The Watson Drain public informational meeting, which drew an estimated 225 to 250 people to the Delton Middle School gym Saturday, was billed as information only, with no decisions made and a time for public comment at the end.
Panel members were Drain District Attorney Doug Kelly, Drain Commissioner Jim Dull, Deputy Drain Commissioner Tammy Berdecia and engineers Brian Cenci and Nick Desimpelare from ENG. Inc., Engineering & Surveying.
“We will do our best to disseminate information as we go along…we may have another meeting down the road,” Kelly said.
Cenci and Desimpelare gave a two-hour presentation with extensive background of area lakes over the years.
Cenci, an engineer since 2005, said he has “worked on over 200 projects like this and this is the most challenging.”
The main causes of the flooding are historic rainfalls, especially in Southwest and Southeast Michigan, and the housing development around the lakes, he said.
He showed several examples over the years of increasing growth around area lakes, noting that every homeowner changed the equation, even if it was minute, and it was magnified by the number of changes; putting in cement driveways and larger houses taking up infiltration space.
Thursday it was announced that Lake Michigan was is at its highest level in history.
Cenci pointed out that rainfall events are cyclical, roughly every 15 to 20 years, and with the current upswing starting about 2008, he cautioned we may be in for even more frequent and heavier rainfalls before the cycle starts to wind down. The drain commission and engineers’ task is to find a cost effective, short term and long term solution to the flooding on the lakes. “Ultimately, it has to work,” he said.
Upper Crooked Lake is like a bathtub with no drain that is running over. They have to in effect, “punch hole in the tub.” But where do they put the water? They can’t send it to other lakes, deluging them. Property owners are not receptive to selling easements to property that could be used for a plan to mitigate the flooding.
Early attempts were unsuccessful for a variety of reasons; adverse environmental impacts, permitting restrictions, high cost or extensive land acquisition.
The drain district was able to get a permit to dam up a culvert under M-43 and retain water in Glasby Lake/marsh until it reached its limit.
Meanwhile the waters flooded Upper Crooked Lake homes and kept rising, forcing the use of sand bags and around the clock pumping to keep the waters out of homes and basements and generally causing havoc with home owners’ lives.
Right now, the drain commission has received a permit from EGLE, (Environment, Great Lakes and Energy) formerly the DEQ, and is boring under Delton Road to temporarily pump water from Upper Crooked Lake into a pond owned by the drain district. The long term plan calls for permanent infiltration areas to the south. Both projects are needed for permanent relief, Cenci said.
They can’t estimate the cost, but is will be substantial, he said. Permitting from state agencies are factors in the time it takes to move on any plans, though he said they were getting an expedited review of their permits. (See related story on the project’s timeline.)
If a property owner is in the Watson Drain District and thus subject to a special assessment to pay for the work, they will be notified by letter, however Cenci said property owners are not alone in paying for the mitigation; the Michigan Department of Transportation, Barry County and the four townships involved, Barry, Orangeville, Prairieville and Hope, also will pay a share.
He stressed it was not a one-time payment for homeowners, but spread on property taxes, likely over 20 years, with an option to pre-pay.
They are working on the possibility for state and federal financial assistance after the work is completed. Jim Yarger, head of Barry County Emergency Management is now assessing the damage to property for financial requests.
The panel answered 50 questions submitted before the meeting, some already explained in the presentation. Eminent domain came up, but was said to be too expensive and not a wise use of taxpayers’ money.
A recent lawsuit by several Upper Crooked Lake property owners asking the drain commission to declare the state’s eminent domain and buy their houses was recently dismissed. Several questions dealt with why a certain property in the district will have its taxes raised.
The answer is that anyone who “derives benefit” from the work on the drain will be assessed. If a property is on the lake, the way it’s used, if there are driveways, a lawn, a small or large house, its location and more are used to determine an assessment. The cost of the property does not figure in the assessment.
A comment section after the presentation brought a few more questions; the crowd earlier was asked to give their name and address on a sign-up sheet and the answers will be sent to them via e-mail or regular mail.