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The $ 5.5 million Watson Drain project is one of the history books


The $ 5.5 million Watson Drain project could very well be the largest project of its kind in Barry County history.

Drain Commissioner Jim Dull and Assistant Drain Commissioner Tammy Hayes say that in their knowledge of the history of the County Drain Department, they are unaware of any other project as large – or expensive – as Watson.

The district boundaries extend over the townships of Prairieville and Barry in southwestern Barry County, encompassing Pleasant Lake, Upper Crooked Lake and Lower Crooked Lake, and encompass 1,082 parcels, landowners and municipalities.

The cost of several million dollars for the large-scale works will be evaluated over 20 years to the plots that benefit from this district.

The key phrase in determining who is appraised for the job is the term “specified benefits”. Said dull.

“Everyone in the district benefits from the project,” he said.

The project is large-scale and includes the installation of 684 linear feet of 12-inch stormwater discharge pipe at an average depth of 5 feet; 4,006 linear feet of 18-inch stormwater discharge line at an average depth of 5 feet; the grading, excavation and construction of two pumping station buildings, including the supply and distribution lines; and the installation of pumps and pump filters in these pumping station buildings; in addition to bringing the system online for initial operation.

And the work is expensive.

Dull said he was among the first in the county to apply for funding through the American Rescue Plan Act, which will provide the county with a total of nearly $ 12 million.

“If we get $ 2 million, you are helping taxpaying citizens,” he said.

Whether Project Watson Drain has a chance of securing an ARPA infusion is an open question that will likely not be resolved any time soon.

But there will be great pressure to get this job done. They have a start date after October 15, with work to be completed by April 1, 2022.

The next important date for the community is September 3, when Review Day will provide details on the district boundaries and provide a review of the allocations. The one-day session will take place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the gymnasium at Delton Kellogg Middle School.

This is when residents can come and ask questions and find out all they want to know about the neighborhood.

From Dull’s perspective, the story of the Watson Drain is a warning about the formation of drainage districts and how they can lead to a financial commitment in a district for which the law currently provides no easy solutions. .

All it takes are five homeowners to file a petition with the Drain Commissioner looking for a district, Dull said.

Problems with Watson Drain began shortly after he became Drain Commissioner.

“I was there in 2017. I got a call from Sharon Ritchie, who said the lake seemed a bit high. We checked the weir. The water was at the same height on both sides.

“Next year one of her children said, ‘Mom, this lake is very high.’

“I had no reference to what was high, but the residents had water in their basements.”

At that time, they created the special assessment district, he said. “Sharon gave us a petition after having signed it by five people.

“Then we had to move forward. We had the Determination Council. We had 400 people show up at the township fire station – and all but 10 of them were unwilling to do anything.

Dull vividly remembered one of the residents saying, “Solving this problem is like using a hammer to do some finishing work.”

“None of them wanted this to be done. They said, ‘We don’t have a problem. We have no problem. It is your problem.’ “

But the drain code is “written for that guy at the bottom of the hill,” Dull said. But everyone in the district benefits from the water and contributes to the problem when the water level is high.

The following year the situation worsened. Pleasant Lake was inundated.

“They were a foot and a half too high,” Dull said. “Then we had flooded houses, flooded sewers. “

The sandbags and pumps couldn’t stop the downpour, which some homeowners claimed was Dull’s fault.

So 17 Crooked Lake residents have filed a lawsuit, demanding that the Drain Commissioner declare a prominent estate and buy their homes.

David and Leslie Bolton, David and Ann Skender, Robert and Sharon Ritchie, Michael and Sandra Golembiewki, Jill Sterling, Mark Nelson, Jason and Dana Adams, David Baker, Gary and Deborah Englehardt, and Joseph and Cheryl Reda have claimed that Dull knowingly and deliberately set in motion the forces that raised the level of Upper Crooked Lake and, as a result, inundated their property.

In their complaint, they said that Dull had, in effect, declared the eminent domain reverse by flooding their homes with his actions, so he might as well buy their properties and take possession of them.

Crooked Lake did not have an outlet, so Dull had obtained a permit to channel the overflow through a culvert under M-43 and create a retention pond in Glasby Lake.

Under state law, “private property must not be used for public use without fair compensation first being made or guaranteed in a manner prescribed by law,” the prosecution said. .

Dull also “deliberately determined that the high amount of water in Upper Crooked Lake will be stored on the plaintiff’s properties pending the eventual return, if any, of the lake level,” he said.

It was Dull’s replacement of the culvert on Floria Road that ultimately led to the flooding of their properties, they said.

“As a direct result of the changes to the Watson Drain drainage pattern, as ordered by the defendant, the Drain Commissioner, the level of Upper Crooked Lake increased significantly, so that the plaintiffs’ properties were inundated. , damaged and, in one or more cases, uninhabitable.

The culvert replacement took place in a wetland regulated by what was then known as the State Department of Environmental Quality, according to the complaint.

The state’s Wetlands Protection Act required a permit to replace this culvert, and Dull did not have a permit to replace this culvert, claimants said.

They also asked the court to order Dull to restore the level of Upper Crooked Lake to 922.75 feet above sea level, in accordance with a 1942 court order.

All of the plaintiffs were residents or former residents of the Watson Drain District and all owned property on Upper Crooked Lake.

The properties they owned had the following condemnation values: Bolton, $ 171,800; Skender, $ 312,200; Ritchie, $ 224,000; Golembiewki $ 219,000; Sterling, $ 138,600; Nelson, $ 197,600; Adams, $ 153,400; Baker, $ 187,000; Englehardt, $ 248,800.

All of the owners, except Joseph and Cheryl Reda, were seeking the condemnation value of their properties, along with other statutory remedies.

They claimed that the damage they suffered included “the full or total market value of their property; the rising cost of utilities to run the pumps in a “vain effort to mitigate their damage and save their properties”; other costs and expenses for equipment, supplies and / or the use of contractors; physical damage to their homes; physical damage to the properties on which their residences are located; and the physical loss of some of the real estate on which their residences are located.

The lawsuit was eventually dismissed, but the problems did not end.

In 2019, flooding worsened in the Delton area and submerged part of the M-43 to the point that it became impassable.

Today, the people who sued are in a much better situation, Dull said. “The water went down almost 2.5 feet from where we were.”

He is delighted with this fact. “It helped a lot. ”

Ironically, Ritchie, who started the project by filing the petition, no longer lives in the neighborhood.

Dull said people are now telling him, “Well, the lake is down. To leave.

“What they don’t understand is that now that these people are in the drainage district, if we stop pumping today and they are flooded, we will have to pay to replace whatever is damaged. “

Drainage districts create an entirely different dynamic, he explained.

“Under the law,” he said, “if you live in a drainage district and you get flooded and your drain commissioner is not actively trying to fix your problem, then the drainage district is responsible.

“There is no insurance for the drainage districts,” he stressed. “… then you better do your job.”

Due to the creation of the drainage district, the Watson Drain project must continue, even without any threat of flooding.

“We still have to do this project,” Dull said.

And so Watson will join a number of drainage districts in Barry County, although it is not known exactly how many.

“Twenty-five years ago there were about 230 or 240,” Dull said. “They exist in perpetuity unless you give them up. “

Some old books he found in the courthouse attic document the drainage districts, but he doesn’t have all of the township books and he would be willing to pay to get them.

These records can help him prove the existence of these districts. He would certainly like to get the books from Rutland Charter Township, for example.

Dull said he hopes to get all of these documents on the computer to protect the file.

And, if he had what he wanted, Watson Drain would be the last drainage district in the county.

“We better not have another one,” he said.

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