flooding

ONGOING – Record-high lake levels, coupled with a significant flooding event this spring, has been an ongoing concern for those in Iosco County. Erosion at Tawas Point State Park in East Tawas, as seen here, is just one example. Details on the flood recovery efforts and other related updates were shared during the latest Board of Commissioners meeting.

TAWAS CITY – The Iosco County Board of Commissioners (BoC) has discussed the possibility of adopting two different resolutions, in response to the spring flooding event and the ongoing high water level concerns.

The conversation took place as Iosco County Emergency Management Coordinator, Eric Abbott, was sharing his update at the BoC’s regular meeting on Sept. 2.

He advised that there has been a lot going on with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), associated with the flood recovery efforts, and that many good things have transpired in the past couple weeks.

As of that morning, Abbott said there were 80 people in the county who had registered for individual and household assistance. So far, they have been awarded more than $207,000 total.

At that time, the registration deadline was Sept. 8. However, FEMA issued a news release the following day, stating that this has been extended.

The deadline for survivors of the May 16-22 severe storms and flooding to register for individual disaster assistance with FEMA, and to apply for a low-interest disaster loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA),  will now be Wednesday, Sept. 30.

The extension agreed upon by the state and FEMA is for survivors living in the disaster-designated individual assistance counties of Arenac, Gladwin, Iosco, Midland and Saginaw.

According to FEMA, the aid can include money for rental assistance, essential home repairs, personal property losses and other serious disaster-related needs not covered by insurance.

Residents who lost access to water through their private well – if the well was physically damaged, collapsed and/or is no longer producing potable water as a direct result of the disaster – could also be considered for financial assistance under FEMA’s Individuals and Households Program.

Interested persons may register at DisasterAssistance.gov, by calling 800-621-3362 (TTY: 800-462-7585) or through the FEMA App.

SBA helps businesses, private nonprofit organizations, homeowners and renters fund repairs or rebuilding efforts and cover the cost of replacing lost or disaster-damaged personal property. To apply for a low-interest disaster loan, complete an online application at disasterloan.sba.gov/ela/. 

Customer service representatives may be reached at 800-659-2955. Questions can also be sent to FOCE-Help@sba.gov and, for more information, visit sba.gov/.

There are a number of links regarding flood assistance and other related items on the Iosco County website, as well, which can be accessed at iosco.net. Abbott encourages anyone who needs help to visit the site.

“Another thing that we’ve been working on is requests for public assistance, which covers infrastructure damage,” he continued during his update. “It could be debris removal, culverts, bridges, flooding of county-owned buildings; things like that.”

Abbott says he has been working on this with FEMA pretty heavy lately, and that he has reached out to all of the entities in the county which he thinks could have been impacted, such as the road and drain commissions.

He also mentioned the upcoming FEMA open houses, which will be held remotely on Wednesday, Sept. 16 and Thursday, Sept. 17. The events are open to all, and will include such information as the updated flood maps and flood zones for Iosco County. Details on the open houses are also shared on the county website. (See separate story for further information).

Aside from that, Abbott – who was hired as the emergency management coordinator on June 17 – says he continues to learn more about his position and move forward.

Along with Iosco County Central Dispatch Director Michael Eller, he recently attended the Region 3 meeting in Saginaw. Abbott says he was able to meet several of the emergency managers in the region, which he believes covers 14 counties.

He said he’s made some good contacts, is learning and is asking a lot of questions. He communicates often with those from the Michigan State Police Homeland Security division, who he says has helped guide him through the work. “And I actually have another meeting coming up with them next week, to learn more of how I can do better at this.”

“How’s that hazardous mitigation plan going?” asked Commissioner Donald “Jay” O’Farrell, who also questioned if Abbott has spoke with a representative from the East Michigan Council of Governments.

Abbott said he had not, at that point, as his time has been consumed with the flood matters. But, within the next week or two, he thinks he will be able to close the door on this. “And the rest of that is up to FEMA and reaching out to individuals or entities. So, I think at that point, I’ll be able to really divert my efforts to that.”

“I know we have one year, and there’s a lot of groundwork that has to be covered to get that plan to meet the state police requirements,” O’Farrell pointed out.

BoC Vice Chair John Moehring added that a lot of work has already been put into this, and that the county wants to move forward on it before all of that work is lost.

“Absolutely,” Abbott agreed. “That won’t be lost, believe me; it’ll get done.”

