December 20, 2014

County in process of complying with state soil erosion act

Kevin Bunch
This private drain near Au Gres was permitted properly under the state’s soil erosion laws, with rocks and seed in place to limit erosion in spite of heavy rainfall.
Kevin Bunch
This private drain north of Au Gres, which was worked on without a permit or following the state soil erosion laws, caused flooding and erosion problems following heavy rains April 18.
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ARENAC COUNTY — While the Arenac County drain office was in violation of the state soil erosion law as of an inspection in 2011, it has since corrected all but one of those issues, with only enforcement of the law itself within the county still outstanding.

Environmental Quality Analyst Matt Siler with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality said during an inspection in 2011, he found the county drain office had several violations related to permits for several drain projects, where permits were either not obtained or obtained after construction had started. Additionally, the DEQ found a few instances where soil erosion control was not in place.

Siler said the problems with the drain office have since been addressed, as the county has kept up on its permits and has been keeping better records on erosion control and drain cleaning efforts. However, he said the Arenac County Board of Commissioners is interested in being able to enforce state law more broadly.

“Siler came up here, and he looked me in the eye and said, ‘You need to have enforcement capabilities, and if you’re not going to, we’ll bring an engineering firm up here and do it ourselves,” Commissioner Mike Snyder said.

Snyder said the county is underway on all of its obligations to bring itself in line with the state law, and County Prosecutor Curtis Broughton brought up the idea of turning the existing resolution into an ordinance to meet the state’s enforcement requirements.

The county had passed a resolution stating it would enforce the state soil erosion laws, but Broughton was concerned it was not sufficient to go after violators without being made an ordinance.

“Do you know how many people have been brought before the court for violations? Zero,” Snyder said. “The issue is that you would have to stand in front of (Soil Erosion Control Agent) Dale Zygiel, an officer of the law, and say ‘I’m not going to do this’ to come into violation.”

The county wants to make the drain commissioner’s office an approved public agency (APA) a goal which, if achieved, would mean the drain office would not have to pull permits with the building department to do work. It would still need to file reports with the DEQ, Drain Commissioner Larry Davis said.

To become an APA, Siler said the Arenac County Board of Commissioners would need to be able to enforce the state law, both for the drain office and for county residents at large.

Davis completed one step in making the department an APA when he successfully received a certificate of training, a requirement for complying with state law.

“I needed to be certified, and I am now,” Davis said. “The biggest problem was the certification, so there was a training class with me and 26 other drain commissioners, and we all passed.”

He said the drain office is currently in the process of proving it can keep proper records and file permits in a timely fashion.

Davis also agreed with a soil erosion ordinance. As an example, he said unpermitted drain work on a farm north of Au Gres may have caused permanent damage to the topsoil there. Without an ordinance, he said Zygiel is limited in enforcing the state law with the landowner who did the work.

Davis acknowledged there were instances where he failed to follow the proper permitting order, but said for the large majority of the drains he has worked on, the drain office pulled their permits properly and made sure that rocks and plants grew into place to minimize erosion.

He added farmers are still required to get a permit for soil erosion control on their property unless they file their plan through the Arenac County Soil Conservation District. In that case, the conservation district becomes the entity responsible for making sure the law is followed.

Siler said the drain office and the county as a whole is on the right track to fall into compliance with the state law.

“They’re definitely moving in the right direction,” he said. “They want to do the right thing, and they want to get into compliance with the law. It’s taken a while to get this resolved, but hopefully this will all come together.”

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