Grand Rapids flood controls withstand test

Grand Rapids
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ROBINSON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Felix Pentlinski doesn’t need a gauge to tell him where the river levels have been and where they’re headed.

“The water level was here,” Pentlinski said, marking the now dry spot the area where floodwaters from the Grand River crept up on his property this weekend, “so it must be going down.”

He’s lived along the Grand in Ottawa County’s Robinson Township for all of is 88 years, so he knows to expect flooding.

As often is the case, neighborhoods off of 118th and 120th Avenues caught the brunt of the flooding in Ottawa County.

One thing that did surprise Pentlinski was how fast the waters of the Grand rose this time.

“I didn’t expect it to come up this high. I was betting on probably a foot less than it is today,” Pentlinski said.

Ottawa County Emergency Management officials say it will likely be the end of the week before they’re able to get into areas where the heaviest flooding occurred. They’re asking people to call the county’s 211 line to report damage.>>Inside Flood photos | Complete flood coverage

The Grand crested at just under 16 feet in Robinson Township. Upstream in downtown Grand Rapids, the crest was nearly 20.7 feet.

“I’ll feel a lot better when we’re down to 18 feet,” Grand Rapids Fire Chief John Lehman said, referencing flood stage for downtown.

Still, recent flood control measures seem to have worked. The city spent nearly $15 million since the historic flood of 2013 on new measures.

“They removed some flood walls and they actually stepped the bank back, and they were able to gain greater height by doing that, and it also allows greater access to the river,” Lehman said.

Much of the effort has been focused on other methods to control the water. Some of those you can’t see, like gates and valves that can be used to control the river from backing into drains that dump into the river. They’re designed to keep water from backing up into streets and basements.

In the areas the floodwater can’t be controlled, the city deployed large sandbags that can be filled on site with a front-end loader or Bobcat-style tractor, cutting down on the time and manpower it takes to put them in place.

While the flood of 2018 wasn’t as bad as the flood of 2013, it still served as a good test for the city’s flood control efforts.

“I think the easiest thing to say here is that it was a success,” Lehman said.

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