Pokagon Band details housing plans

Published 1:34 pm Thursday, August 21, 2003

By By JOHN EBY / Niles Daily Star
DOWAGIAC -- Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians' Dailey Road development of 17 1,400-square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bathroom bungalows for elders utilizes natural topography, revives an oak and hickory forest and incorporates a prairie.
Wildflowers were choked out by a dense canopy in the wooded area of the 320 acres that was starving of forest floor of sunlight.
Invasive species are being cleared out in favor of native vegetation, which also includes oaks, aspen and beech. Opening up the canopy should allow lower plants to proliferate.
Clustering the housing development in a confined area protects open space.
This will be one of the first such projects in southwest Michigan and is believed to be among a handful in Michigan using a concept that has been popular in Colorado.
Roots from native plants can assist in water management. Penetrating deeply into the ground helps promote more "permeability" in the soil. Organic carbon found in root mass helps strip out nutrients that are a fallout from rain.
Another proposed strategy is an on-site wastewater management system that eliminates bringing in urban infrastructure to the rural area.
The tribe scheduled a groundbreaking for Sept. 5 in the area of LaGrange Township purchased between Mathews and Peavine streets near Southwestern Michigan College.
Pokagon Band officials, including Interim Tribal Operations Officer H.T. "Tim" Fenderbosch, Environmental Coordinator Mark H. Parrish, Housing Director Troland V. "Troy" Clay, Building Official Jeff Fullhart of the Pokagon Band Housing Department, Thomas E. Ennis, director of ecological engineering for Conservation Design Forum in Elmhurst, Ill., and Matt Davis of another design partner, Wightman and Associates of Benton Harbor, gathered at the Tribal Council lodge on Sink Road to highlight the ecological emphasis.
Parts of the Pokagon Band property in agricultural production will probably remain farmland for the foreseeable future.
The layout scatters the homes around a loop-shaped neighborhood set back from Dailey Road "that reflects building within the contours of the property. We're not moving any more dirt than we have to. It's set out by nature itself and built around the way the property flows," Clay said.
The Pokagon Band incorporated sustainable practices and techniques into the Dailey Road Housing Development to help meet the goals of the Dowagiac River Watershed Management Plan.
A detailed topographic survey conducted on the property was one of the first things accomplished. That map and a biological survey on the property were used to look at native vegetation which will also be part of development activity.
Techniques incorporated into the development emphasize preserving and protecting water resources, including restoration of the original ecology.
The northeast corner a visitor first drives into has had the forest thinned to create the opportunity for native species to propagate.
Storm water management "will work with the natural contours of the land. We don't want to disturb it," Parrish said. "We want to utilize the contours to help us manage the water. We're also proposing an on-site sewage treatment system which also respects the hydrologic cycle. Again, this all relates back to the circle of life" underpinning Native American beliefs. "The nature of water is cyclical."
The Pokagon Band participated in the Dowagiac River Watershed Project administered by the Cass County Conservation District of Cassopolis and completed last November.
It drains more than 287 square miles or more than 183,000 acres of land and contains 23 lakes larger than 10 acres, including Magician, Lake of the Woods, Stone and the Twin Lakes.
The Dowagiac River starts in southern Van Buren County and flows through northwest Cass County and eastern Berrien County before emptying into the St. Joseph River near Niles and eventually entering Lake Michigan.
From 1978 to 1996, more than 10,000 acres of land were converted to "urban uses." During the same timeframe, 18,000 acres of agricultural lands were converted to other uses. The 2000 census estimated the watershed's population at 38,598.
Parrish said, "That project utilized several hundred thousands of dollars for a lot of planning and participation and commitments by a lot of different parties." The cold-water system, nourished by groundwater, has the potential to rank as one of the Midwest's finest trout rivers.
Participating townships included Pokagon, LaGrange, Wayne and Silver Creek in Cass County and Hamilton and Decatur in Van Buren County. Master plans and zoning ordinances were amended.
Parrish described the approach to watershed management as "reducing the incremental effects of development. Zoning ordinances are important to regulating certain activities, but those practices you utilize to manage the water are just as important -- if not more -- because that affects the ultimate disposition of water. That's the meat and potatoes of watershed protection."
Precipitation falls, infiltrates the ground and, as groundwater, moves to the lowest point and becomes surface water. Permeable soils hasten the process. Development increases "impervious surfaces" such as streets, sidewalks, rooftops and parking lots. Runoff picks up sediment crossing the land and heats up from sunlight.
The Pokagon Band wants any water taken out of the ground to be replenished to maintain the cycle of life, Davis said.
Parrish said interlocking concrete pavers on the residential circle, for example, provide some permeability. "It has a texture and it slows down traffic. It's really a signal that you're in a pedestrian neighborhood," Ennis explained.
Bioswales and rain gardens, "localized depressions" where water can pool will also be integrated into the design to collect runoff and allow it to percolate into the ground and recharge groundwater supplies if approved by the Cass-Van Buren District Health Department.
They hoped a meeting Wednesday afternoon would finalize approval of the treatment system.