FEMA grant possible for Little Tobacco Drain renovation

August 30, 2018

By Pat Maurer

The estimated multi-million dollar cost of the Little Tobacco Drain renovation project, slowed due to the rejection of a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant to purchase properties along the drain, may now be eligible for a FEMA grant, according to information from Grant Township Supervisor Dan Dysinger.
He reported, “FEMA coordinators from the Michigan State Police indicated that some further information is needed but funding is available and the renovation project should qualify.”

Dysinger attended a meeting of the Little Tobacco Drain project committee last week.

He continued, “It appears that of the original 50 plus properties originally consider for acquisition, 22 actually qualify, due to structures being on the property. Apparently the remaining properties don’t have structures so that makes them ineligible to be purchased.” He said, “But no structures on those properties would likely ever be allowed and certainly not those where structures are removed – due to flood plain impediments.”

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

At that meeting, 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 and into Grant Township where it meets the South Branch of the Tobacco River.

Protasiewicz had also notified the board in April 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. The board had applied for the grant to finance the purchase of some properties along the drain.

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 occurrence.

Isabella County, Clare County, the Michigan Department of Transportation, the City of Clare, Grant Township and individual property owners along the course of the drain would share the costs of the improvements.

At the April meeting, Protasiewicz told the Board that the costs to clean and renovate the drain were 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 two of the bridges that need to be replaced would be the responsibility of the Michigan Department of Transportation.
He also said at that meeting that 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 then 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 showing how the costs have increased to the 2018 estimates from $4.7 to $7.5 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.

Reporting on last week’s meeting, Dysinger said, “Because of the funding for this segment, it was suggested, with caution, that the scope of structure improvements could change with the water levels can be allowed for some (being) higher. However it was stressed by the engineer that the structure improvements may all need to be completed due to the current expected life of those structures being not much pat 20 to 25 years. The engineer (Spicer) was directed to recalculate the more exact costs for bridge structure updates. This requires a more detailed bridge structure inspection and assessment.”

He added, “It appears that the timeline now will be pushed back about 12 months or longer to reconsideration of the FEMA grant. The earliest dates for ‘review’ and assessments look like sometime in 2020.”

He said the next progress meeting will be held in late October pending progress or other business needed by the Intercounty Drain Board.

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