Laying the Foundation for Flood Reduction: 2021 in Review
Op-ed by J.W. Fisher and Lee Ann Keller, Co-chairs of the MBA Advisory Committee on Infrastructure
As co-chairs of the Midland Business Alliance (MBA) Advisory Committee on Infrastructure, we are proud of the progress the task force and community partners made last year. We know there are many years of hard work ahead to meet our goal of reducing the frequency and severity of flooding and increasing mid-Michigan’s resiliency when faced with future flood events. We think that the 2021 efforts started laying a solid foundation for the region’s future success.
In January of this year, we held a strategic planning session to envision our next steps. We also took time to reflect on the steps we’ve taken since the flood of May 2020. You can see the complete list in our “2020-21 in review” at http://mbami.org/floodstudy/#factsheet_review. But we want to mention some of the highlights here.
The MBA Board of Directors formed our task force in February 2021 to examine infrastructure issues that affect the quality of life and economic vitality of Midland and the mid-Michigan region. Our first task – a large one – was finding the best ways to work with local, state, and federal partners to address longstanding flooding issues that affect the citizens, business community, and economic development in the region. Two areas of concern were the legacy challenges of severe flooding throughout Midland County and surrounding areas, as well as sanitary sewer and stormwater issues in Midland. Thanks to local funders, we raised nearly $1 million for flood reduction advocacy efforts, community engagement, and an engineering study.
We have worked with our Lansing and Washington legislators and agencies on policies, appropriations, and legislation to help rebuild and recover from past flooding and to build resilience against future flood events. We continue to work to capture funds to make our area whole again after the 2020 flood and to create infrastructure to reduce the risk of future flooding.
To create a “ballpark” budget and broad, conceptual ideas for the types of potential long-term projects, we worked with AECOM, a global infrastructure and engineering consulting firm. They helped to predict the scope of possible flood reduction and resilience projects. The July report included examples of best practices in nature-based flood reduction and benchmark projects, such as large-scale detention (expansion/rehabilitation of wetlands, for example), local drainage improvements, river engineering, and levees. We are most interested in natural, eco-sensitive solutions wherever possible. This report has helped us paint a better picture of the vision we have for projects as we talk to legislators and the community.
A significant accomplishment in 2021 was the launch of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) hydrologic/hydraulic study of the Tittabawassee River Watershed. This is a collaboration between the USACE, the County of Midland, and the MBA. Thanks to our local donors, we were able to commit to fund the study’s 50 percent local cost-share. In September, the Midland County commissioners approved this study. In October, members of the committee visited the Corps in Detroit, and, later in the month, the Corps visited us for presentations, the surveying kickoff, and a tour of Midland, Bullock Creek, Sanford, and Edenville to see the breadth of flood damage and areas at risk for future flooding.
In early November, the Spicer Group’s surveying crews (hired as our part of the study’s cost-share) headed to the rivers to collect data for the hydrologic/hydraulic study of the watershed. Over this winter, they have already finished surveying the approximately 60 miles of the Tittabawassee River, Sturgeon Creek, Snake Creek, Bullock Creek, Salt River, Chippewa River, and Pine River in Midland County. They are creating the geographic information system (GIS) mapping and soon will deliver all of the data to the USACE, which will be completing the study in the months ahead.
This first study will help inform the Midland County Office of Emergency Management with up-to-date data for emergency preparedness. It will also provide us and the USACE with data needed for our next phase of work. The next phase includes engineering recommendations for flood reduction solutions. Currently, the County of Midland has signed a “letter of intent” to further discuss and plan for a second study to advance this next phase. We are excited to take this next step. We are working on appropriations currently in the state budget to help with the second study and local engineering support. Stayed tuned for progress updates on our 2022 efforts.
Many are due thanks
Our 2021 progress would not have been possible without many key people and organizations. First, we appreciate our volunteer committee members, who all have busy careers and schedules and who have managed to give even more of their time and knowledge to our cause. The committee includes: the two of us as co-chairs; Noel Bush, former utilities director, City of Midland; Mike Erickson, VP Facilities and Construction at MyMichigan Medical Center; Lee Johnston, president, Johnston Contracting; Sharon Mortensen, president and CEO, Midland Area Community Foundation; Bill Schuette, community volunteer; and Tony Stamas, president and CEO, Midland Business Alliance; as well as our non-voting (ex officio) members, Bridgette Gransden, administrator/controller, County of Midland; Brad Kaye, city manager, City of Midland; and Dave Kepler, president, Four Lakes Task Force. In addition to these committee members, Diane Middleton of the MBA, Mike Driver and Dave LesStrang of Squire Patton Boggs, and Patti LaChance and Anne Sturtevant of AMPM, Inc., have all contributed to our committee’s core work.
We thank our local donors, who have made the first phase of our study and operations possible. We are fortunate in mid-Michigan to have businesses and organizations who are supportive and forward-thinking. Our donors include: the Charles J. Strosacker Foundation, Corteva Agriscience, the Dow Company Foundation, Fisher Companies, Hemlock Semiconductor Corporation, the Midland Area Community Foundation, MyMichigan Health, the Patricia and David Kepler Foundation, the Rollin M. Gerstacker Foundation, and Three Rivers Corporation.
We are grateful for the time and support of the Midland County Board of Commissioners, County of Midland staff, the Midland City Council, and the City of Midland staff. In Lansing and Washington, our elected officials and their staff have helped move our efforts forward significantly, especially as we work to fund the next phases. They include U.S. Congressman John Moolenaar, U.S. Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, Governor Gretchen Whitmer, and Michigan Senator Jim Stamas.
We have worked and will work with a number of federal agencies like FEMA, the SBA, NOAA, and the USDA. But our current work is predominantly with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who have been a pleasure to partner with. This group of professionals have shared their expertise and extensive project knowledge, and we look forward to continuing to work with the Detroit office team.
There are many, many others that we could include in this list – such as drain commissioners, environmental groups like the Nature Conservancy, major employers like MyMichigan Health and Dow that have endorsed our work, and interested members of businesses, organizations, the media, and the public. We are thankful for everyone who wants to see solutions and the reduction of flood damages in the future. We need everyone to pull in the same direction in the years ahead to make the long-term progress we need.
J.W. Fisher is the president of Fisher Contracting Company, a heavy/highway civil contractor with locations in Michigan and Kentucky and part of Fisher Companies. Since 1925, four generations of the Fisher family have provided civil construction services to federal, state, municipal and private clients throughout the Midwest and Southeast. He and his family reside in Midland.
Lee Ann Keller is owner and CEO of Omni Tech, a global technical and business consulting company in Midland that specializes in strategic planning, biobased product commercialization, and DEI strategies/training. She and her company have been actively involved in the Midland community for more than 30 years. Lee and her family reside on Sanford Lake.