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Mill pond's absence could create new set of issues

July 02, 2014 - Goodrich-Bill Rausch had reason to worry when the village mill pond was drained of water last month for repairs.

"Where's the township fire department going to get water when a home or business is on fire if the pond is empty?" said Rausch, who served on the Independence Township Fire Department for 29 years. "It's the main source of water for fighting fires in not only the village, but also Atlas Township."

Rausch, who owns several buildings in the village, said he was contacted by an attorney last month asking to "sign-on" with a movement to eliminate or drain the mill pond in an effort to help or reduce flooding of village homes.

The flooding issue surrounds the Wheelock & Watkins Drain. The agricultural drain built in about 1897, encompasses a large section of the village, impacting about 100 residents. The old drain under the jurisdiction of Genesee County has been one possible cause of flooding of several residents' homes over the past few years. The flooding intensified, prompting village officials to engage the county drain officials to investigate the issues. As a result, petitions were signed last year and in a special meeting on April 9 at the village offices, a board of determination voted 3-0 to move forward with an upgrade to the Wheelock & Watkins Drain. Since then, a study and survey of the impacted drain area to provide possible solutions was completed by the engineering firm of Fleis and Vandenbrink and released in December. The estimated costs of the two alternatives outlined in the report range from about $500,000 to $700,000, funded primarily by the village and residents within the drainage district. The village council continues to explore alternatives.

Other causes of flooding included a pipe from the mill pond to the golf course under Ridge Road has been suspected as a cause of the flooding.

"I told the attorney, I don't know any reason to drain that mill pond," added Rausch. "It's not only going to leave a nasty old bog, but it's also needed for fire protection. I have not been impacted by any flooding caused by the mill pond in my buildings."

While flooding issues may be associated with the mill pond—the cost of maintaining the century-old dam that creates the 46-acre body of water is also a factor.

About $30,000 in repairs were completed in June, intended to give the village more time to seek a permanent solution to the aging dam situation. Midland-based Gerace Construction completed the repairs after several sinkholes near the dam suggested a breach in the structure. The dam repairs costs continue to a factor.

The lowered levels of water this summer has prompted some area residents to consider just simply not refilling the pond thus saving future possibly costly issues with the dam.

"Most people in the community want the most economical solution to the dam situation," said Diane Fredericks, village resident. We are fine going back to the natural state which is the Kearsley Creek. Most residents don't have anything to do with the mill pond. What can you do there? We don't have public park on the mill pond and no public access for a boat or swimming or even fishing—it only benefits those that live on the pond. The move to elimate it would save the village money in the long run."

Richard Saroli, village council member addressed the possibility of just walking away from the dam and draining the pond during a special meeting on Monday morning.

"Draining the mill pond would create a host of new problems for the village," he said. "First it would violate the 1970 contract with the City of Flint."

According to local news in March 1970, the City of Flint was assured by Guaranty Title Company that its title to the mill pond was "good and defensible." Former city manager Thomas Kay did not agree with draining the mill pond considered by the village calling it "an unnecessarily provocative act" to village residents.

On April 20, 1970, the Flint Water Department crew raised one of three dam gates six inches to begin slowly draining the mill pond. Draining the dam, which needed repairs, was necessary to prevent liability issues if it broke, said city officials. That evening the village requested a joint meeting with the Flint City Commission. The commission took no action on the request.

On May 1, 1970 the Goodrich dam gates were completely removed by Flint officials, and about two-thirds of the 46-acre mill pond was drained, allegedly to check the dam's condition. A group called "Make Goodrich Beautiful" called a meeting May 2.

Whether or not the pond draining was an attempt by the city to strong-arm the village, it worked. In a letter dated June 18, 1970, former Goodrich Village President Lloyd Blahnik wrote to Kay offering to buy the Goodrich Mill Pond from Flint for $5,000, on the condition the dam gates would be replaced in good workable condition.

The reduced price offer was based on unofficial engineering reports estimating dam repairs at $15,000 to $25,000, said Blahnik.That July the pond was still drained, with rotting tree stumps and train trestle posts emerging from the mire surrounding the remaining Kearsley Creek.

The issue was resolved and the pond restored with the village purchase of the mill pond from the City of Flint on Aug. 14, 1970 for $5,000.

"That contract with Flint is still in effect," added Saroli. "If drained that land would revert back to the City of Flint. The City of Flint could turn a profit off the mill pond if given the opportunity."

While the legal ramifications along with the water feature of the village are issues in keeping the mill pond—a safety practical need is also a consideration.

Fred Forys, Atlas Township Fire Chief emphasized the importance of the mill pond for water echoed Rausch's concern.

"Currently we have two pumps at the township fire hall that can move 1,000 gallons per minutes from the mill pond," he said. "There's 1,500 feet of hose that would carry water just about anywhere in town. The pond is vital for drafting water for our tankers. Consider too if we had to replace the pond with wells the best we could hope for is about 300 gallons per minute. Not to mention the cost drilling a well. The pond is very important for safety of the community."

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