Traverse City News and Events

Flooding Hits Munson/Commons, Closes Streets, Causes Sewage Release

By Beth Milligan | May 29, 2020

A sudden burst of intense rains in Traverse City Thursday caused significant flooding throughout the city – with Munson Medical Center’s lower levels deluged, extensive damage incurred at The Village at Grand Traverse Commons, city streets closed, and untreated raw sewage released into the Boardman River after a city pump failed.

More than two inches of rain fell Thursday afternoon, according to the Gaylord office of the U.S. National Weather Service, with additional rain continuing throughout the evening. The office issued a flash-food warning, advising that “excessive runoff from heavy rainfall will cause flooding of small creeks and streams, urban areas, highways, streets, and underpasses, as well as other drainage areas and low-lying spots.”

Nearly all of those impacts were realized in Traverse City, with Fifteenth Street and Veterans Drive becoming “nearly impassable” due to flooding, according to Grand Traverse 911. West Eleventh Street between Elmwood and Division – the entrance road to The Village at Grand Traverse Commons – was closed due to flooding, as was Cedar Street between Sixth and West Front. Cars inched carefully down West Front Street between Cedar Run Road and Division as deep streams gushed down the road, with some residents in the corridor temporarily evacuating their homes. Grand Traverse 911 reported that the Meijer parking lot near the store’s gas station on US-31 was flooded to such an extent that a marine unit was dispatched to monitor the site.

The neighborhood surrounding the Munson Medical Center campus was particularly hard-hit by flooding due to the overflow of Kids Creek and other tributaries. Munson Medical Center “experienced flooding that affected portions of the first floor and basement when Kids Creek breached its bank,” President and CEO Matt Wille told The Ticker in a statement. “Incident Command was activated to address the issue. The flooding has since subsided, and crews are cleaning up affected areas and pumping any remaining water. Patient safety was not impacted during the incident, and the hospital remains open to provide care for the community.”

Raymond Minervini Jr. of The Minervini Group described flooding in several areas of The Village at Grand Traverse Commons as “catastrophic.” Streams and other watersheds in the adjacent woodlands rushed downhill and converged on campus roads, funneling into a flood that poured down Red Drive in front of Left Foot Charley. The waters then dumped into campus parking lots, bringing inches of muck and mud along with them. The flood waters also pooled into the front retaining porches of several buildings, pressing against the doors with up to four feet of water.

“The doors were bulging at the bottom and letting in a massive amount of water, but not the entire amount,” says Minervini. “They held, miraculously.” An estimated seven to eight feet of water flooded into the basement of the Village Center where Cuppa Joe is located, with flooding extending throughout the entire Mercato shopping floor. “There’s going to be inventory lost in some of the stores, and there’s going to be a lot of cleanup,” says Minervini, adding that he was heartened by the number of residents, business owners, and volunteers – some rushing over from other communities – who immediately lent a hand cleaning up. According to Minervini, the majority of Village residential units were spared since most are located on upper floors, though ground-floor units at Cordia and in Building 58 suffered water damage.

As for businesses, Amanda Danielson of Trattoria Stella says her restaurant was “remarkably unscathed” due to being located on higher ground. While some seepage prompted the restaurant to shift dining tables for the night, Stella was able to maintain takeout and dine-in service during the event. Kitchen staff sent out 10 pizzas to workers busy piling up sandbags outside to guard against further flooding. PepeNero was among the hardest hit of the businesses, with the restaurant inundated with water; a service elevator was also damaged. While restaurant management could not be reached for comment, Minervini said it would likely take the business several days to clean up. “It was an insane amount of water – the intensity of that rain was almost unheard of,” he says. “Everybody’s going to have some damage. The flood fighter crews are going to be here for awhile.”

The flash flood also overwhelmed a city pump station on East Front Street, causing untreated raw sewage to be released into the Boardman River. Director of Municipal Utilities Art Krueger says one of the station’s three pumps failed, the result of an apparent software glitch. “It’s the largest pump station in the city and has a lot of flow even without the rain, and with (one pump down) it unfortunately was overwhelmed and caused the sewage to flow upstream,” says Krueger. The sewage spill began at approximately 2pm Thursday afternoon. While pump service was soon restored, the station “couldn’t catch up” and leakage was still continuing at 7pm, according to Krueger, though the flow had “tapered off significantly” by then. A portable emergency pump was also brought to the station to assist in the event of additional rains or flooding Thursday night, Krueger says.

Krueger couldn’t estimate the amount of sewage that was released during the event into the Boardman River, but says his department is required to provide that calculation shortly in a report to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE). His department is also investigating the origin of the software glitch that caused the pump to fail – a situation he says was exacerbated by the sudden nature of the flash flooding. “It was so sudden and just overwhelmed the system in a very short period of time,” he says. “The ground is so saturated right now, and the river and lake levels are so high, that there’s really nowhere for the water go.”

The Grand Traverse County Health Department issued a public health advisory due to the sewage spill. A no-body-contact advisory is in effect for surface waters in the following locations: the Boardman River from the pedestrian bridge near the Michigan Department of Natural Resources weir downstream to the mouth at West Grand Traverse Bay; private beachfront property east of the Boardman River to Bryant Park; Clinch Park Beach; Sunset Park Beach; Bryant Park Beach; and the Traverse City Senior Center Beach. The advisory will remain in place until water testing results demonstrate that the affected waters meet EGLE standards for E.coli levels.

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