As for the resolutions they may entertain, this was brought up by Commissioner Terry Dutcher. “November is our storm month,” he said, noting that while the water may have started to recede a little bit now, the county is still at the highest level in probably hundreds of years.

He said it has been suggested to him that Iosco County send a resolution to Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, demanding that Canada stop dumping water into Lake Superior. “They do that for recovery on the hydro dams, to keep the water moving. They actually use that water between five and seven different times.”

According to Dutcher, the Long Lake and Lake Nipigon hydro diversions have each been going on for years, through an agreement between Canada and the state of Michigan.

Along with recommending that the BoC adopt and send a resolution to Whitmer, he said he is also going to bring this up to the Northern Michigan Counties Association.

Further, since governors can declare a state of emergency ahead of hurricanes, Dutcher said it may be advantageous for Iosco to ask Whitmer to set a state of emergency before the storm season.

He said he knows that the Red Cross stepped in last spring with housing, food and clothing for residents who were put out because of the flooding. “But, if we get a nasty storm in November, we are going to lose a lot of property along Lake Huron.”

Dutcher added that, a while back, funds were set up for the high water issues and for protection of the coastline on the west side of the state. “And a bunch of those funds were supposed to be diverted to the east side. And I’m curious if those funds had ever been diverted over here; if we’d ever received anything.”

He said a November storm in the county is inevitable, and that these events can last for three days – with excessively high winds and high water eroding properties along the coastline.

“Last year, there was a home that was for sale for $149,000 and it sold this year for $40,000, due to the fact that it is on the water and all the work that needs to be done. This is affecting our revenue, as far as our property values,” he went on, stressing that this needs to be taken seriously.

Therefore, he said the two resolutions are something the BoC may want to consider, in addition to Abbott potentially ensuring that these items are coordinated and in place ahead of November.

Abbott said he appreciated Dutcher bringing this up, and that he will see how some of the emergency managers in other coastal communities are looking at the issue.

Dutcher also suggested that Abbott get with O’Farrell to find out what happened to the money that was set aside – several million dollars, as he recalled – for which a portion was to go to the east side of the state. “So, perhaps you can figure out where those funds were allocated from, and find out where our portion of them went.”

O’Farrell said this information was shared at meeting he attended in Oscoda Township about a year and a half ago, and that it was the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) which mentioned the funding.

So, he told Abbott that he might want to contact somebody from EGLE to find out if there’s any more information on the money they had allocated for the west side of the state.

O’Farrell said the problems in that part of Michigan were getting the attention, until the situation started really increasing on the east side of the state. “But I haven’t heard anything about the transferring of funds, since that meeting.”

Dutcher brought up the topic again, during the BoC’s Committee of the Whole meeting, which began immediately after their regular meeting.

In reference to the resolutions for both the state of emergency and the water being dumped into Lake Superior, “I’d like to get that before the full board at our next meeting,” he said. “I don’t think we can wait any longer to do this. It may not do any good, but at least we will have done our part to send a clear message to our governor that she needs to be aware, and to get this straightened out.”

He said he has been told that, if Canada were to stop putting water into Lake Superior, it would lower the level of Lake Huron – and perhaps even Lake Michigan – by four inches, almost immediately.

He did note, though, that he’s not sure what kind of a lasting effect this would have.

According to Dutcher, Canada could divert the water out to the east or the north, but they have it specifically diverted this way so they can power their hydro plants more effectively and efficiently.

BoC Chair Robert Huebel said that he personally doesn’t think the board would be out of line to voice their concerns.

Echoing Dutcher’s remarks, he said he’s not sure how far this will go, but at least the county will have expressed its concerns about the water levels. “Maybe we can do a little bit of homework and, by our next meeting, have something on our agenda.”

As previously reported, Iosco County had already been battling record-high lake levels for more than a year, when it was dealt another blow with the May flooding.

The fallout from this included submerged homes and yards, road closures, property erosion, culvert failures, washed out bridges and other damaged infrastructure.

As noted by the National Weather Service in Gaylord, East Tawas received 7.97 inches of rain over a two-day period, while National City was met with 5.76 inches in 48 hours. These numbers represent a 150-year recurrence interval. In other words – and based on historical comparisons – the likelihood of rainfall reaching these levels is once in 150 years.

The counties of Midland, Gladwin, Saginaw and Arenac were also left struggling in the aftermath of the severe weather. Midland, for one, saw the breach of the Edenville and Sanford dams, which required more than 10,000 residents to evacuate their homes.