November 24, 2014

AuGres River, harbor could be dredged to improve drainage

Project would triple drainage district assessment

By Tim Barnum|Staff writer
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ARENAC COUNTY — The Arenac County Drain Commission is developing plans to dredge, or clear the bottom, of the AuGres River in an effort to control flooding.

“The AuGres River has 21 drains flowing into it. It services 15,506 acres. 80-percent of that’s farmland, 19-percent is forest and one-percent is residential,” said Arenac County Drain Commissioner Larry Davis. “It was last done (dredged) in 1981 and since that time, the sand traps and everything has closed in. It has to be completely redone.”

Davis added the river dredging by the Drain Commission would clean the river from the bridge in AuGres on US-23 north to Turner Road. He also says he is working with the Army Corps of Engineers and Congressman Bart Stupak’s (D-Menominee) office to have the Corps dredge the river from the AuGres harbor to the US-23 bridge.

“Basically the Corps is getting $5 million for dredging in Michigan,” said Nick Choate, spokesperson for Stupak’s office. “It will be up to them how much money they’ll spend on the project.”

Choate says the $5 million was part of a recently passed fiscal year 2009 omnibus appropriations bill.

However, Davis says the drain commission’s portion of the project wouldn’t come without cost to the public.

“To do the project, we plan on spending approximately $500,000. … To spend that amount of money, I will more than likely have to triple the present assessment,” he said, adding the current assessment is $1 per acre for farmland, the majority of the AuGres River’s drainage district. Davis also says the assessment is currently being projected to last for ten years and will also provide $22,000 – $25,000 of additional maintenance funds per year, while generating $50,000 per year to pay off a loan for the project.

“After I have the total cost put together, everyone in that district will receive a letter about board of review (regarding the drainage district),” Davis said.

Currently, Davis says a final cost hasn’t been determined, but he did say that along with contractors bidding for the project, banks will be bidding on the loan, so the drain commission can select from multiple lenders to assure the lowest interest rate for the project. He added the loan would have to be approved by the Arenac County Board of Commissioners.

The concept of tripling the assessment hasn’t been highly scrutinized or criticized so far, he said.

“I’ve had two informational meetings already. The consensus of people at these meetings is that this is a project that desperately has to be done,” he said, adding the informational meetings were in Turner and Whitney townships and approximately 15 farmers were present. “The farmers, they’re wanting this. … The farmers are the ones that are going to be there talking to the engineers.

“Everyone of those (farmers) know where there’s different problem and know how to fix it. … They’re the ones who stand to lose the most.”

A third informational meeting will be held in the Arenac County Courthouse in the 23rd Circuit Courtroom from 4 – 6 p.m. on March 24.

“The farmers, the people that are affected by the river, will have a chance to tell the engineers what’s happening,” Davis said.

He also says controlling the river’s flooding could provide several benefits to townships in the river’s district, which include Sims, Whitney, AuGres and Turner townships.

“It prevents crop loss, erosion,” he said. “When the water lies in the road ditches, the road bed softens.”

At the prior informational meetings, Davis says the public brainstormed about drainage and flooding issues; and a way to remedy them, and he says the issues all had one common denominator – the river.

“Every conversation would start with a little drain and end with the AuGres River,” he said. “It’s a living river. It creates silt, it grows trees, it grows brush, and you have to maintain it.”

Because it has been nearly 30 years since the river was last dredged, Davis says funds available for maintenance on multiple drains that empty in the AuGres River haven’t been utilized.

“Out of 21 drains, eight of them I’ve got money in those accounts to make them better,” he said. “It’s kind of silly to make them better when they have nowhere else to go.”

Before the assessment is tripled, Davis says it must be approved by at least one of the four townships in the district or petitioned. He is hoping to have to project underway in August.

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