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Residents growing impatient as homes crumble near Cascade Park lagoons

home damage near cascade park lagoons
Posted at 6:45 PM, Aug 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-02 22:54:36-04

JACKSON, Mich. — People living near the Cascade Park lagoons are growing increasingly frustrated with the damage their homes are sustaining from what appears to be rising groundwater.

Jackson County officials say they need to continue studying the problem before pushing forward with solutions, but resident Elaine Wolf-Baker said they can’t wait another year or two.

Elaine Wolf-Baker Speaking about challenges that homeowners are having

“Our homes right now are having serious problems,” Wolf-Baker said. “I mean my house, I can show people the evidence where it's dropped about 3 inches on one side and I even have helical piering support and it's still dropped. So, we can't wait that long and I hope that the county understands what we're up against.”

Helical piers are foundation pins made of steel that are used in places where soil conditions are challenging. The pins are then threaded deep into the ground.

County officials came together last week to discuss the issues plaguing homes near the lagoons as they try to get to the bottom of what’s happening.

Over the past two months, engineers have installed 30 groundwater monitoring wells west of the lagoons and throughout the nearby golf course.

Civil Engineer Amelia McElhinney says they’re still in the data-gathering process.

Civil Engineer Amelia McElhinney says they’re still in the data-gathering process.

“We're continuing to monitor rainfall, groundwater depths, what exactly those mean to one another right now,” McElhinney said. “We're still working through, as we are also entering any of the park features' discharge, so we can correlate one or the other, trying to understand how they interact to the sensitivity to either and see what kind of conclusions or potential solutions we arrive at.”

Assistant County Administrator Christopher Bolt said they will get to the bottom of what is causing nearby homes to be falling apart, but it is going to take a lot of work.

“We needed a big-picture, holistic view of what's going on and an evaluation using state-of-the-art technology of potential solutions so we could evaluate and prioritize them rather than guess,” Bolt said. “Because it's expensive to build something and think that's going to fix it and then it doesn't and we're back to square one. So, we wanted to avoid those problems. What is different now is that they're seeing that we're being transparent or explaining the processes and planning.”

Geologist Mike Wilczynski
Geologist Mike Wilczynski

Geologist Mike Wilczynski became involved after working with residents who live in the problem area, near Douglas Street and West Avenue, and believes topography may play a role in what is going on.

Wilczynski says they’re in an area of glacial outwash which makes it very permeable. On both sides of the park, the soil is bounded by a lot of clay which is not permeable. This creates a narrow band of outwash that has to accept “all of the infiltration.”

“Your surface water runoff is going to flow from high to low and top of hilly areas to lower areas and that where we're at here,” Wilczynski said. “Douglas Street is a low. Also, if you have impermeable soil, it's going to increase the amount of runoff versus infiltration into the soil and then your storm sewers may be following that same path bringing stormwater in from a distance away and discharging to the lagoons as well.”

But, county officials are not comfortable making any determinations yet.

“We want to be able to give recommendations as soon as we can,” McElhinney said. “We continue to understand how things are changing because things continue to change, and we want to be able to adjust with it so, even if we do come up with a solution at the moment, we want to be able to continue, to observe, take records and, if that solution needs to be adjusted because of changes that have occurred, we want to be able to respond to that too.”

Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lake, and Energy - EGLE

In April, the state Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy made several findings that Cascades Park’s water discharge was too high. That has since been remedied.

“We demonstrated through our documentation that we had made all the efforts necessary to reduce the discharges as much as we possibly could,” Bolt said. “For example, the splash pads originally had double the discharge that we currently have and it was dialed back and fine-tuned to minimize the amount of discharge. Hobo Fountain is getting a variable frequency drive to minimize discharge to marry that with rainfall and natural sources so that we don't overdo it. The falls were practically down to zero discharge each day. Not even the 1,000 gallons that were permitted so our staff has really worked hard to be very careful and judicious.”

They feel like they have made long strides after years of question marks.

“We’re making great progress,” Wilczynski said. “We finally have a study going that wasn't happening before...I think we're moving at a fairly rapid pace now. I think we're going to start seeing some results.”

They believe they can predict when they’ll have enough results to start taking the next steps.

“We hope to give a solution to the residents by fall time or give some sort of indication of possible remedies that could be put in place to help alleviate their issues specifically to understand the holistic watershed area,” McElhinney said. “That is going to take years and years but that doesn't mean that nothing is going to happen during that time frame. It's very much a dynamic process whereas we learn we’ll continue to make changes, suggest solutions, different remedies that we will be finding along the way but this is going to be an ongoing process.”

But residents say the process needs to be sped up. Wolf-Baker thinks working with the Drain Commissioner Geoffrey Snyder through a petition may be the goal.

“What I think we're going to try and do next is hopefully speed up the process and help the county by submitting another legal homeowners drainage petition,” Wolf-Baker said. “When we submit that petition, that should give Mr. Snyder the go-ahead to get the estimates on what the fix will be, and then he can assess everyone in the drainage district for that fix.”

She is appreciative of the efforts given to a comprehensive study but thinks work can be done now to save their homes.

“The three things …. unplug the drainage stream, dredge the lagoons if you can, and if we do the drainage petition they should be able to dredge the lagoons and temper the Hobo Fountain. If there are no fish, why flood your neighbors? If you restock with fish then turn the fountain off when you can every time you can before the storm but the biggest thing is lower the water level,” Wolf-Baker said.

Bolt says Hobo Fountain was initially stocked with fish and then fished out. They want to re-establish an ecosystem there so it can be a good resource for the community as an urban fisheries hot spot.

They are not slow playing the testing and data collecting, he said, and are trying to get answers as expeditiously as possible.

Assistant County Administrator Christopher Bolt

“There needs a series of events to happen so that we can track it and see if our computer simulation mimics real life,” Bolt said. “I expect at future meetings we will be able to show the computer simulation and what happens if we were to remove the dam that holds water back, what happens if we dredge, what happens if Hobo Fountain is on or off. All those scenarios can be evaluated so it just takes time to do this right and to do it with care and due diligence.”

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