Four Lakes Task Force erosion repairs are now underway

With winter settling in, The Four Lakes Task Force (FLTF) is looking ahead to the distant spring.


FLTF is a nonprofit organization and the “Delegated Authority” to oversee the maintenance and operations of the Sanford, Wixom, Smallwood, and Secord Lakes. Seeing trouble with Boyce Trust’s compliance with federal regulations, representatives from the four lakes came together to form FLTF in 2018. Four Lakes is currently in the process of purchasing the dams from Boyce Hydro.


The flood repairs involve three parallel tracks: dam stabilization, debris removal, and shoreline erosion. With much of the debris removal out of the way, FLTF is now working to secure property from erosion damages, overseen by Dave Rothman.
After a cooperative agreement was signed between FLTF and NRCS, Fisher Contracting removed the debris at Sanford.

“An emergency situation was created by the flood on May 19 of this year, and we’re doing what are considered emergency repairs and we’re just getting them started in October and November,” says Rothman.


The delay in repairs was in part due to the emergency disaster declaration by the President arriving as late as July 9, which made the region eligible for aid. The other major delay was a result of the processes that the agencies go through to award grants for repair for damages.


The money from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) — a part of the United States Department of Agriculture — is only available after a cooperative agreement is signed, so work had to be held off until then. Each cooperative agreement describes project details, and then an amount of money is awarded to complete each project. So far, four agreements have been signed: one for debris removal at Sanford Lake, one for Edenville Dam stabilization, and two for erosion repair around the lakes. The first of the agreements was signed sometime earlier this fall. Within 10 days of signing the paperwork for erosion, repairs began.
The causeway repair is expected to be completed by Dec. 15.

“The people in NRCS have been very cooperative with us but they’ve got a process, and the process has a lot of moving parts and a lot of people who have to see and sign off on things,” says Rothman. “That’s all kind of combined to get us to the point where we’re starting these repairs much later in the year than I would like to have started them. I wish we could’ve started all this work back in July, but that’s just not feasible if we wanted the government to pay the majority of the bill.”


The first project is repairing the Lakeshore Drive causeway, which started on Nov. 23 and is expected to be finished by Dec. 15. FLTF has received grants from the NRCS which will reimburse up to 75% of construction costs and a fixed amount of money for engineering work. The Lakeshore Drive repairs cost approximately $230,000, with subdivision owners footing 25% of the cost.


FLTF’s stance is that Boyce Hydro should pay for all erosion damages, but with Boyce Hydro tied up in bankruptcy court, they’re unable to do so.

Gerace Construction works on the Lakeshore Drive causeway repair, costing $230,000.

To be eligible for NRCS reimbursement, a property must meet a set of criteria set by the Emergency Watershed Protection program, published on the FLTF’s website. The first criterion is that the damage must present a threat to life or property.


“If somebody has a little bit of erosion that's just washed some sand away from their sea wall but then it's gotten down to a hard clay pack and it's not eroding any further,” says Rothman, “that really isn't a danger to property, and so those people typically are not covered by an NRCS grant.”


For ineligible properties, Rothman is working to set up a do-it-yourself (DIY) program. In October, NRCS engineers performed a DIY project on an individual’s property to give volunteers on the Task Force hands-on experience doing it.
This man-made drain was once used to gain better access to the water along Wixom Lake, but is now in need of erosion protection.

“It's pretty simple stuff,” says Rothman. “I grew up on a farm, and this didn't look much different than the things we did there when we had erosion issues.”


FLTF will stockpile materials needed to complete the projects and offer them to those who need them, such as grass seeds, erosion maps, drain tiles, geotextile fabric, and rocks of various sizes — from crushed limestone to riprap.


“We're going to provide people materials at a substantial savings, if not free,” says Rothman.


To fix the NRCS-eligible properties from erosion damages, steep banks will need to be rebuilt using sand and stone. Rebuilding the shoreline requires a 2:1 ratio, meaning that the base of the bank must extend two feet from the shoreline for every one-foot increase in elevation.


“So if you’ve got to fill the bank that’s 20 feet high, then the bottom of it’s going to extend 40 feet out from the current shoreline,” says Rothman.

This high bank on the north end of Wixon Lake will need erosion repairs.

If there’s water seeping through them, drainage tiles will be added. Then, to keep the river from washing it all away, the bank will be covered with large stones. Another challenge is getting construction equipment access to the banks — in some cases, the houses are built too close together so equipment must drive from the other side of the lake.


FLTF hopes to finish all erosion projects by the end of next year. When the water level on the Tobacco River side of Wixom Lake goes down after late February 2021, Rothman suspects that new erosion situations will pop-up that needs addressing.


“There are things we must do and things we should do,” says Rothman. “We must repair shoreline erosion, we must deal with debris, and we must deal with dam stabilization. There’s no question — those are all in one way or another, a threat in future floods to life and safety and property. We should refill the lakes, but that’s not required.”


FLTF will be sending out a survey via mail in January to get a better understanding of public opinion. If the public does not wish to see the lakes refilled, work will end after the threats to life and property are repaired.


“We will shape our program according to what we learn from the public,” says Rothman.

Read more articles by Crystal Gwizdala.

Crystal Gwizdala grew up in the Tri-Cities and enjoys broadcasting all the positive change happening in Midland. As Assistant Editor for Catalyst Midland, her favorite topics are environment, wellness, mental health, and the arts. As a human, Crystal is a serial hobbyist: hiking, drawing, yoga, and playing music. Her work can be seen in The Detroit Free Press, Midland Daily News, and The Delta Collegiate. To see what Crystal’s up to, you can follow her on Twitter @CrystalGwizdala.
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