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Jackson County officials decide how to tackle Cascades Park lagoon problem

Cascade lagoon
Posted at 5:07 PM, Jun 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-01 17:07:46-04

JACKSON, Mich. — The Jackson County Parks Board has decided how to address high water levels at the Cascades Park lagoons.

Lowering groundwater is the goal of a team commissioned by the county: Jackson County Department of Transportation’s civil engineer Amelia McElhinney and engineering Director Angela Kline.

They presented three options to the board based on a year-long study that showed lowering the surface water would help alleviate flooding in the area.

Option one is a quick, cost effective measure: removing a steel plate in front of the culvert that drains the lagoons. The plate holds back approximately seven inches of water. Removing it could mitigate basement flooding issues for surrounding homes but it would diminish the storage capacity of the lagoons and alter the nature of surrounding wetlands. There also could be unknown secondary effects, according to the report.

Option two would remove the plate and dredge the lagoons. This is a comprehensive solution according to McElhinney. It would lower surface water, promote the well-being of residents and the functionality of Cascades Park. But it is time intensive and would cost between $4 million and $8 million.

Option three would be to strictly dredge the lagoons. It would improve the lagoons' ecosystem and be slightly less expensive, but it would not lower surface water, nor make any improvements to the nearby golf course, which has water issues as well.

The parks board recommended option two.

Jackson County Parks Board meeting
Jackson county parks board discussing the findings of the hydrogeological study. Shotwell pictured far right.

“This means to find out where the migrates, to come up with a cost analysis other than just an initial cost of dredging the lagoon system, phasing implementation of the dredging of the lagoon system, phasing of water control systems within the lagoon system and the golf course and moving forward with that a long term plan for the city and county of Jackson,” said County Commissioner Steve Shotwell.

But, before they are able to remove the plate and dredge the lagoons, a phase two hydrogeological study will have to be conducted.

"There’s concerns because there are known contamination sites just to the northeast of the park and there is a groundwater divide that separates the contaminant sites or one of the contamination sites from the lagoons,” McElhinney said.

According to the county, state Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy records show there is a groundwater divide that runs along South West Avenue, showing that groundwater to the west of the divide will flow to the lagoons and groundwater east of the divide will flow eastward to the residential areas.

“There’s concern that if we do lower the surface water elevation at all that might shift the divide one way or the other so we just want to make sure that we have a more grounded understanding of what could happen by lowering that plate or by lowering the surface water elevation,” McElhinney said.

Cascades lagoon
Water fenced off near golf course at Cascades

Where will officials come up with the money?

“The county is going to have to look at all resources that are out there,” Shotwell said. “We may have to figure out a way to get an earmark from the state to assist us at the end but, there’s a lot of different resources that are available for water control.”

Homeowners near the lagoons have dealt with crumbling infrastructure for years specifically the houses at the intersection of Douglas Street and West Avenue near Kibby Road.

Elaine Wolf-Baker who started the group, “Fix the Lagoons” lives on Douglas Street and has seen her home which has been in her family for decades bear the brunt of the issues surrounding the lagoons.

She said she is surprised and thankful there is an official decision to move forward with plate removal and dredging.

“Our homes will keep getting flooded and damaged until that work is done,” she said. “Our neighborhood group’s task now is to make sure this work goes forward. We would like to see a timeline, so this issue does not get terminated in darkness.”

home damage near cascade park lagoons

Now, officials feel like they have a direction to fix a lingering problem.

“But the county and the city need to work together to solve a problem” Shotwell said. “The parks board has challenged the Board of Commissioners with 2024 as the completion date.”

Mike Wilczynski is a certified professional geologist and had been helping the Department of Transportation with the study and was volunteering his own time. He says he is happy the board decided to pick this option but has fears their work will not be funded and will go to waste.

“There was a little backtracking today regarding what I thought was established at the last meeting, that is the county increased surface water level in the lagoons at sometime in the past,” he said. “Also, increasing the surface water elevation will increase the water table elevation as well. The high water table appears to be the cause of damages to homes.”

Once the county feels comfortable moving forward with plate removal and dredging they will have to obtain permits from the state.

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