About 400 accessed for drain cleaningPublished 10:16am Thursday, November 12, 2009
By NORMA LERNER
Niles Daily Star
CASSOPOLIS – Action taken Monday night to establish a Birch-Williamsville Drainage District was not what the residents who live in the drainage area wanted to hear. This means that about 400 residents will be assessed to pay for the cleaning out of the drain to let dammed up water on the north side of Williamsville Road flow once more.
A graveled road in Porter Township’s northwest side has been serving as a dam for many years and is feared that it will someday fail if the pressure of the water isn’t drained away. It would flow rapidly downstream to Shavehead Lake through a watershed area. The water is backed up at the road from what residents said people used to throw their trash, old refrigerators and stoves over the edge of the road into a ravine which plugged up a drain under the road years ago.
Monday night during a meeting held at the Porter Township Hall, about 50 people showed up to voice their opinions, mostly from Birch Lake residents who questioned why they should have to be involved in the drain district to the north when the water runs south to Shavehead Lake.
There are no guardrails on the gravel road and residents mentioned that years ago, a man drowned in the backed up water as the result of a car accident. It’s several feet deep, they claimed.
Bruce Campbell, Cass County water resources commissioner, explained the drain issue under Act. 40 of 1956 that allows him to appoint a Board of Determination to determine that the drain needs cleaning. In his appointment, he named Roger Stephenson, Cass County surveyor; Jerry Salmen, of White Pigeon, a former Newberg Township clerk, and Walter Lehman, Silver Creek township clerk. All have dealt with drain water issues and have worked with state agencies. Campbell then swore them in as a board.
Campbell explained the cost is split between at-larges, meaning the townships and governmental agencies and the road commission about 30 percent is paid off the top with the balance paid by freeholders in the drain district. Campbell said the cost is usually spread over one to three years of the approximate $100,000 cost.
The next step is a full-day review at the drain office with all the information available with landowners to be noticed.
Petitioned by the Cass County Road Commission to get the drain cleaned, manager Louis Csokasy told the group it has 66 feet right of the right-of-way to work on the roads. Csokasy said he was contacted in April 2008 by a farmer who has a problem farming his field because it is always flooded. He came to the road commission at least six times and asked us what could be done. He said they weren’t going to sit there and do nothing. Csokasy said he personally went to the site, surveyed it and walked the mill pond. He personally walked the road to Williamsville. He asked the road commission board to go out there and do the same thing he did.
They walked down the ravine and tried to inspect the pipe that runs under the road at the bottom of the ravine. He explained that the road commission owns the pipe.
“Let me make that clear,” he said. “The Cass County Road Commission owns that pipe as we are responsible for that pipe and every road in the county.”
He said they replace one or two pipes a week that are plugged or rusted out for whatever reason. He said the road commission is not responsible for pipes under state highways.
Csokasy said the right-of-way is 33 feet from the center of the road and anything that is done affects the whole drainage area up above it.
“It’s not about the cost. Anything done affects the area upstream,” he said. “This is not an attempt to get you to pay for that pipe under the road.”
Williamsville Road is about 18 feet wide at the site of the dammed up water. There is partial erosion to the road, and there are no guardrails. People in the audience asked why there were no guardrails.
Engineer Todd Olin, of Comstock Park, Mich., also investigated the drainage area to where it goes and what contributes through use of a GPS. This was turned over to the drain commissioner with a map of the watershed.
He explained there are two pipes that run under Walnut Street to drain the Birch Lake drainage area but the pipe under Williamsville Road is plugged. He said if it remains as it is, the road will eventually fail. Water seeps through and under the graveled road that is dammed up causing the flood.
One resident asked why if the water from the drain area goes to Shavehead Lake, why would there be a new drain district for the Williamsville Road?
Several residents said why not just replace the plugged up pipe.
One landowner complained of the area being a mosquito “haven” from all the water. She said once there was a dead deer floating in it, and it is green and mossy with leaves all over it.
Olin answered the watershed is large and bordered by many landowners along the drain area.
Gertrude Temple, Birch Lake Association secretary, asked in a motion that a moratorium be placed on the determination board not to make a decision until more information is obtained. She read a report from the Birch Lake Association that dam inspections showed no deficiencies There was no support for her motion.
Csokasy said there are good records on the Williamsville Road, but he was unable to find when the pipe went under the road nor did nearby residents know.
“It’s been there a long time,” he said. “Our road is acting as a dam.” He said he petitioned the drain commissioner because it is a flooded field.
“There is 70 feet of water on one side,” he said. “The water is going under it. We can’t get to it. We have our road acting as a dam and another (problem) of the water coming into the area. It’s not about money.”
Resident Doug Weaver said he lived at Birch Lake more than 50 years. He said there was a three-foot creek. Twenty yeas ago all kinds of junk was dumped over the road. The road commission took out some of the junk at the time but didn’t take all of it out that was under water.
“That’s the only problem there is,” he said. “There is no problem with the Birch Lake drain.” He questioned why not pump out the ravine and fix the culvert.
Other residents heatedly blurted out similar remarks and many times spoke out of order and were told by the board of determination to take turns talking.
Following the two-hour discussion, Stephenson moved that the Birch-Williamsville Drain and drainage district is necessary and conducive to public health and welfare and that the board of determination make an order of necessity and file it with the water resources commissioner. Lehman seconded the motion.
Again Temple presented her motion on a moratorium but failed to materialize.