Feasibility study underway to add new county road department garage in Niles Township

Published 12:46 pm Thursday, December 2, 2021

ST. JOSEPH – Could a new Berrien County Road Department garage be on the way on land off of Pucker Street in Niles Township? Berrien County Commissioner Jim Curran reported Thursday that efforts to check on the feasibility of that plan are underway.

Curran’s comments came at Thursday’s Berrien County Board of Commissioners meeting. The county board will meet twice more in December on Dec. 9 and 16 before the onset of the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. Meetings continue to be in person at the Administration Center in St. Joseph as well as live-streamed on YouTube.

Curran reported that Kevin Stack of the road department attended the administration committee earlier Thursday morning to give an update on the department’s plans. The proposal to build a new road department garage off of Pucker Street is expected to next go to the county’s finance committee and then to the full board.

“He reported on the site feasibility study for 440 Pucker St. in Niles Township,” Curran said. “Wightman will be checking out the site and the possibility of building a 30,000 square foot facility on the site. They will be making sure that everything is good legally and environmentally.”

He said the cost of the Wightman work is expected to be $6,300.

“This all fits into the master plan of the road department when it comes to road department garage locations and service areas,” he added. “We’re moving it forward, we support it. It’s coming to the finance committee next week.”

Also Thursday, county commissioners heard a presentation from Stephan Currie, the executive director of the Michigan Association of Counties, at their committee of the whole meeting earlier Thursday. Commissioners later postponed a vote on a resolution in support of the MAC’s Michigan Prosperity Roadmap during their regular meeting.

Currie outlined his organization’s goals for the coming year. They include extending county commissioner terms from two to four years, enacting reforms on the functioning of local courts, bolstering local government financing and supporting legislation to fund rural broadband and economic development efforts.

Commissioners put off a decision to support the Michigan Prosperity Roadmap resolution in large part due to the comments of County Commissioner Jon Hinkelman. Hinkelman said he supported the overall MAC concept for the roadmap plan but wants to see more attention paid to agricultural and rural concerns.

“I’m happy to support this roadmap but would like to say that a big portion of Berrien County is still agriculture,” he said. “This roadmap talks about water infrastructure, broadband, revenue sharing, brownfield redevelopment and affordable housing. There’s not really anything in it that helps rural America besides broadband.”

“What I don’t want the roadmap to be is something that doesn’t help the whole county,” he added. “I ask that we hold off on the resolution until next week so we can add a little bit more language to encourage MAC not forget about rural communities.”

 

“It’s the largest part of our economy here,” he said. “I’m not looking to slight the importance of broadband, we need to get it out there but the rest of the roadmap is largely urban and city-oriented. I don’t want rural America not being thought of. I’m happy to support it, but I want to one more week to look at it and have some inclusion for agriculture.”

Commissioners ended up not voting to table the resolution but voted to send it back to the committee to amend it to include more language concerning agriculture. Curran said it will be brought back next week after county staff adds language and commissioners have time to digest it.

Relative to broadband, both Curran and BC Bit Chairwoman Teri Freehling said the county is poised to be a leader in the state when it comes to improving broadband access to rural areas.

“There are really great things happening from the groundwork we put in place the last three years,” Freehling said. “Projects are slated to begin in the near future, particularly in the rural communities on the east side of the county … Some exciting stuff is happening.”

“It’s getting to be an exciting time,” Curran said. “We had the foresight three years ago to do this when it was not popular and not on people’s radar. We now see what the federal and state governments are offering in terms of broadband. We are so far ahead of the curve, others are looking to us as pioneers.”

In action Thursday, commissioners:

  • Renewed the county’s agreement to participate in the Clean Sweep Pesticides Program.
  • Renewed the county’s agreement with the Berrien County Historical Association. The historical association became a county park five years ago.
  • Accepted a spay/neuter grant for the Animal Control Department.
  • Honored Lynn Kellogg for her 45 years of service to the Region IV Area Agency on Aging.