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  • Robert Lathers

Portland City Council Meeting Report: Ice Jam Essentially Unchanged and Continues to Pose Significa

The Portland City Council met for the first time since the ice jam formed almost two weeks ago and flooded the city, damaged buildings and businesses, caused Grand River Bridge to close for a day, and seriously threatened to collapse the functioning of the city’s Waste Water Treatment Plant.

City Manager Tutt Gorman gave the Council a lengthy and detailed accounting of events since February 5th, including the status of the Governor’s declaration of a State of Emergency. “We are still conducting damage assessment”, Gorman reported, “The past couple of days the river level is going down. But, this is not a typical flood. Ice is unknown regarding where the water will go (as it melts)”. Gorman also pointed out that the Waste Water Treatment Facility is operating but continues to be an area of concern. He reported that he has been in regular contact with the Army Corp of Engineers as well as the Michigan State Police arial surveillance team and the Ionia County Health Dept. Gorman responded to a number of solutions that have been suggested by residents including the use of dynamite (strongly discouraged by Army Corp of Engineers) and the possibility of excavating the ice from the river in consultation with Cook Brothers Excavating (also not a practical or safe solution).

“The Hydraulic Dam in Portland has been working fine”, Gorman reported. Gorman shared photos that identified that the river is flowing freely after it bends near the area that is parallel to Maynard Road and Divine Highway. “The (City’s) water system is working well” Gorman shared and noted that the electric grid had a few issues but is also working well. “We did not want to lose the Waste Water Treatment Plant” Gorman continued. He worked closely with Cook Brothers Excavating to get a berm built around the plant, as well as with the Ionia County Health Department and the Michigan DEQ.

Portland Police Chief Star Thomas provided the Council with how the jam and flooding was initially discovered by her officers who were patrolling the city and the actions that ensued. “It’s been a busy couple of weeks”, she shared. Chief Thomas explained that five area fire departments as well as the County Emergency Manager were very responsive and helpful. Mayor Barnes and other Commissioners thanked Chief Thomas and her Department for their excellent response and work during this time.

Paul Gaines, President of Fleis & Vandenbrink Engineering, which has a contract to oversee the City’s Waste Water Treatment Plant, also reported in technical detail how the Plant has been exceeding its maximum capacity of 1 Million Gallons a day. “It is currently treating 1.3 Million Gallons a day and normally at this time of year it averages 200,000 Gallons a day.” At one point during the flooding it was up to 3 Million Gallons. It took heroic by-pass efforts to keep it from collapsing. Gaines also reported that there are five Diesel Trash Pumps being utilized to help manage the Plant none of which are owned by the City. He also shared that the berm that was built at the beginning of the flood saved the Plant from being disabled by the rising river water and that the City may want to investigate how to make it a permanent structure. Gaines noted that risk of possible damage continues to be present for the Waste Water Treatment Plant depending on how the ice melts and moves. “We are waiting for Mother Nature”, Gaines told The Beacon after the meeting. “A couple of 40 degree days will help a lot. A 60 degree day not so much”

Mayor Jim Barnes, City Manager Gorman and the City Council members lauded praise on the City’s employees for their professional and unselfish response to manage the crisis. Councilwoman Johnston noted that many residents also responded, “It’s nice to see neighbors helping neighbors”.

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