Government and Travel & Tourism

Flooding front and center as spring approaches

Businesses consider stocking up on inventory in case of disaster.

March 7, 2014
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Businesses are considering options if waters reach the flood stage again this spring. Photo by Michael Buck

(As seen on WZZM TV 13) Last year’s early April flooding across West Michigan has businesses wondering what this spring will bring. But they won’t need to eye the sky for ominous clouds — the potential for trouble is already here.

Bultsma Excavating has been fielding calls from those who are hoping to be more prepared this year than they were in 2013, should serious flooding occur when the ice and snow begin to melt. Matthew LaRue, senior project manager at Bultsma, said the company is being asked for quotes from businesses and municipalities alike. 

LaRue said flooding is a top concern as spring approaches because it can cause more than a few headaches. It can hinder access to project sites and utility work and cause a spike in materials and fuel costs as demand increases.

Reg Klooster, general manager at Grand Rapids Gravel, also pointed to flooding this spring as his No. 1 concern.

“A year ago, when things flooded so bad, we had one of our plants that we couldn’t use. In fact, it was our major plant; it was flooded up around it,” he said. “We’ll keep our eye on that this year.”

Michigan Rail and Storage also was hit hard last year by flooding. The company relies mostly on rail to get its inventory to and from where it needs to be, and the reduction in railroad infrastructure over the years has led to serious issues when rail transport is interrupted.

Last spring the train bridge crossing the Grand River near downtown Grand Rapids was closed down for more than a week, resulting in near paralyzation for several companies in Michigan that rely primarily on rail.

“We experienced a loss of opportunity with customers,” said David Boerema, COO of Michigan Rail and Storage. “This also weakened shippers’ faith in our operation from a geographic rail standpoint.”

Michigan Rail and Storage supplies feed for thousands of Michigan’s dairy cattle.

Boerema is concerned about a repeat of last year and said the company is preparing for the worst.

“We have gone to our customers and discussed the possibility of getting larger volumes shipped in so that we have a greater inventory,” he said.

But he said there are several questions that need to be answered, including who bears the cost of inventory, is the inventory even available, and can the railcars handle increased inventory?

One longer-term solution Boerema said deserves some consideration is rethinking “just in time” delivery, in general.

“There should be national attention given to the idea of building up inventory,” he said. “For too long the country has utilized the ‘just in time’ mentality with devastating results when conditions become a threat.”

There is no telling what will happen this spring, but if West Michigan gets hit with a lot of rain in a short period — which is what occurred last year — it definitely raises the likelihood.

Even without heavy rain, the deep freeze and heavy snow in West Michigan this year already have increased the potential for flooding.

“Last year we had historical flooding and the rivers weren’t frozen over like they are this year, so this definitely has the potential to have another flooding episode,” said John Richard, communications representative for the Michigan Department of Transportation.

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