No quick fix in sight for Longbridge Road.

September 26, 2019

Mark Trierweiler addresses the Oceana County Road Commission.

No quick fix in sight for Longbridge Road.

#OceanaCountyNews

By Allison Scarbrough, Editor.

HART – The Oceana County Road Commission unanimously approved authorization of $200,000 plus engineering costs to fix flooded Longbridge Road in Pentwater Township during its regular meeting Wednesday, Sept. 25, although there is no quick fix in sight.

Longbridge Road, which crosses Pentwater Lake at the Pentwater River oulet, has been closed since last May 1 due to flooding caused by the high water levels on Pentwater Lake and Lake Michigan.

Recent high water levels have caused numerous infrastructure problems in the Great Lakes region.

Residents on the south side of Pentwater Lake must take a 14-mile detour to get to the other side of the lake. Those impacted by the closure are demanding that the road commission must immediately fix the road.

Recent photo of Longbridge Road provided by Oceana County Road Commission Managing Director Mark Timmer.

Although residents made demands that the road must be repaired immediately, the road commission could not guarantee a quick fix.

“We are becoming increasingly frustrated with the Longbridge Road closure,” said said Trish Davidson, president of the Apache Hills Home Owner’s Association. “The water has been rising on Lake Michigan for six years.”

Davidson said residents have endured the closure during the busy summer tourist season and are now dreading the winter season ahead. The road commission previously stated that it did not anticipate re-opening the road until next spring.

A citizen-led coalition called Open Longbridge Road Now!!! was recently formed to battle the road commission over the closure on Longbridge Road –– “one of the busiest roads in Oceana County,” states a recent press release issued by the group. Mark Trierweiler, president of the coalition, said the coalition was formed to “consolidate citizen outrage over the unnecessary, four-and-a-half-month-old-closure of Longbridge Road and the plethora of problems caused by it — chief among them public safety.

Recent photo of Longbridge Road provided by Oceana County Road Commission Managing Director Mark Timmer.

“If planning and research had been done when it should have, Longbridge Road would never have had to close,” Trierweiler said. “If road borings had been done years ago – as they should have been – we would have known on May 1 that the only solution was to build up the road bed.

“A temporary fix could have been implemented immediately while planning for a more permanent solution was underway. Instead, blinded by its own lack of planning, the road commission chose to close Longbridge Road and, in doing so, all but isolated the people of Pentwater Township from essential services they must have,” he said.

“Money is always an issue for county governments, but we feel like we are being held hostage over who is going to pay for the repairs. We just want the road opened before someone dies.

“We intend to develop a powerful citizen-led coalition capable of impacting public policy across the county and beyond,” said Davidson. “It’s a shame that residents of Pentwater Township had to take this step, but we’re tired of the road commission ignoring and putting us at risk. Collectively, I guess you could say we have reached the end of our patience with Oceana County.”

Recent photo of Longbridge Road provided by Oceana County Road Commission Managing Director Mark Timmer.

Ron Beeber cited the affects the road closure has had on local businesses. He said Blackmer Construction has lost $19,000 in revenue so far. Ludington Beverage Company’s accounts in the area have dropped by 23 percent, Beeber said. Republic Services garbage company has added 30 minutes to its route in that area, he said. He stated he has been in contact with Pentwater bar and restaurant owners, who have indicated business is down due to the road closure.

“This is more than an inconvenience, folks,” Beeber said.

“Nearly every visitor in these offices is here because Longbridge Road, which is our main route into and out of Pentwtater Township, has been closed for nearly five months,” said Trierweiler. “During this extended period of time, it’s safe to say that most of us have felt kept in the dark, disrespected and ignored.

“The first time most of us learned that the problem had reached a crisis was the day you closed Longbridge Road – even though you knew it would happen months before it actually did. Communication has been non-existent.

“No one is going to rescue us unless we rescue ourselves, which is exactly why we are here today.

“You kept us in the dark because there was no plan to fix Longbridge Road even though you had plenty of advanced warning that it would flood and fail,” Trierweiler said. “After five months, we’ve run out of patience. We’ve run out of confidence that someone will do the right thing and open Longbridge Road before something happens that can’t be taken back.”

“We want a date certain when the road will be opened, and it needs to be soon,” said Trierweiler.

Chris Karaptian, wife of Pentwater Public School Superintendent Scott Karaptian, read a letter written by him. Karaptian states that the district hired an additional bus driver to handle the “extra bus route to pick up students on the south side of the bridge.” With the additional mileage and fuel costs, the added run costs the school over $8,000 per year, he said. In addition to the extra cost to the school, students must take an hour-long bus ride to get to the school that is 2 1/2 miles away.

“… We strongly encourage the committee to try and achieve a feasible solution as quickly as possible,” the superintendent wrote.

