Flooding wreaks havoc

Michigan State Roundup

Published July 1, 2003  | July 2003 issue

In the battle of nature vs. human, it's a rarity for the latter to come out ahead, as the Upper Peninsula can attest. In mid-May, Marquette County sustained an estimated $100 million in overall damages due to flooding on the Dead River. Northwest of Marquette, an earthen dike on the Silver Lake Basin in Champion Township failed, and the resulting torrent swept away numerous bridges and roadways before severely damaging Tourist Park in the city of Marquette, as well as other public property and several homes and businesses.

More damage also occurred indirectly, when 9 billion gallons of flood water caused the WE Energies Presque Isle power plant in Marquette to shut down temporarily and to offer only intermittent power well into June. Plant operators, forewarned, had shut down the generating units just ahead of the water, averting an even greater catastrophe.

Because they rely on power from the Presque Isle plant, the Empire and Tilden iron mines were closed for a time, which temporarily idled about 1,100 hourly employees. Production disruptions continued until Tilden mine employees were called back to work in mid-June. Empire mine employees were anticipated to be back on the job in late June.

The Upper Peninsula Power Co., which owns the Silver Lake Basin control structures, also suffered damage to its Hoist and McClure dams downstream. And UPPCO's costs to buy electricity have tripled as a result of the flooding. It cost UPPCO roughly $35 per megawatt hour—1 million watts used per hour—prior to the flood. That cost has jumped to $100 per megawatt hour because in the interim UPPCO has had to switch to more expensive diesel generators.

And just who will pick up the tab to repair the damage remains a hotly debated issue.

Rosie Cataldo