October 24, 2014

Drain commissioner seeks Pine River dredging

Reapportionment in the works for Dead Branch Drain

Kevin Bunch
An ice jam was cleared at the mouth of the Pine River Feb. 11. It was caused by low water levels, and Drain Commissioner Larry Davis was concerned it could cause flooding if another flash thaw occurred. Davis is now hoping to dredge the river mouth to help prevent the problem from happening again.
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STANDISH TWP. — Due to record-low water levels in Lake Huron, the Pine River is facing flooding dangers from ice jams unless it is dredged, according to Drain Commissioner Larry Davis.

What’s more, because the river was ruled a county drain by a probate court in 1898, the county is responsible for keeping it cleared, Davis said, and is liable for any damage caused by an ice jam.

The mouth of the river faced just that problem around Feb. 10, when a large chunk of ice had jammed there near the Department of Natural Resources boat launch. With the jam cleared, Davis has turned his attention to getting the drain back on the tax rolls and dredged to prevent another occurrence.

“There’s just no place for the ice to go since the water is so low,” Davis said during an Omer City Council meeting Feb. 26. “It just jams at the mouth.”

Davis said that if a flood occurred due to an ice jam, any flooded areas could be declared a flood zone by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which would require property owners to purchase flood insurance.

While the area that needs work is fairly small — he estimated it at about a mile and a half — a dredging project could cost about $150,000. The drainage district is large, however, and includes land in Arenac, Adams, Deep River, Standish, and Lincoln townships, as well as the city of Standish. He is estimating the cost of the project to be less than a dollar an acre.

Davis met with representatives from the townships Feb. 26 to apprise them of the situation. He said they all seemed to agree that the DNR should also be responsible for a portion of the cost, since their boat launch is there.

“I think the townships feel that the DNR, with their ramp down there, should also be responsible for a certain amount of the cost,” Davis said. “Since they will be providing public access to the Saginaw Bay for all the people in the state of Michigan, I agree with the supervisors that the DNR should be responsible for some of the cost.”

The DNR has funds allocated this year for dredging public boat launches and harbors that are facing problems due to the water levels, and Davis said he is working with Rep. Joel Johnson (R-Clare) and the Arenac County Board of Commissioners to put in a formal request for some of that funding as soon as possible.

He is also working with the Department of Environmental Quality to see what other cost-sharing options there are, adding that a local property owner whose structures would be wiped out in case of an ice jam flood has offered some of his land as a storage site for the dredged soil.

During the Standish City Council meeting Feb. 18, City Manager Curt Hillman expressed skepticism that the ice jam needed to be cleared, adding that he understood that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told them it was just something to keep an eye on. Mayor Mark Winslow said he had issues paying for the work if it was unnecessary.

Hillman said he had met with the Corps alongside Davis and County Commissioner Mike Snyder. Snyder said that with the water only 18 inches deep, the county would need to dredge for it to flow properly, and told the Independent he was concerned that with low water in the lake, the ice and boats could have trouble getting out into the Saginaw Bay even after that.

Adding another layer of difficulty to the project is that the Pine River has not been on the tax rolls since about 1925, Davis said, and will likely need a whole new roll developed — a task he expects will be labor-intensive.

“It’s not going to be an easy roll to develop,” Davis said. “I imagine that’s why back in 1925 when they did whatever they needed to do there, like so many of the projects done then, it was done with revenue-sharing money. They just paid for it and went on their way, and now revenue sharing money is a thing of the past.”

“I don’t see the water coming back anytime soon, so it will be an ongoing problem unless we dredge it,” he added. “So we spent the money to get the ice out, and have no way to get that money back, so we will have to develop that roll anyway.”

Old tax rolls have caused Davis anther headache, as he hopes to update the Dead Branch Drain’s 90-odd-year-old apportionments.

During the Omer City Council meeting on Feb. 26, he said during work on the Dead Branch a couple years ago, he realized the apportioned amounts for each property were off.

“I have had a couple complaints from people two and a half miles away with 40 acres of land paying the same as someone right on the drain with 40 acres pays,” he said.

However, since by law he needs to use the apportioned rolls for any drain work, he went ahead with the historical amounts. Davis said he is holding off on additional work on the drain until it can be properly reapportioned. While he expects to still receive the same amount of money after the reapportionment, he thinks it will be more fairly balanced out.

The amount someone with property in the drainage district should pay is based on benefit received, which in turn is based on a number of factors, including elevation, distance from the drain, field tiling, and locations of other drains. He noted another nearby drain — the Tom Drain — may have been constructed after the Dead Branch, since it does not seem to factor into its current rolls.

He hopes to have the reapportionment done in the spring or summer, before any further assessment is done on the Dead Branch. Davis said he is planning to have a day in the spring where property owners can come in, speak with an engineer, and discuss their new apportioned amount.

“Some people will pay a lot less, and others will pay more,” Davis said.

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