November 26, 2014

Board of determination rules Big Creek Drain project unnecessary

Tim Barnum
Fran Semenick, center, reads letters submitted in regards to the Big Creek Drain project while serving as chairman of the board of determination. Also pictured are board members Dave Hertzberg and John Huber.
Tim Barnum
Residents pack the Au Gres Township Hall for the board of determination hearing.
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Au GRES TWP. — After hearing input from many people living in the Big Creek Drainage District April 29, a three-member board of determination ruled that a drain project proposed by the Arenac County Drain Commission was unnecessary.

The board of determination held the public hearing at the Au Gres Township Hall, which was packed with many property owners in the Big Creek district. While a few people did say they supported the project, the majority of the people who spoke at the meeting expressed that they did not want a large project to be done, but instead preferred that drain taxes currently collected to maintain the drain be better spent.

According to Michigan’s drain code, to spend more than $5,000 per mile on drain work, a drain commission needs to hold a board of determination and follow other procedures prior to assessing taxpayers for drain work. However, some residents at the April 29 meeting said they do not believe that proper maintenance — at $5,000 per mile — was being performed.

“I do not recall there ever being any work done on this drain, no maintenance — anything,” said Carol Tremble, who said she owns 40 acres in the drainage district.

Glen Rice, of Arenac Township, said he felt the problems with the drain could be fixed with the taxes collected for maintenances, and that people in the district did not know enough to support the project.

“One, there’s not enough information,” he said. “Two, what they did give, does not constitute a major dig whatsoever.”

Drain Commissioner Larry Davis said maintenance money had been used to improve the drain. He said work on the drain, which is 11 miles long and has more than 25,000 acres from 1,408 parcels draining into it, has focused on working back from the Saginaw Bay.

“We took the approach when I first got in office of cleaning out the mouth of the drain,” he said.

Davis said the drain has had trees and brush cleared out of it, and had some sand removed, up to Lentner Road in Au Gres Township.

“To go past that point, we can’t do it on $5,000 a mile,” he said.

Prior to public comment being heard, Ron Hansen, an engineer with the Spicer Group, showed photos of an inspection completed in 2012. Photos showed trees and logs in the drain, as well as eroded banks.

“There are areas of the drain that have not received maintenance for many, many years,” he said. “The drain primarily flows through agricultural and residential areas. There are portions of the drain that very obstructed by trees, brush and deadfall.”

“There’s a significant amount of bank erosion in the middle section of the drain,” Hansen continued.

The inspection was completed after the Turner Township Board petitioned to have the project completed in 2011. At the board of determination, however, Turner Township Clerk Denise Gates said the board was walking back its support, and that she opposed the project.

“We have minimal properties that are going to be involved with this drain project, however it’s three years later, nothing’s been done on the drain,” she said. “Our board is now wondering why the other townships weren’t approached before now.”

“Turner Township would like another opportunity to look at this project,” Gates continued. “We would like to meet with our residents and get our residents’ input.”

The Big Creek drainage district includes Au Gres, Arenac, Turner, Mason and Clayton townships. The three members of the board of determination were Dave Hertzberg, Fran Semenick and John Huber.

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