Plaza Towers Apartments in downtown Grand Rapids pumps out floodwater after record-setting rains swelled the Grand River. Photo by Mike Nichols
The Grand River flood is raising a lot of questions for the officials and workers attempting to drain the now-evacuated Plaza Towers Apartments in downtown Grand Rapids.
A Plaza Towers spokesperson and the crew working on removing the floodwaters had few answers Tuesday regarding when residents could move back in or how big the bill was going to be for Plaza Towers’ owners.
“We put some preliminary numbers together, but all those numbers are confidential at this point,” said Paul Heule, president of Eenhoorn LLC, the company that owns the building.
Here’s what the costs will be so far: Heule said rent credits would be given to residents for the period the spaces are unusable. He also said residents will be given a reimbursement for the spoiled food in the refrigerators.
There also are 27 cars flooded in the building parking lot, two of which actually belong to Heule’s brother, he said.
And then there is all the work being done to pump out the flood that’s still holding everything up. After that come the repair bills.
“None of these proficiencies are covered necessarily by insurance because this was a flood and an act of God,” he said. “As to the situation with the cars, the majority of those cars will be covered by the insurance for the car and those people are faced with different individual situations, which we will handle on a case-by-case basis.”
The river has already receded almost a foot in one day, Heule said, adding that residents would probably not need to wait for months before being able to move back in.
“I’m looking at a very tight timeframe,” he said. “We have all our engineers and contractors on standby, and the moment we have the water levels down, regardless if it’s day or night, they will be out here working.”
City Engineer Mark DeClercq said engineers are most concerned with the river level in respect to the water level inside the parking ramp. They do not want to drain the parking ramp water at a pace uneven to the lowering of the river crest, he said.
Although the structural integrity of the towers and the parking garage is secure, there is the possibility of damage being done to a nearby sanitary sewer line if the weight of the water level becomes unbalanced, said Tim DenHartigh, of JDH Structural Engineering.
“The sewer line is a 12-foot concrete, arch sewer that runs at a diagonal with respect to the parking garage,” DenHartigh said. “The concern is a loss of soil support around the sewer itself and damage to that sewer. By leaving the water in the garage … it helps activate the counter balance or weight for the hydrostatic pressure that’s pushing down on the other side.”
Workers are pumping about 1,000 gallons of floodwater out per minute, DenHartigh said, but it is still too early to speculate on future repairs while everything is still underwater.
City Manager Greg Sundstrom said the city and building owners are developing a draw-down plan, which would lead to a re-commissioning of the building.
For now, officials need to wait for the water level to go do down, he said. The good news is that the water level is expected to be at 18 feet by the end of Thursday. The bad news, however, is that the engineers do not know how the far they’ll need the water level to fall and have no target number.
“I can’t give you a timeline, because it depends on the environmental factors of level of the ground water and level of the river,” Sundstrom said. “We think the broad outlines are the river recedes, the ground water recedes, we get the water out of the basement, check that off. Then you move on to the building system’s re-commissioning… Once we’re done with that, then we’re ready to roll.”
In the meantime, residents who need assistance can call The Heart of West Michigan United Way’s emergency number 211. Sherri Vainavicz, 211 program manager, said she received about 100 calls so far from West Michigan residents who have been experiencing flooding problems.
Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell said the city and the Plaza Towers building owners have been in constant communication and he praised the efforts of all involved. The collaboration is strong, he said, but the project is proving to be challenging.
“This was the second building that was evacuated in the city of Grand Rapids. The Park Place Apartments were the first to be evacuated,” Heartwell said. “While we were able to relatively quickly re-inhabit that complex … this one is proving to be more challenging to us right here on the Grand River with the water levels that we’ve experienced.”
Plaza Towers officials said Thursday afternoon via Facebook that the city of Grand Rapids has given its blessing to a plan to turn on an additional pump, which means the building will be pumping 9,000 gallons of floodwater per minute.
Water in the parking garage already had receded several inches by the afternoon.
“We have scheduled cleaning crews and electrical contractors to be on standby this weekend to begin work to restore services,” the post reads. “We are working on a plan to allow limited access to vehicles as soon as possible. We will continue to provide updates on this as soon as we can gain access to this area.”
Building staff will be available at the second-floor lobby for escorted access between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. and 4-7 p.m., Friday, and noon-4 p.m., Saturday, according to the post. To pick up UPS or FedEx packages mailed since Monday, residents can call (616) 855-3335.
“We were able to restore emergency lighting in portions of the building, which has made a huge difference,” the post reads. “We have restored access to your online resident portal. We will continue to post updates on Facebook and send out email updates.”
"We are unable to provide a timeframe for allowing residents to return to their homes at this time," said Chris Knape, an Eenhoorn spokesperson. "However, drawing down the water is a major step toward being able to assess the building’s systems and develop a plan in conjunction with the city to re-open the building."