The Intercounty Drain Board, responsible for the Little Thornapple River Drain, continues to try to meet the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s requirements for restoring most of the 14-mile long drain.
The drain, part of the Thornapple River, was damaged by excessive clearing of trees in the fall of 2014, causing erosion of the banks and leaving parts of the river looking “like a war zone.”
The renewed effort to move forward explained at Monday’s meeting, will be on just one part the total restoration project; the replacement of some lost wetlands.
Barry County Drain Commissioner Jim Dull proposed using Barry County Jail inmate crews to remove wetland fill with shovels on .93 acres that was bypassed in original planning because it is not accessible to heavy equipment.
“The DEQ will be satisfied if we restore .93 acres that was not in the previous plan,” Dull said.
If that isn’t possible, Dull and Aaron Snell, from Streamside Environmental Services, will develop a wider plan and cost estimates to replace 3.6 acres of lost wetlands.
Dull, Snell and Barry County Commissioner Jon Smelker have had one “sit down” meeting with DEQ officials and Dull suggested more, saying it would be better without attorneys present.
“They get antsy with lawyers in the room,” he said. When they have a plan for the DEQ to consider,
Dull stressed that attorneys will write the legal version.
Any plan they work out will not be simple and will entail, in some cases, DEQ and Environmental Protection Agency review, inspections and approval; intercounty board review and approval, easements from property owners, permits, and more.
“It’s a multiple step process, but it’s doable,” said the board’s attorney, Tracy Hissong from Fahey, Schultz, Burzych and Rhodes.
The drain board also unanimously approved a letter of support for an application for a $70,000 Trout Unlimited Aquatic Habitat Grant to pay for restoration work from Messer to Brown roads, including stabilizing the river banks, planting trees and habitat restoration.
The grant requires a $70,000 match, which will be “in kind,” satisfied by either donations, the value of material used in the work, or donated professional services, not cash.
If approved, an acceptance notice will be sent to the drain board, but it does not bind them to accept it and the provisions must to be approved by the board. The application was sent last weekend will be decided in, “a couple of months” Snell said. //
In other business, a group of 25 volunteers from the Coldwater River Watershed Council offered to plant trees in the Messer and Brown roads area.
A letter from the board to the DEQ noting, “no quality response from the DEQ,” and asking for “more guidance,” will be sent after a board review.
The board also paid outstanding bills; $6,377.98 to the Fahey law firm and $1,886.40 to Streamside and set the next meeting for April 17 at 9 a.m. at the Central Dispatch 911 meeting room to hear a progress report from Dull.
Snell, hired by the board, provided two reconstruction plans to the DEQ in the last two years, which did not bring approval. The DEQ took the matter to the Michigan Attorney General’s Office last fall, raising the possibility of a civil suit against the board, according to Luis Saldivia, supervisor of the Water Resources Division of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality in Grand Rapids.
The Intercounty Drain Board is made up of commissioners from three counties, Dull; Ken Yonkers, from Kent County and Robert Rose, Ionia County. It is chaired by Brady Harrington, deputy Director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and chair of all intercounty drain boards.