Red Mill Pond faces possible drawdown by MDEQ

By DEB WUETHRICHand MICKEY ALVARADOCity residents of Tecumseh that could be impacted by a potential drawdown of Red Mill Pond, which is regulated by the Tecumseh Dam, will be receiving letters from the city very shortly or have them already. The move comes after the city received a copy of an Emergency Dam Safety Order and Notice of Hearing from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) sent to Red Mill Pond LLC.Dated Oct. 24, the order came from the desk of Gerald Fulcher, P.E., Acting Chief of the Water Management Section, Water Resources Division. Byron Lane, P.E., Chief of the Dam Safety Program, Water Sources Division signed the letter for Fulcher. Lane and Luke Trumble, Environmental Engineer of the Hydrologic Studies and Dam Safety Unit, visited Tecumseh October 13 for an unofficial visual inspection of the dam.At that time, Wally Pike, the dam’s operator for several years, also was present and said that he will no longer be tending the dam, effective Nov. 1. Pike was originally paid a small stipend by Tecumseh Products, who formerly owned the dam, and the new owners for a brief time, but was informed in January by attorneys for Huntington Bank, who holds the mortgage to the property since Red Mill Pond LLC went into foreclosure, that there would be no more pay for the role. Pike has continued to raise and lower the gates and put in boards since then.The MDEQ ordered Red Mill Pond LLC, as owners of the property, to “arrange for qualified personnel to operate the Tecumseh Dam” no later than Nov. 1, 2011. If no operator is named, the order was to draw down the dam.The letter states that the MDEQ may issue emergency orders to an owner to immediately repair, draw down, breach or cease operation of a dam “where a dam is in imminent danger of failure and is causing or threatening to cause harm to public health, safety, welfare, property, or the natural resources or the public trust in those natural resources.”Lane said that if there is still no response from Red Mill LLC, the law authorizes the DEQ to begin the draw down as early as Wednesday, Nov. 2. “A drawdown would satisfy the safety requirements, which is our concern if there is no one to operate the dam,” he said.Lenawee County Emergency Management Coordinator, Curtis Parsons, Jr., met with Lane and Trumble during their visit.“They shared inundation maps showing the impact and effect downstream that could occur due to volumes of water and sudden release,” said Parsons. “Obviously, it would not be a good situation from my perspective, because it would put citizens in harms way, especially if the dam were to suddenly let go with no advance warning. We could have a catastrophic situation on our hands.” He said if the dam is in its highest position and a heavy downpour occurred, there are also properties on the Mill Pond side that could have flooded basements. “There could be serious implications if the dam failed or if there is no operator to raise or lower the weir,” he added.Parsons said the lack of response by the rightful owner puts him and the state in a precarious position.“The state is having to essentially force a situation creating an enforcement policy,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that they have to force enforcement on a local issue like this, but when I look at it from the broad perspective, my main concern is to insure citizens’ safety.” Parsons said properties in the Red Mill area could be affected by a drawdown because there would be several feet of mud potentially between yards and the lake level. “I’m not sure what the answer is, but the state is imposing these enforcement policies to insure the safety of citizens,” he said. “There could be pretty widespread involvement downstream involving several homes and businesses and it could become a very ugly situation if something is not done.”Because of the visual inspection by Lane and Trumble, the letter added that “staff of the Dam Safety Program has inspected the dam, reviewed its design and operation requirements, and has determined that the dam needs active operation to function properly and in a safe manner.Lane said that the report on the unofficial visual inspection is not yet complete.“I can say that we saw nothing there that was of immediate concern structurally, but obviously there is concern if there is no operator,” Lane said. He added that the state is still willing to work with whoever owns the dam in terms of addressing existing deficiencies over the next two-to-five years. “The thing is, we can’t wait for it to go through the normal process if no one is stepping up.”Lane said that in some communities, affected property owners have petitioned the county to maintain the dam; in that case, the county drain commissioner could set up a special assessment to make it so. He said this is not something the state is requiring, only that it would be one option to maintain the water levels as they have been.A tentative hearing on the matter has been scheduled for Monday, Oct. 31.“Our immediate concern is with the operator so the level of the dam can be maintained,” said Tecumseh City Manager Kevin Welch. “No one can expect Wally Pike to continue to do it for free, and part of his expense is for a liability policy. I don’t think anyone expects him to work without being compensated.” Welch said the city would like to see the owners make a commitment to pay Pike at least for the next year. City officials have, in fact, been working closely with the state, county and others to see if something can be done to ensure Pike’s compensation to continue to take care of the dam, at least for the next year.“That is something we will take into consideration,” said Lane, adding that attorneys would be involved in that process. “It’s a bit out of the ordinary, but there are such adverse consequences that could be very severe to people living in the area that we would like to do everything in our authority to allow an acceptable alternative,” he said. “It’s not a long-term solution, but would buy some time for a more long-term solution to be implemented,” he said.Welch said retaining an operator is of imminent concern, but the city also is concerned about the impact of not having an operator or having a drawdown would have on property values and the environment, including wildlife. He said if Pike could be compensated, that would at least provide more time to figure out a plan for the future. “It looks like we may be able to work something out,” Welch said of the city’s continued efforts. “We’ll know more next week, but maybe things aren’t as dire or imminent as we thought if this works out.”“There are a lot of people upset about this, so we want to work as closely with local units of government and all involved stakeholders to find the best possible solution,” said Lane. “But it’s going to be a safe solution that meets the requirements of dam safety.”

Tecumseh Herald


110 E. Logan St.
P.O. Box 218
Tecumseh, MI 49286

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