Disaster declaration

Snyder makes decision for Houghton, Menominee counties; National Guard to be deployed to sites

An aerial view of flood damages on Agate Street in Houghton. (Photo courtesy Grant Langdon)

HOUGHTON — Gov. Rick Snyder declared a state of disaster for Houghton and Menominee counties Monday afternoon due to health and safety concerns raised by Sunday’s flash flood.

With the declaration, National Guard troops will be deployed to aid with road repairs, the governor said in a release.

All state resources will be made available to local responding agencies. The Michigan State Police Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division coordinates the state efforts.

Concerns leading to the designation include structural damage, contaminated flood water, slowed emergency response times and loss of utility services.

The announcement follows a local state of emergency declaration on Sunday by Houghton County. No Houghton County officials were available for comment Monday afternoon.

An aerial view of flood damages in Houghton. (Photo courtesy Grant Langdon)

Though damage assessment is still in the preliminary stages, Hancock City Manager Glenn Anderson estimated multimillion-dollar damages just in Hancock alone. That ballpark figure includes road reconstruction and storm sewer repairs.

“We had a lot of storm sewers that blew out because they were surcharged with stormwater,” he said.

Those sewers now contain sediment, stones and gravel that will need to be cleaned out as well.

The sanitary systems have also been damaged, with similar cleaning needed, he said.

Portage Lake is not a good place for a swim at this time after both sewer overflows in Hancock ended there.

“We certainly have had sanitary sewage combine with stormwater overflow into Portage Lake,” Anderson said. “Our sanitary sewer was surcharged, and I’m guessing most municipalities in our area have a similar issue, but I can’t speak for them.”

Since the flooding began, there has been daily contact with the offices of state Sen. Tom Casperson, state Rep. Scott Dianda of Calumet and the governor’s district office, said Anderson.

In a statement Monday, Dianda stressed the need for more preparation for future storms, which have tended to intensify in recent years.

“We have much to do to repair and rebuild to ensure that our roads and bridges are fixed right and that this kind of disaster does not happen again,” Dianda said, pledging his continuing support and calling for a maximization of federal resources.

Many roadways were affected by the flood. Even as they respond to impassable roads, road engineers are still trying to gauge the scope of the damage.

Fifty-two county roads were washed out as of noon Monday, according to a map provided by the Houghton County Road Commission. And more washouts were surfacing.

“We’re still finding out new things every hour, so we’re working on that,” said Houghton County Road Engineer Kevin Harju.

No official figure has been determined on cost yet, but Harju estimated it would cost “millions and millions” of dollars to repair the roads. They may not get to some of the roads until next summer, he said.

A little over a day after flash flooding damaged infrastructure, utility companies have restored service to most customers. Though there are still some exposed lines, SEMCO Energy Gas Co. estimates 13 to 15 customers have interrupted service as of Monday night.

The Upper Peninsula Power Company is in a similar boat with 13 customers without power at that time.

However, repairs are still being made and both SEMCO and UPPCO urge residents to call the emergency hotlines with concerning areas or if dangerous lines or leaks are spotted so crews can be dispatched.

“We’re working with all the local officials and emergency management folks to make sure … our facilities are safe and secured,” said Tim Lubbers, director of SEMCO business development and company spokesman.

There are areas where lines are exposed, but that doesn’t mean there has been a breach, he said. Watch out for the tell-tale rotten egg-like smell indicating a leak. Even if not damaged, any exposed lines should be avoided.

The impact of the flooding is still being assessed and Lubbers notes that while there are few customers without natural gas now, that may go up when repairs are made to roads during the rebuilding process.

“I think a lot of that is going to be driven by the timeline for the local officials in terms of rebuilding infrastructure,” Lubbers said.

The heavy rains also led to sewage overflows in the Houghton and Laurium areas.

Zane McKenzie, director of the Portage Lake Water and Sewage Authority, said an estimated 5.76 million gallons of effluent had flowed over along the canal during a six-hour period when four manhole covers were lifted off their base by the storm.

The effluent was a combination of sewage plus infiltration and inflow from the storm, McKenzie said.

McKenzie didn’t have a percentage breakdown of the contents but said, “By far the majority of it would have been rainwater.”

Two of the manholes were near Michigan Technological University’s old Facilities Management building on Cliff Drive, McKenzie said. Another was on the walking trail between Michigan Tech and the Isle Royale Sands. Another was in front of the sewage plant’s gate.