Board gives approval to start drain project

April 27, 2018

By Pat Maurer

The Little Tobacco Intercounty Drain Drainage Board – Chair Brady Harrington and members Carl Parks and Robert Willoughby – voted Tuesday to have Spicer Group, the engineering firm for the project to clean the drain, do the design work and develop a cost estimate before they determine the scope of the Little Tobacco Drain project.

Larry Protasiewicz of the Spicer Group gave an outline of the scope of the project to widen, deepen and replace bridges along the course of the Duncan Drain through Isabella County and the Little Tobacco Drain through the City of Clare to where it meets the South Branch of the Tobacco River.

He also notified the board that a grant request to FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) had been denied due to changes in the criteria for grants which eliminated the purchase of property along waterways. He said that could change for the next round of FEMA grants next year.

The board had applied for the grant to finance the purchase of some properties along the drain.

Despite the bad news, Tuesday the board determined to “go ahead” with the project since the costs will continue to rise.
Protasiewicz told the Board Tuesday that the costs to clean and renovate the drain are now roughly estimated from a low-end estimate of $4.7 million for a lesser project (smaller bridges, less dredging) to $7.5 million for a high-end estimate. He did say that the high estimate was for the full cost although at two of the bridges that need to be replaced would were the responsibility of the Michigan Department of Transportation.

He said building a retention pond for floodwaters on property upstream of the City of Clare could mean less cost for a smaller project because it would divert the water flow and the scope of the work to renovate the drain could be downsized.

Plans to upgrade the drain began in 2013 when the City of Clare filed a petition with Clare County Drain Commission Carl Parks asking that the drain, untouched for over 50 years, be cleaned, widened, deepened and renovated. During heavy storms, the drain causes flooding problems all along its course and several bridges that cross the little stream are badly deteriorated and need to be repaired or replaced.

The issue was also presented in 2005, but was not approved by the board. The costs for the improvement project at that time were estimated at approximately $2.6 million, Parks said earlier.

In 2015, Members of the Intercounty Drainage Board, including Clare County Drain Commissioner Carl Parks, then Isabella County Drain Commissioner Richard Jukubiec and Michigan Department of Agriculture Deputy Director Brady Harrington, voted that it is necessary to renovate the Little Tobacco Drain and some bridges along the stream.

The project was estimated in 2015 to cost from $4.6 to $5 million. It would be funded through a bond issue and the assessment of property owners adjacent to or affected by the drain. Potentially the cost would be spread over a 15 to 20 year assessment added to property taxes for individual property owners.

The project would encompass about two miles from the Duncan Drain in Isabella County into the Little Tobacco Drain in Clare County, through the City of Clare and northeast to a wetlands area that dumps into the Tobacco River near Clare’s Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Improvements to the drain would alleviate major flooding, which has plagued the City for many years. It would also reduce the size of the flood plain area although three properties in the upstream area would still be subject to flooding in a 100-year flood occurance.

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