South Haven orders sand bags, pumps for Dunkley Avenue

Portions of Dunkley Avenue on South Haven’s north side have been flooded for much of the summer due to the near record-high water levels on Lake Michigan and the Black River. This photo shows the roadway between East Wells Street and Dyckman Avenue, which is lined with a condominium complex and mobile home park. City officials hope to remedy the situation by installing sand bags and a pumping system at a cost of $20,000.

SOUTH HAVEN — When Dunkley Avenue resident Alan Silverman walks out to his garage and looks out at his street, he sees nothing but water.

“The issue isn’t just water, but that the water has been standing there for close to two months,” he said. “Sludge has accumulated under the water. People have fallen trying to cross the street. Frankly, the water smells awful.”

Since June, South Haven city officials have kept an eye on flooded roadways along Dunkley and East Wells Street that lead to Black River Park and two residential areas. At various times they’ve put up road closure barriers and detour signs and have taken them down when the flooding recedes only to go out again after a storm and put the barriers in place.

“It surges multiple times a day,” Department of Public Works Director Bill Hunter said during Monday’s city council meeting. “Right now it’s flooded. When you get rain like we had (Sunday), I’m sure it went up quite a bit.”

That’s expected to change soon.

Council members voted to spend $20,000 for sand bags and a pumping system to control the flooding. They did so after considering four options provided by Edgewater Resources, a marina architecture and planning company based in St. Joseph.

With the record and near-record high water levels on the Great Lakes and inland rivers this year, Edgewater Resources has become quite busy trying to help lakeshore municipalities resolve flooding issues, according to Hunter.

“Edgewater informed me they were doing this all throughout state,” Hunter said. “Many communities are struggling and wondering, ‘what are our options?’”

In South Haven’s case, council members chose to go with one of the less expensive options suggested by Edgewater Resources.

The biggest problem with the flooded area is its close proximity to the Black River.

“The water in the streets is at the same level as the Black River,” Daryl Veldman of Edgewater Resources noted in a report. “We are all aware of the high-water levels currently being experienced along the shoreline of Lake Michigan and according to NOAA the trend for these high waters will continue thru 2019. The water level has continued to rise since its low in 2013 due to a large amount of rainfall as well as the capacity for the lake water could not evaporate due to large amounts of winter ice cover. The lake levels are now approaching record levels.”

The sand bag and pump system the city is choosing will provide a quick fix to deal with the flooding, whereas other more expensive options suggested would involve raising the level of the street, or installing new storm sewers and other water control measures. The city also would have to obtain permits from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, a task that could take more time.

“You’re looking at $300,00 and $400,000 (for the other options),” Hunter said. “I’m recommending $20,000 and wait out the storm so to speak.” Hunter also said a more expensive option may not be necessary if the water level on Lake Michigan and the Black River recede, as they have in the past.

The sand bag and pumping solution isn’t expected to get rid of all the flooded areas, Hunter stressed.

“This will get the water off road now,” he said. “We anticipate drying up Dunkley. We’ll still have some detours. But it will open up the street for people coming off Dyckman Avenue.”

Silverman and surrounding neighbors who attended Monday’s council meeting expressed relief for the measures the city is taking.

“This is something we need to give immediate attention to,” Silverman said.

“Thanks for addressing this issue,” Fred Meyer said.

But he still expressed some concern that the pumping may not work during cold months.

“What happens when cold weather gets here?” Meyer asked. “That’s a pond that will turn to ice.”

Another resident who lives on the city’s south side isn’t so sure lake levels will recede anytime soon and suggested the city consider a permanent fix for the flooding situation.

“We keep assuming this is a 10-year ebb and flow,” said Pat Gaston, who lives on Superior Street. “I’m not sure we can assume that anymore. I think the planet is changing ... I think you have to look at a long-term solution if the lake doesn’t go down.”