SAUGATUCK — With the Kalamazoo River spilling over into the streets of Saugatuck again this week, business owners and residents in Saugatuck are worried about what a serious storm surge would do to their properties.


Rains Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday caused flooding at the river’s edge, which closed down the intersection of Lucy and Water streets. Floodwaters covered the west end of Spear Street and the south end of Butler Street and threatened businesses on the river’s edge, like The River Market on Water Street.


Owner Jim Bieke told The Sentinel a line of sandbags around his building kept his business dry this time, but he wasn’t so lucky last fall.


“The same thing happened over the Thanksgiving holiday and my store was completely flooded,” Bieke said. “I had 17 inches of water in the back and about 5 inches out in front.”


That flood, the day before Thanksgiving, took out many of the store’s appliances, including the furnace.


“Another flood would be devastating,” chef and restaurant owner Eric Chaitan told Saugatuck City Council on Thursday.


Chaitan said the Thanksgiving flood’s damage to his riverside businesses was extensive and costly, and he’s spent tens of thousands on preventative measures since.


“If that happens again, we’ll certainly be closed for this season and, candidly, I don’t know that we’ll recover from it,” Chaitan told the council.


In a meeting Monday, the Saugatuck City Council prioritized taking action at the intersection of Lucy and Water streets, which has seen persistent flooding problems. Several businesses and homes are located at the intersection.


“This is the most difficult situation we have right now,” Council member Barry Johnson said.


The council voted to use a Hesco flood barrier, a container made up of heavy duty fabric and collapsible mesh wire filled with sand, and install a pumping system at the flooding site. The cost is expected to be between $11,000 and $13,000.


At another special meeting Thursday to discuss the flooding, the city council voted to prioritize taking action at:



The end of Spear Street
The south end of Butler Street
The Wicks Park restroom

The council also voted to purchase a quick-fill sandbag machine, expected to cost about $4,600.


The city asked consultant Edgewater Resources to look at flooding sites in the city and develop a range of mitigation strategies for each. The strategies range from several thousands of dollars for Hesco barrier and pump solutions to the hundreds of thousands for stormwater lift stations.


Saugatuck only has $20,000 earmarked this year for flood mitigation, but the council expects to overspend that budget to tackle these projects in preparation for more flooding throughout the season.


“I think we all know $20,000 isn’t going to hack it,” said Council member Mark Bekken.


Saugatuck City Manager Kirk Harrier said the city may be able to use road millage funds for street flooding issues.


Council member Holly Leo wondered aloud how bad the flooding could be if Saugatuck were to see a major storm surge.


“The weather we’ve experienced the last 48 hours is a fairly minor event. We didn’t really have the wind and we don’t have the water heights that we’re going to have in a month or two, so I just think we really have to keep that in mind,” she said.


The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has predicted record-high water levels on Lake Michigan this spring and summer.


“It’s really hard to know what to expect moving forward,” said Scott Herbert, Saugatuck’s Department of Public Works director, who surveyed the flooded areas this week. “Back by Thanksgiving we had a storm surge of a foot and a half, two foot. If that happened now, that would be devastating.”


“We’re not going to be able to stop these events from happening, but we can reduce the impact that these events do have when they occur,” Herbert said.


Chaitan pushed the council to consider investing even more in flooding prevention.


“I urge you all to look at sort of the ROI (return on investment) to the town on the investment versus what the loss would be with those businesses gone,” Chaitan said.


— Contact reporter Carolyn Muyskens at cmuyskens@hollandsentinel.com and follow her on Twitter at @cjmuyskens.