Alyssa Mellish, the mother of a 5-year-old child who is anaphylactic, gave an emotional presentation to the commission. Mellish spoke about her fears that her child will not receive emergency medical help in time due to the long detour. Anaphylaxis is a severe, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction that can occur within seconds or minutes of exposure to an allergen, such as peanuts or bee stings.

“Our son’s allergies are off the charts,” she said. When an allergic reaction occurs, “our child is literally grasping for breath.”

“Imagine adding another 10 minutes – panicking 10 minutes,” she said. “It’s life-threatening.”

“You’re sentencing my son to death if we don’t open the bridge. Please open the bridge.”

The commission unanimously gave Mark Timmer, managing director of the road commission, “a vote of confidence” following all of the criticism he received from angry residents during the meeting.

Timmer read from a written a statement, which he provided a copy of to OCP. The statement reads as follows:

“Earlier this year, Longbridge Road in Oceana County became overrun by Lake Michigan. A significant part of the highway remains submerged. The road commission closed the highway to public travel when the flooding occurred, and it has remained closed while the road commission investigates options for returning the highway to a safe and passable condition.

“When Longbridge was closed, the road commission issued a press release stating that we closed the road for public safety and also to prevent the road from being destroyed while the road bed is saturated with water and the pavement is fragile and has no stability. In addition, we stated we may have to close the road for two to three months or more. Our bridge engineer wrote a letter stating the road should remain closed until water recedes to a point where the pavement surface is visibly dry across the entire section.

“Due to the frequent rain this summer and fall and little evaporation, there is more water on Longbridge than there was several weeks ago.

“We have listened to the citizens’ concerns, and the major concerns are the length of detour and impact on personal travel and business, the increase in emergency response time, and the increase in busing time.

“If the road commission could safely open the road we would do so,” Timmer said. “Unfortunately, Lake Michigan is approximately 2 1/2 feet higher than average and 14 inches higher than a year ago.

“Some citizens have questioned the road commission’s legal authority to close the road until such time as those appropriate remedial measures can be identified and put into place. The road commission’s ability to close a road is well documented in Michigan law. Michigan statutes impose a duty on the road commission to keep highways under its jurisdiction, and that are open for public travel, in reasonable repair.

“Implicit in this language is the road commission’s ability to close a road to public travel where it cannot be kept in reasonable repair. The Court of Appeals has determined that when a road is properly closed to traffic, the road commission suspends its duty to repair and maintain it, so that it is reasonably safe for public travel.

“Longbridge is properly closed with advance warning signs, a signed detour route, and barricades. No reasonable motorist would believe the road is open for public travel.

“The road commission has the legal authority to close a public highway where — in the road commission’s judgement — it is in need of repairs or reconstruction. There is no legal requirement for a road commission to keep a road open against its judgement.

“In the case of Longbridge, the road commission has consulted with legal counsel through MCRCSIP (Michigan County Road Commission Self Insurance Pool) and has been advised that the road commission has no obligation to open a road within a certain timeline, and will not open it until it is safe to do so,” Timmer said.

“Lake Michigan – a Great Lake – is sitting on our road. There is no quick fix.”

– Mark Timmer, managing director of the Oceana County Road Commission.

“Lake Michigan – a Great Lake – is sitting on our road. There is no quick fix. We have been working since we closed the road towards a long-term repair that will minimize the possibility that the road may be closed in the future. We had an underwater inspection done on the bridge, and it is in good shape. We have talked with contractors, and had extensive soil borings performed.

“We received a final report on these borings September 12, 2019. The preliminary borings we received caused us to change a design plan from augercast and grout pilings, to one of ‘floating’ the road, where we would place geo-tech fabric; place fill to lift the road; wrap the fill; and place aggregate and pave. The road would be protected with heavy rip rap and would be lifted to a level where it would not likely be closed to flooding in the future under this design.

“We are working diligently on this project and have the support and cooperation of several EGLE (the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy, formerly Michigan Department of Environmental Quality/DEQ) staff members who understand the complexity of this problem and are working with us towards a successful solution.”

Despite not receiving the answer they wanted, the coalition remains steadfast in fighting for the road to re-open soon.

“While we didn’t get any commitments from the commission as a whole, we could tell that our presenters were connecting to individual commissioners who were clearly feeling our anguish,” said Trierweiler.

“We plan to let our emotions settle down overnight while we assess the impacts our presentations had on individual commissioners, and then try to open a dialogue with them to move forward on a solution, hopefully as early as tomorrow.”

Members of the road commission include Chairman William Myers, Vice Chairman Lloyd Gowell, Cathy Forbes, Bob Carr and Allen Blohm.

Those interested in joining the Open Longbridge Road Now!!! coalition should text their name, address, cell phone and email address to (517) 899-6330.

This story is copyrighted © 2019, all rights reserved by Media Group 31, LLC, PO Box 21, Scottville, MI 49454. No portion of this story or images may be reproduced in any way, including print or broadcast, without expressed written consent.

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