River continues to rise

Becky Vargo • Jul 21, 2015 at 12:10 PM

“Everyone tells me, if there’s water over the road, don’t go down there," said the rural mail carrier.

Looking through the stack of mail in her hand, Schroedter said there’s about a dozen people that wouldn't be getting their mail on Tuesday.

An ice jam at the Grand Haven drawbridge continues to build and is causing water to back up and spread out behind it, said Mark Walton, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Grand Rapids.

A flood warning was issued Monday afternoon as the water rose, causing area residents to take note along the Grand River and bayous. As of 8 a.m. Tuesday, the river had surpassed its 13.3-foot flood stage in Robinson Township.

Later in the day, it was at about 14 feet and rising slowly. By this morning it had reached 14.6 feet.

Residents in Robinson Township's VanLopik Street and Limberlost neighborhoods are used to almost annual flooding. Permanent and seasonal residents there moved vehicles and other belongings Tuesday as the river continued to rise outside their doors. Today the road is under 1-2 feet of water.

“This gradual coming up doesn’t bother me,” said John Casemier, a VanLopik resident. “What we don’t need is another thaw like we had last week.”

Down the flooded road, Earl Hilaski II moved belongings from his living room to a higher level in the house. Hilaski said his father raised the house 40 inches in the early 1990s, and water has since only got inside once — but he still didn't want to chance it this week.

Standing on his deck and looking out across the icy water, Casemier said he has no plans to move.

“I’m not getting out," he said. "I’m just making sure everything is put up."

Casemier uses a woodstove to heat his home if he loses power. He doesn’t expect that to happen because utility connections were elevated above the 100-year flood level a few years ago.

Casemier said his wife, Sue, will park her car up on 118th Avenue when she comes home from work and use waders to get home, if necessary.

Tim Smit of Hudsonville stood at the corner of 118th Avenue and VanLopik Street on Tuesday, waiting for his father-in-law to arrive at the family’s seasonal cottage.

“Our goal today is to get the lawn mower and the golf cart out,” he said.

This week's flooding does not compare to a flood in 2005 when residents had to wade down the road with a boat to get to their house, Smit said.

The floodwaters were expected to peak today, the weather bureau said.

But that forecast could fluctuate by as much as a half-foot, Walton said. That’s because the ice was still flowing late Tuesday afternoon, making conditions unstable in the area.

When the ice is flowing, it continues to jam and pack downriver, Walton said.

“With the ice continuing to move, all bets are off,” the meteorologist said. “It means the river can continue to rise.”

The good news is that upstream, in the Grand Rapids area, the river was falling.

“That might mitigate the flooding,” Walton said.

A snowstorm expected late Thursday could dump another 4-6 inches of wet snow on the Grand Haven area, Walton added.

Ottawa County Emergency Services Director Beth Thomas said her office would continue to monitor the river.

If residents along the river experience flooding issues, they are asked to call their local town hall to report it, Thomas said. If there is an immediate threat for safety, she said they should call 911.

For updates on the river level at Eastmanville, just upstream from Robinson Township, use the web link found at the end of this story at grandhaventribune.com.

The USGS allows the public to monitor the river level and conditions at Eastmanville, just upstream from Robinson Township. The information is updated every 15 minutes. To view it, click here.

To see more photos from the flood scene, click here.

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