Frozen mess

Chocolay Township residents recovering from recent flooding

A canoe is used to transport items from a boathouse at a home on Lakewood Lane on Dec. 31. The Chocolay River flooded its banks, sending several feet of water into surrounding properties and reportedly causing damage to several homes in the area. (Photo courtesy of Terri Argall)

MARQUETTE — Flood waters from the mouth of the Chocolay River may have frozen or receded, but nearby homeowners still have very real concerns about what the future holds.

On Dec. 30, a strong east wind caused floating ice to build up at the mouth of the river, stemming the flow of water into Lake Superior. As a result, several homes on Bayou Street, Lakewood Lane and Hotel Place experienced flooding, causing damage to furnaces and water damage within several basements and some outdoor structures.

Lakewood Lane resident Terri Argall said the water in the Chocolay River rose so high that more than 20 feet of her yard is now covered in a thick sheet of ice.

Her boathouse, which sits on the bank of the Chocolay River at the edge of her property, had several feet of water in it at some point prior to New Year’s Eve, Argall said. The boathouse is now covered in ice.

“There was no news coverage of it, and we weren’t informed,” Argall said. “We found out there was a flood on Facebook, and no one official actually came out until Tuesday.”

Flood waters dumped the contents of 25 to 30 totes that were stored in the boathouse, which contained the items belonging to a wildland firefigher.

The firefighter, who asked to remain anonymous, was instrumental in getting to the boathouse that weekend, which Argall said was surrounded by water.

“He got into a canoe and chipped away the ice to get to the boathouse, 6 inches at a time,” she said. “He had to do that because that is where his waders were stored. By the time he got to the boathouse, the water was up to his mid-thighs.”

The water within the boathouse rose high enough to encase two portable generators and a push-mower in blocks of ice, Argall said. Larger pieces of machinery were affected, as well, including a riding lawn mower with ice inside the engine block, and a Polaris Ranger side-by-side that was encased in ice all the way up to the seat.

The property, Argall said, is the childhood home of her wife, Karen Brin.

“She said she has never seen anything like this, not since the 1980s and she’s never seen water this high,” Argall said. “We get a couple of inches in there during the spring thaw, but never like this and it never freezes.”

Chocolay Township Supervisor Richard Bohjanen said in a phone interview on Thursday that administrators had been in the process of finding a solution when the problem started to resolve itself.

“We sent a contractor out to see if he could get an excavator down there but he couldn’t do that because of the seawall,” Bohjanen said. “So I went ahead with investigating the permitting process to possibly blast the ice jam out. All the while we were planning to do that, the river rose until it sought another path and it gradually found its way out to the lake.”

Bohjanen said he is aware of eight homes that had been adversely affected by the flood, but noted that the danger appears to have passed.

“At least two of the families that I know evacuated out there on Bayou have returned to their homes,” Bohjanen said. “The emergency has dissipated for the moment.”

Newly elected 109th District state Rep. Sara Cambensy toured the neighborhood and met with homeowners and township officials on Friday. She said she hopes to take action on the matter next week.

“My purpose was to meet with the township manager and the (department of public works) foreman to see what we can do going forward to set up a meeting, bringing in the (Michigan Department of Natural Resources) and (Department of Environmental Quality), and coming up with a plan for the spring if it happens again, as well as talk about a long term plan,” Cambensy said.

Cambensy said responsibility for resolving the problem does not only lie with the township government alone.

“We need to take the pressure off the township and be responsive at the state level,” Cambensy said. “We have cut off revenue sharing and other sources of funding to our local units of government. So when they have emergencies, they don’t have the extra money to pay for it.”

For her part, Argall said she and other residents are just looking for a plan going forward.

“They need to do something to get rid of that ice shelf,” Argall said. “And I think a lot of people are hoping that something like that gets done.”

Bohjanen said he will keep an eye on the situation and act accordingly.

“I personally go down there several times per day, but I am just observing,” he said. “We are in a wait-and-see situation.”

Cambensy said she is hoping for positive results during next week’s meeting for all involved.

“We need to come up with a plan on how we are going to deal with it, not only for the township, but the homeowners as well,” Cambensy said.

Bohjanen said residents can report damage from the recent flood by calling the Chocolay Township Public Works department at 906-249-1449.

Lisa Bowers can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is lbowers@miningjournal.net.