to the building of an augmentation well in 1970. That well ran for about a year until it was shut off, Fredricks said.

Dull added that the well still works as it is used by firefighters to take water off the lake from time to time.

Fredricks listed the team's project goals as:

• Preventing flooding on developed properties and public roads;

• Maintaining the legal lake level – subject to seasonal variations;

• Establishing a gravity outlet to Graytop Drain (Gun River);

• And to not adversely impact downstream riparian properties, including those adjacent to Gun River.

After receiving approval from both Barry and Allegan county boards of commissioners, Dull and his team went to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy for a pre-application meeting on Aug. 16, 2019.

They received a subsequent written response from EGLE in late September 2019. There, EGLE established “baseline” assessment requirements including: Wetland assessment, biological (including invasive species) assessment, water chemistry / physical assessment, groundwater assessment, water budget (hydrologic) assessment, hydraulic assessment, and drawdown time periods.

There will be up to 12 easements required to construct the project. The Allegan County Drain Commissioner coordinated preliminary negotiations with five of those property owners.

The assessment district, which is set to be used to fund the project -- which is set to not exceed $3 million, was established in 1969. It is made up of 975 acres with 625 properties that are mostly on, or have access to, Pine Lake.

Everyone in the assessment district is liable to be assessed for the cost of the project. The cost for each individual homeowner is expected to be $5,000 over a 10- or 20-year assessment.

Dull and Medemar said they have not yet determined the length of the assessment.

Fredricks outlined the next steps for the project:

First, he said, the preliminary design must be completed. The plan is to build a gravity outlet which will take the water from Pine Lake into the Graytop Drain in Allegan County, which will bring the water into the Gun River.

However, before any construction can begin, the necessary easements and permits from EGLE must be obtained.

The project timeline’s best-case scenario is for all the easements and permits necessary for the projects to be moving forward in the hands of Dull and Fredricks by fall of this year.

Fredricks said the biggest obstacle in the scope of the project will be to obtain those easements and permits. However, if they can get them by fall, construction should begin in 2021 and will take between three and six months.

Fredricks also estimated that, once the water begins flowing through the system, it should take a few weeks to get back to the legal lake level. They also must ensure the project will have no adverse impact on the natural watercourse.

The LRE engineers also are exploring the possibility of taking water across Doster Road west of Pine Lake.

Fredricks said there is a pond across the road where the water always seems to be 8 or 9 inches lower than Pine Lake.

His hope, he said, is to get water there to infiltrate into the ground without having to do any boring through the road. That idea is still in a very preliminary stage, but, if it works, it could offer a very cost-efficient option.

When answering a question from the audience, Fredricks said the system they are building will allow for some flexibility while ensuring the water level will not get high enough to flood people out again.

Another audience member asked if Dull would consider eminent domain to complete the project.

During his time as drain commissioner, he has never had to use eminent domain, he said. But this project will get done, one way or another, he added.

Dull, Fredricks and Medemar, along with others attending who make up the team working on the project, received a round of applause from the audience.

Prairieville Township Trustee Richard Van Niman said he thought the meeting went very well.

 

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