Drain commissioners look to reduce costs for Budd cleaning
ARENAC COUNTY — The Budd Intercounty Drain Commission got an update on the Budd Drain cleaning project by engineers from Spicer Group Feb. 4, and looked for ways to reduce the high cost of the project.
The project is estimated to cost an estimated $700,000 if the drain is cleaned and repaired all the way out to the Saginaw Bay, but project engineer Ron Hansen, with Spicer Group, said they could save time and money by not working with the portion east of Sandy Drive near the bay, below the Saginaw Bay’s ordinary high water mark.
Hansen said working on that portion would require getting permits and testing through the Department of Environmental Quality, which can end up being expensive and time-consuming.
“This is a part where you’d need to do sediment testing, and if you found contamination, you would need to have restrictive covenants,” Hansen said. Restrictive covenants prevent certain uses of property, either for safety, aesthetic, or environmental reasons.
When the Arenac County Drain Commission was working on the Stone Drain in Arenac and Au Gres townships last April, DEQ permits and tests more than doubled the price tag from an estimated $12,000 to about $28,000. Hansen anticipated substantial savings from not dealing with the DEQ on the Budd Drain project, and Davis said eliminating the DEQ permits should save about $18,000.
The other major issue driving up the cost of the project is culverts, Arenac Drain Commissioner Larry Davis said, as there are quite a few along the Budd that will need to be replaced. One culvert, which passes under railroad tracks in Standish Township, will be paid for entirely by the railroad company that owns the track, but other than one culvert owned by the county, the rest are all owned by private properties.
Hansen said for many of the old culverts, simply cleaning them out will accelerate the rate of decay of the abutments around them, eventually causing them to collapse. He recommended, if they are not replaced, that the landowner be alerted to their condition and that if they fall apart, it will be counted as an obstruction.
“There are culverts that are too high up and undersized, and those have no option — we need to remove them to make the drain function. Most of those are in the Sand Ridge area, and we can’t make the project work without doing that,” Hansen said. “Some others are OK size- and elevation-wise, but they are in poor condition. I also recommended replacing those culverts as well.”
The hope, Davis said, is that landowners will look to split the cost of culvert repairs where possible with their neighbors, or work with the drain commissions to find a way to reduce the price.
Hansen said any cost savings on the culverts would likely come from conversations with individual property owners on how best to modify each specific one, and thus are unknown at this time.
Arenac County Commissioner Bob Luce asked the board if it would be possible to avoid the Sand Ridge region and all the property owners there who want to see the land undisturbed, but Hansen said the cost of digging a new path for the drain makes it simply unfeasible.
The estimated cost also includes the price of rock to put alongside the drain to help prevent erosion. Davis said in the past, the Arenac County Road Commission has given his office permission to get limestone from their quarry free of charge — an offer he said he would see about for this project. The limestone was used on the Sims Drain, among others, he said.
The rock is only one portion of the materials needed to control erosion, as Hansen told the board they would need seeds for plants to hold soil in place and erosion-control fabric for sandier areas where plants are unable to take root.
Hansen said one cost the board cannot avoid is permitting from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which uses a different measure for the high water mark of the Lake Huron waterfront.
“I would like to get feedback from the board on the idea that we eliminate the work at the ordinary high water mark, and generally keep the plan the same with the rest of it, with the idea that if changes to the culverts need to happen from individual conversations with property owners, we could modify the culvert design,” Hansen said. “I think once people see what the price of the culvert is, they’ll say they either want it or they don’t.”
The total cost savings will not be known until after the board has more solid numbers to work with.
Davis also had concerns with people who put up foot bridges to cross the drain with ORVs without getting a permit for them, but Michael Gregg, water resources manager with the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, said without the bridges people would just drive through the drain, damaging it within months.
The next meeting of the intercounty drain board will be March 6 at the Arenac County courthouse at 10 a.m., and will be when the bidletting process begins. The process will include a 30-day period for landowners to give feedback to the drain commissioners.
The Budd Drain, which runs through Lincoln, Standish, and Pinconning townships, has not been cleaned since the 1920s due running through both Arenac and Bay counties, and over the decades it has fallen into disrepair. Seventy-three percent of the drain runs through Arenac County, and as such it is responsible for 73 percent of the cost. Bay County will cover the remaining 27 percent.
The rest of the project will consist of cleaning the drain from top to bottom, Hansen said. Trees and debris would be removed from the drain banks, sediment from the bottom of the drain would be dug out, and the banks would be reshaped.
Arenac County Commission Jeff Trombley acknowledged that the project would be a tough sell for some of his constituents.
“In my district, the farmers seem to be okay with it, but the people who have less of an interest in having their ground drained are up in arms,” Trombley said. “They know it’s going to be expensive, and they don’t really want a lot of extra property taxes.”