SAGINAW COUNTY — After a two-hour meeting Tuesday afternoon that included legal guidance, discussion amongst board members and a fair amount of public comment, the Youngs Intercounty Drain Board decided it needs additional time to evaluate three proposals to address longstanding flooding issues along Ditch Road in Saginaw County.
The move to postpone a decision was unanimous, and came after the board of Chairman Michael Gregg (of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development), Saginaw County Public Works Commissioner Brian Wendling and Shiawassee County Drain Commissioner Tony Newman received legal advice from attorney Stacy Hissong, of Fahey Schultz Burzych Rhodes, of Okemos.
Hissong indicated that under the current drain petition, the board can only legally move forward with one alternative: Directing the water into Saginaw County north along Stuart Road to Ditch Road, where the proposed drain would then turn west and follow Ditch Road under Corunna (State) Road before crossing into adjacent properties and feeding into the Shiawassee River.
The other two alternatives — directing all of the water east to the Bear Creek Drain, and splitting the water in both directions, with half traveling west along Ditch Road and half going east to Bear Creek — would require additional petitions, according to Hissong, which could be brought to the board by affected property owners, or by officials in Chesaning Township or New Haven Township.
The board will meet at 1:30 p.m. March 10 at the Shiawassee County Drain Commissioner’s Office, 1024 N. Shiawassee St., to discuss challenges involved with pursuing each alternative.
“I think today was a step forward, albeit, you know, relatively small in a sense that we now have at least a clear direction of what we can do legally, what types of petitions may or may not be needed, you know, that in itself gives us some very clear direction,” Wendling said. “Although it doesn’t seem like a whole lot of progress, it really was progress. We can take (this information) back, digest it.
“The residents here, along with the communities, who have the potential to file petitions have also got an awful lot to think about,” Wendling continued. “They’ve got as much or more to think about than we do frankly because if anybody out there wants something other than what’s currently been petitioned, the ball is in their court.”
Flooding along Ditch Road — which runs east and west — between Corunna (State) Road and Stuart Road has been an issue for decades, according to Wendling. Water flowing into Saginaw County from Shiawassee County — as well as surface water in Saginaw County — has caused flooding and significant property damage.
In 2019, the drain board submitted a request to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) — formerly the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) — for permit approval to allow a proposed plan to create an intercounty drain.
The initial proposal would have directed water into Saginaw County north along Stuart Road to Ditch Road, where the drain would then turn west and follow Ditch Road under Corunna (State) Road before crossing into adjacent properties and feeding into the Shiawassee River.
The board later withdrew its permit application for the project after receiving direction from EGLE to make adjustments to the design and/or consider alternatives.
During an Oct. 15, 2019, meeting, Wendling discussed the idea of directing the water toward the existing Bear Creek Drain, just east of Stuart Road, as an alternative.
On Dec. 16, 2019, Alan Boyer, of LSG Engineers and Surveyors, presented the preliminary designs of both the initial Ditch Road alternative and the Bear Creek option, while also offering a third solution: Splitting the water at the intersection of Stuart Road and Ditch Road, with half of the water going west along Ditch Road all the way to the Shiawassee River and half of the water going east along Ditch Road into the Bear Creek Drain.
Alternative 1, would require 21 easements, with estimated construction costs hovering around approximately $835,000, according to Boyer. Alternative 2, would cost $508,000 and alternative 3, would cost about $678,000.
“From a legal standpoint, I think with each alternative there is a pathway, a legal pathway through proceedings to get to the alternative,” Hissong said. “It may require some additional proceedings (choosing one over another), but it is possible.”
With respect to alternatives 2 and 3, an additional petition would need to be brought to the Youngs Intercounty Drain Board, according to Hissong.
“You cannot perform any improvements on the Bear Creek Drain through a Youngs Intercounty Drain petition,” Hissong said. “It cannot be done. I’ve consulted with bond counsel and they agree, they will not move forward on a proceeding where you do improvements to the Bear Creek Drain under a Youngs Intercounty Drain proceeding.”
In order for alternative 2 or 3 to be an option, the board would have to receive one of two petitions: A maintenance and improvement petition on the Bear Creek Drain that would convert it into a separate intercounty drain, or a consolidation petition that would combine the Bear Creek and Youngs districts into one unified drainage district under one name.
A maintenance and improvement petition could be filed by five property owners liable for an assessment on the proposed Bear Creek Intercounty Drain, or by Chesaning Township or New Haven Township, according to Hissong. A consolidation petition would require the signatures of 50 property owners in the affected area, she continued, though it could also be filed by Chesaning or New Haven Township.
“If it goes down Bear Creek and it’s not a consolidation petition, then five property owners liable for an assessment could petition,” Hissong said. “It would infer that anybody receiving benefit from the Bear Creek (upgrades) could petition for that, assuming it’s going to be converted into an intercounty drain, so it would be possible that, not anybody in the current Youngs Intercounty Drainage District could petition, but it’s possible it could be expanded who could petition beyond what’s currently the Bear Creek drainage district.”
Several residents questioned who would be responsible for paying for the project. Since a proposal hasn’t been selected, Hissong said the board is unable to determine exactly how the financing would shake out.
“Is it possible that the Bear Creek people would pay nothing for this project? It’s possible,” Hissong said, “but I don’t want anybody in this room to walk out thinking that’s a guarantee, because the engineering could come out that you are better off than you are now depending on what that ultimate project looks like.”
Chuck Weisenberger, a farmer with property north of Ditch Road along the Bear Creek Drain, said the board can’t put off a decision much longer.
“Every time it rains, it floods on Ditch Road and it goes just across the fields. People that try to farm for a living, we cannot continually have rivers going through our farms, and it happens every year,” he said. “We have to protect our farm ground, we just can’t let it cross Ditch Road and go, because that’s what it does. We’ve got to keep it in the drainage ditches. I mean that’s our livelihood, it’s our farm. Something’s got to be done, I hope you just don’t keep putting this off. We need to get something done.”
Newman indicated after the meeting that he’s confident a decision will be coming soon.
“I think we’ve got some progress, all we’ve got to do is go back, talk with Alan (Boyer), look at these alternatives and I think next meeting we’ll be ready to come up with one,” Newman said.