Bullhook creek has always been a main part of Havre's geography. In fact, the area that is now the city of Havre was once called Bullhook Bottoms.
As the city grew, buildings and streets were built over the creek.
This year, with near-record rains, there are concerns by property owners and city officials about the safety of streets and buildings built over Bullhook.
A cave-in on 3rd Street happened early this month. The street is blocked off and the creek can be seen flowing beneath the surface. A smaller cave-in happened on 6th Avenue between 1st and 2nd streets.
Property owners say they are concerned, and one property owner has filed suit against the city.
City takes action
City council has voted to spend $30,000, $15,000 of city funds and $15,000 from a grant, to hire engineers to take a look at Bullhook.
This is part of the capital improvement plan from City Council to revamp and restore Havre's infrastructure.
Once the city hires the engineers, the plan is to start the "infrastructure planning" Dec. 1, and to finish by March 31.
The creek has seen an unusual amount of rain this year. According to the National Weather Service, the Havre area has had 17.31 inches of rain since Jan. 1. This is 7.06 inches above Havre's average of 10.25 inches. Last year, at this time, Havre received 11.43 inches. Compared with past recorded years, from Jan. 1 to Oct. 25, this year holds seventh place for highest precipitation, though this rank may change from Oct. 25 to the end of the year.
Dave Peterson, the city's director of public works, said the preliminary engineer report will take a look at the Bullhook Channel to find any other weak points and places that need attending to in addition to what needs to be done to repair the current cave-ins the creek has caused.
"What they'll do is once they get engineers to submit proposals, (whoever is hired) will look at the channel and give their assessment of the conditions," Peterson said. "They will come up with possible solutions to update and repair the system."
Peterson said the engineers will also come up with a timeline of when the projects will be completed. He added that, at this time, there is no way to guess how long the inspection and repairs will take, and there is no guess as to what the cost of such repairs will be.
Bullhook takes stormwater in Havre and runoff from the Bear Paw Mountains and surrounding areas through Havre and empties into the Milk River.
Peterson said the channel for Bullhook Creek was established before the city was incorporated and that the city grew around and over the channel.
"There's been a lot of modifications since the city was started," Peterson said.
He guesses the engineers will find deterioration in the concrete pipes and metal culverts in the channel and that one of bigger concerns with the Bullhook is all the structures that go across it.
"We don't want vehicles falling through the street," Peterson said. "We want to make there are no areas that are losing capacity."
Peterson also said that the quality of construction of these structures over the Bullhook play a large part in whether or not they will need to be repaired. Some of the structures are inadequately made; either for lack of lasting materials and technologies due to the time they were constructed, or in some cases, bad construction.
"The quality of construction plays a large part in how well the structures are doing," Peterson said.
Property owners responsibility?
People with private property over and around the Bullhook may be responsible for repairs; assuming the engineers are even allowed to inspect their portion of the channel, he said.
"It will have to be discussed," Peterson said in regard to the extent the engineers will inspect private properties.
"We'll have to make sure what we can and can't do legally. If we go in and do our analysis, the report will be available for everyone to look at and decide what they need to do from there."
Owners of private properties would basically be responsible for any repairs or maintenance suggested by the preliminary engineer report.
"As far as my understanding, everything on private property is their responsibility," Mayor Tim Solomon said.
Anxiously awaiting the report
"I would like to see that report," said Woodrow Hoffman, a property owner near the 3rd Street cave-in. "It goes under one of my bedrooms and under my garage."
Hoffman said though he knew the Bullhook was there when he bought his home, it was not mentioned in his property sale agreement. He added that he did not know the Bullhook was going to be a problem when he bought the property.
The bedroom that sits above the Bullhook has a slant to it and, since the cave-in of 3rd Street, Hoffman is guessing it may be due to the creek.
"I think it's the city's problem. If they find it's poorly constructed, they should do something about it," Hoffman said. "I am worried, and can't wait to see this report."
Jacob F. Lorang and Lorang Land have sued the city over Bullhook's condition.
The defendant, the city of Havre, is being sued for "taking affirmative action" with the Bullhook after the heavy rains of July 8, that backfired.
"Following the rain ... the Defendant took affirmative action and piled boulders in Bullhook immediately adjacent to Plaintiff Lorang's property," the lawsuit says.
After this action, Lorang spoke to the city about water around his property and was eventually told it was his "problem for having a property located on top of Bullhook," the lawsuit contends.
After the Aug. 2 rain, water could be seen bubbling up from Bullhook outside Lorang's property before running into his building.
"The rocks the Defendant placed into Bullhook caused damage by restricting the flow of Bullhook," the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit is for damages to the plaintiff's property, which he believes was caused by the city's actions, according to the lawsuit.
Bullhook runs under 14th Street parallel to 5th Avenue.
Lorang's lawyer, his wife Lindsay A. Lorang, said she would not comment about the lawsuit and neither would her client.
Solomon and Peterson were unaware today and Thursday, respectively, that the lawsuit had been filed.
MDT is unaware of problems
The section of Bullhook under 5th Avenue falls under the jurisdiction of the Montana Department of Transportation.
"As far as I know, there are no problems with 5th Avenue and Bullhook," said Matt Ladenburg, the maintenance chief of the Havre area for the MDT. "No one has said anything to me about engineers coming in to look at Bullhook."
There is currently a cave-in on 3rd Street, close to the 5th Avenue intersection and one between 1st and 2nd streets on 6th Avenue.