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Improvements planned for GR's flood walls

AP Wire • Jul 21, 2015 at 1:46 PM

The river came close to breaching the city's flood walls in April. Water flowed in torrents under levees, causing at least $10 million in damage throughout Kent County and causing flooding that forced an estimated 1,700 area residents to leave their homes for higher ground.

Some repair work has been done, like fixing a dam observation deck damaged by the water. Gates that close openings in the flood wall to keep water from flowing back into the sewer system also have to be fixed or replaced, said Eric DeLong, Grand Rapids deputy city manager.

Embankments around a wastewater plant also have to be raised.

Meanwhile, the city also is working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency on an agreement that will allow accreditation for Grand Rapids' flood walls without a stipulation that they be substantially higher. That agreement was being worked on prior to last April's storm.

"We're working well with them and they're working well with us," DeLong said. "I think we're very close."

FEMA, for years, has said the flood wall system was not high enough.

Even with the a higher wall, the fact remains that Grand Rapids is a city built in a flood plain and will always flooding issues, a National Weather Service expert said.

"We're seeing an increase in frequency in the number of heavy rainfall events, which doesn't work in our favor when trying to do flood mitigation," said Mark Walton, a hydrologist with the weather service's Grand Rapids office.

Walton said those behind the city's floodwalls shouldn't be complacent.

"It gives you a false sense of protection and encourages development," Walton said. "The risk is still there. You're living in a flood plain."

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