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Power outage during recent storm tests lake residents' pumping system

A crew from Cordes Trenching in Comstock Park works at the Crooked Lake site Friday. (Photo by Scott Harmsen)

Contributing Writer, Luke Fronceck reports that the pumps went off for 15 seconds during the storm this past weekend and that was all it took, Crooked Lake resident Sharon Ritchie said. The lake was up to her house.

“We have a whole-house generator,” Ritchie said. “In the time it took for the generator to kick in, the water was already right up to our house. Our pumps just can’t keep up.”

“I pumped 109,000 gallons of water on Saturday,” Ritchie's husband, Bob, said. “Right now, I’ve got seven layers of sandbags keeping the water back.”

One of their neighbors on Oak Drive also had a generator system that kicked in during the storm, but another didn't have those preparations in place. So the two with generators hooked up their neighbor and kept those pumps working, too.

“A lot of people are one power outage, or one sandbag dam collapse, away from being done,” Sharon Ritchie said.

Even though the power on East Shore Drive stayed on during the storm, residents on the flooded road are now facing a rising water crisis from two directions: From the lakefront and from the water-covered roads around many of those houses.

Since parts of those roads are now under the water, road conditions have deteriorated. In one stretch, the road condition is so poor that residents filled a bathtub-sized pothole with sandbags so their cars wouldn't be further damaged as they attempt to get through.

“My biggest fear is that the water will meet in the middle,” East Shore Drive resident Deb Engelhardt said. “I’ve always wanted a lake house, but I never wanted the lake in my house. My crawlspace is flooded and we’re constantly having to pump. Everyone has lost land.”

“The Barry County Board of Commissioners called this a crisis a year ago and, here we are, worse off than last year – with no hope,” she said.

A crew from Cordes Trenching in Comstock Park installed a pipeline under Delton Road on Friday. County Drain Commissioner Jim Dull said pumps will be delivered and installed this week. Once that happens, some of the water from Crooked Lake will be pumped into a retention pond to the north of Delton Road on property formerly owned by Darrell and Beverly Jones.

This process is intended to lower the water level on Crooked Lake to provide some relief to homeowners who are inches away from having to abandon their homes, he said. This is only a short-term solution, but Dull is hoping it will buy them some time to work out a long-term plan, such as an underground retention pond that could be installed to gravity feed the water from the Jones property to the Delton drain on Pine Lake Road.

Meanwhile, lakefront residents are finding a few ways to overcome some of the challenges.

East Shore Drive resident Cheryl McCrorey built a make-shift walking path above the water so she can get to and from her car. The water around her house is about 2 feet deep now, she said.

Ken Tomlin, owner of Stoney Point Campground, has been living on Crooked Lake since 1966 when he and his parents moved there. He was 10. According to Tomlin, the campground is almost always full and, currently, he has five vacant spots out of 28.

“This flooding is killing me,” Tomlin said. “I’ve never lost trailers.”

The water is nasty, looks bad, and has become a breeding ground for leeches and mosquitos, Deb Engelhardt said. Roughly 10 to 12 houses on the lake have become uninhabitable because of the rising flood waters, she said.

Bob Ritchie said they are treating black mold in their basement. Sharon Ritchie is allergic to the chemicals they must use to treat the mold, so she must leave any time the treatment is taking place.

“This is beyond crazy,” Sharon Ritchie said. “We could fish out of our kitchen right now.

“This is our world. We haven’t been on a vacation together in three years because someone always has to be here, babysitting the pumps.

“But we’re so appreciative of the road commission for providing us with all the sand and bags. They’re a blessing.”

An informational meeting about these flooding issues will take place at 10 a.m. Saturday, June 8, at the Delton Kellogg Middle School Gymnasium.

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