Heavy rains stress basements, contractors try to keep up

Church organizes fundraiser today for Felch woman

Becky Bishop and Blanche Lantz stand outside the Lantz house where a new wall was constructed after flooding destroyed the Felch basement. Theresa Proudfit/Daily News Photo

FELCH — The heavy rains regularly pummeling the region this summer have produced a flood of basement problems, at a pace and volume that contractors say they’ve never experienced before.

Blanche Lantz of Felch Township had a load-bearing foundation wall on her home near Norway Lake collapse inward June 13 when an estimated 6 inches of rain turned the sandy clay soil to soup.

“It was very scary,” the 82-year-old said. “When I looked down there and saw all that mud, I just sat down and cried.”

Her grandson’s photos afterwards showed mud and daylight visible in the basement through the washed-out cement cinderblocks.

It left her home unsafe to live in, she said. Estimated cost for repairs that would allow her to return: $18,000.

Flood damage is shown in Blanche Lantz’s basement. Jeffery Miller Photo

Mark Esterline of Speciality Basement Systems in Ishpeming said he hasn’t seen a basement wall give way like that in years — and then only downstate, never while he’s worked in the Upper Peninsula and northern Wisconsin.

Lantz, who lost her husband two decades ago, had no insurance on the two-bedroom house, though there’s no guarantee it would have covered this type of water-related damage, anyway.

What Lantz does have is friends — lots of friends.

Today, Zion Lutheran Church will host a fundraiser for Lantz from 3 to 7 p.m. at the community center on M-69 in Felch.

A spaghetti meal will be served, with tickets $7 for adults and $4 for children; those younger than 5 can eat for free.

The event also will have drawings for gift baskets, a quilt made by Zion’s quilting group and other prizes, a make-an-offer rummage sale and a bake sale.

Church leaders hope to draw at least 300 people and raise enough to cover most of the repairs, said Bob Mattson, chairman of the church council.

“I know she doesn’t have much money,” Mattson said of Lantz, adding, “it’s the good, Christian thing to do.”

Repairs already are far enough along that Lantz is back home. The tumbled wall has been restored, but final cleanup and soil replacement remains to ensure it stays in place, Esterline said. He expects to finish the job next week.

He’s playing catchup as much as he can in July, after a June that averaged 30 to 40 calls a week from people with cracked and leaking foundations or flooded basements.

“This was from people that have never had a water problem before, or maybe it was damp but now they have standing water,” Esterline said.

Many turned to him after others in the business warned it could be August or September before someone could even come look at the situation, he said.

In an average summer, he might have 20 to 25 basement waterproofing jobs lined up, he said. This year, he expects to do twice that, close to 50.

If the weather pattern holds, that number could rise, Esterline said.

“It just seems like the rain is coming every three days,” he said, “and not just a rain shower, but an inch or more.”

National Weather Service records show Norway in Dickinson County had 6.86 inches of rainfall in June, twice as much as the 3.48 in an average year, said Keith Cooley, a forecaster with the NWS office in Negaunee Township.

Northern Dickinson and parts of Iron County are thought to have received more, though exact figures are not available for those areas. Rivers and lakes in both counties had water levels well above normal through much of the month.

The trend of high precipitation has been “pretty widespread” through the Upper Peninsula, Cooley said, and the long-term predictions call for it to continue into winter.

Compounding the situation this summer is near-record water levels on both Lake Superior and Lake Michigan that kept rivers and streams from being able to drain all that extra water quickly, said Linda Hansen, Upper Peninsula District Floodplain Engineer with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s Water Resources Division.

In June, Lake Superior was only .6 feet below the all-time maximum high recorded in 1986, while Lake Michigan was 1.6 feet below its highest known level, she said.

That makes wetlands, backwaters and border areas even more saturated, unable to easily absorb the next round of rain, she explained.

As underground water tables rose, the calls grew, Esterline said. His two three-men crews have worked constantly, enough he halted advertising in July because “I couldn’t keep up with it.”

His cousin in Powers and brother in Gwinn, also in the basement business, are similarly stretched thin.

But Esterline would like to get to as many as he can before any smaller problems caused by this soggy year potentially mushroom into something more severe, as happened with the Lantz home.

“Preventive maintenance,” he said, “goes a long way.”

Betsy Bloom can be reached at 906-774-2772, ext. 40, or bbloom@ironmountaindailynews.com.