Pictured: Erosion around the Etsey Road bridge abutment in Gladwin County, with Wixom Lake in the background.
Helicopters flying. Homeowners in the streets. Houses floating down the lake.
It’s how Gladwin County Road Commission (GCRC) managing director Dave Pettersch described the aftermath of the May 19 dam failures along the Tittabawassee River. Communities were flooded downstream, and water was sucked out of Wixom Lake.
“It was like a vacuum as the water pulled everything downstream, down the river into Midland and ultimately Saginaw counties, and into Lake Huron,” Pettersch said. “Houses, boats and docks were being carried along by the force of water.”
“Here in Wixom Lake, people had high water damage in the bottom floor of lakefront homes,” he said. “After the dam breach, the water was gone and the people downstream instead had homes full of dirt and sediment.”
GCRC was on the job, securing life and safety and patching roads together to get people out. Then the road agency waited for the water to recede to assess road and bridge infrastructure damage. After safety was secured, Pettersch and staff made a list of 50 locations in the county damaged by the storm. They called an emergency board meeting to prioritize the repairs.
“It will be two years before we are fully recovered from this event,” Pettersch said. “We have a fund balance, but in these times, the last thing you want to do is spend down your savings. We tried to balance getting repairs done as quickly as possible for our residents, and fighting for every dollar that we possibly could in state and federal aid.”
Homes along Lake Wixom and other parts of the Tittabawassee River will be re-assessed this fall.
To learn more about Gladwin County Road Commission, their response to the May 19 dam breaches and their new building, read the quarterly journal of the County Road Association (CRA) of Michigan, which can be viewed digitally or downloaded at https://micountyroads.org/newsroom/crossroads/.