MONTAGUE, Mich. (WOOD) — The brutal winter coupled with heavy spring rains have led to record high water levels along the lakeshore.
The waterfront communities of Montague and Whitehall have been hit especially hard by the rising water.
Portions of US-31 connecting the two communities are covered by water. Muskegon County Road Commission Superintendent Eric Scott says lane restrictions are in effect until the water levels recede.
“The water is out past the centerline in some places, as deep as 8 inches,” Scott said. “We’re asking that traffic shift to one side of the road and travel slower than normal until the water goes down.”
While water has crept closer to the bridge connecting Montague and Whitehall and spilled over some roads, Scott says the structure of the roadways and bridge are sound.
“There is no concern for the status of the bridge and roads,” Scott said. “Our engineers are sure those will be fine.”
The water also spread to parking lots of nearby businesses. WaterDog Outfitters entire parking lot is underwater.
Owner Steven Crooks says he’s never seen the water this high.
“We do on-demand demos of our paddleboards and kayaks out the back door. If it keeps coming up, we’ll just throw ‘em out the front door,” Crooks said. “It’ll be fine. I guess I picked the right business to get into.”
The water was even higher last week when Crooks took his own kayak for a light drift down a normally busy lane of US-31.
“I get good social media reviews from me paddling in the road from my kayak,” Crooks said. “You know, if it continues to rain, my next one will be a paddleboard in the parking lot. Who knows. So I’ll just keep taking advantage.”
Scott and the road commission are taking the flooding seriously and they want drivers to do the same.
“The last thing we want to have happen is a scooter or motorcycle, even a car hydroplane through the wet spot not seeing the caution signs,” Scott said. “We’re dealing with a 30-year high here and believe me, we are working on several remedies.”
With the majority of the water coming from the nearby White River and White Lake, the road commission says pumping the water off the road is ineffective. And with water flowing out of drainage systems, there’s little that can be done but wait.
“We’re really hoping the worst of the flooding is over,” Scott said. “With the record rainfall we received here last fall, the winter we had and all the rain now, it has been tough.”
The busy portion of US-31 was briefly blocked and rerouted overnight last week. Scott believes rerouting traffic away from the heart of Montague and Whitehall should be only used as a last resort.
Crooks believes the water is only going to rise throughout the summer, but he is prepared.
“We’re going to stay open and stay in business regardless of the water levels,” Crooks said. “If we need to start the new Montague Whitehall ferry across with a kayak, we’ll do that. Whatever we need to do to do business.”