October 31, 2014

Clam Drain project not dead despite townships’ rejections

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ADAMS TWP. — A resolution to move forward on the Clam Drain dredging project was turned down by the Adams Township Board Feb. 13, making it the second township last week to reject the project. But the project can still move forward according to Drain Commissioner Larry Davis.

Adams Township’s board unanimously rejected the resolution two days after the Deep River Township Board did the same. Over recent months, township boards in Standish and Arenac townships have also voted against the project resolution, with Arenac Township passing a resolution stating it would not approve any drain resolutions in the foreseeable future.

Davis said despite township boards voting the resolution down, the project is not dead.

“Right now, it’s going to be up to the individual property owners along the drain and what they want to do,” he said. “They have the right to petition it. I also have a resolution from Lincoln Township, which has the largest percentage of the people on it.”

Five property owners living in the drainage district petitioning for the project, or Lincoln Township petitioning the project to move on would allow it to move on to the board of determination step in the process, Davis said.

“I don’t foresee five property owners not petitioning it, because they’ve got problems,” he said.

Opposition from the townships and taxpayers in the county has been for a number of reasons. Arenac Township Supervisor James Daly said his township rejected the resolution in the fall because the drain also runs through Bay County, but residents there will not be assessed for the dredging. Deep River Township officials in January — when they tabled the resolution that they eventually voted down — said taxpayers were fatigued with other drain assessments on top of their taxes.

Deep River Board members also said there was cost uncertainty, which was echoed by Standish Township Board members.

Because the project would see the drain, which is in the Pine River, being dredged from the state’s boat launch out into the Saginaw Bay, there have also been questions about why the Department of Natural Resources is not pitching in for the project. Adams Township Supervisor Dan Fisk said Feb. 13 that there is a general consensus that the project is cleaning out a boat launch and not maintaining a county drain.

“Pretty much all of the township residents that I’ve talked to are against supporting the petition,” he said.

Feb. 17 the Standish City Council also passed a resolution opposing the project. Mayor Mark Winslow said he had doubts about the projected cost of $200,000 to $250,000.

“I don’t think the drain commissioner has a real grasp of what his costs are going to be out there,” he said.

Davis told the Independent in January that he agreed the DNR had an interest in the project getting done, but said the state would not pony up money for it. He said even though the project begins at the boat launch and ends in the Saginaw Bay, it is still the county’s responsibility.

“Just because they won’t pay, that’s immaterial as far as I’m concerned, because it’s a county drain,” he said in January.

While he could have done the project with a petition from five property owners, Davis said he tried to get the townships on board to eliminate the board of determination step, which he said will add about $20,000 to the project.

“If they pass a petition, it could add $20,000 to the project because they will have to reassess the district,” he said.

He added that he also feels there should be more people involved in drain work decisions so township boards are aware of the issues in their townships.

If the townships with 20 percent or more of the drainage district living in them would have gotten on board, Davis said the project would have to be done and paid back in two years.

“In order to do maintenance in excess of $5,000 a mile, you have to have a resolution, and that maintenance has to be paid back in two years,” he said. “And it takes the townships with 20 percent or more to pass a resolution.”

Now, for the project to continue, the board of determination cannot be passed over, Davis said. A board of determination is made up of an independent three-person panel that is appointed by the drain commissioner or the chairman of the county commission if the drain commissioner does not want to appoint its members.

“The first thing that would happen with a board of determination, they would rule whether it was necessary or not necessary,” Davis said. “If they ruled it was necessary, they would reconvene and determine which lands should be added or subtracted.”

With petitions rather than township resolutions, Davis said the assessment can be spread out over any number of years deemed necessary by the board of determination, rather than over two years.

Davis said the project will take longer to complete than he would like by forming the board of determination and holding an apportionment hearing where taxpayers can dispute their assessment. He said he is concerned that could cause another ice jam, which was experienced in the Clam Drain last year.

“I think this spring, and I hope I’m wrong, but with all the ice I think we’re going to see why it has to be done,” he said.

Members of the public in attendance at the Adams Township meeting seemed upset with the fact that the project could move forward despite resistance from several townships. However, Tim Hagley, an Arenac Township resident who has been a vocal opponent of the project, said the townships’ decisions would be taken into consideration by the board of determination.

“Your support or non-support of a resolution for them does bear weight with the board of determination,” he said.

Davis said there are 4,900 parcels in the Clam Drain drainage district.

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