Michigan Land Use Institute

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Big Drains Flush Sprawl's Pollution Downstream

December 1, 1999 | By Patty Cantrell
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

The Michigan Legislature failed in its last session to act on calls from many groups to bring the Drain Code up-to-date with 21st-century reality:

• A new generation of foresighted drain commissioners sought to re-focus the law on preventing storm water problems before they require new or expanded drains. Their progressive approach works by having commissioners get involved in land use planning and reviewing construction designs to deny projects that force drainage problems on the public and the environment.

• Residents of both rural and suburban areas pushed for citizen oversight and involvement in determining the scope, cost, and purpose of the drainage projects they must fund. A central problem with the current Drain Code is that taxpayers have no standing to influence or challenge a drain project once a commissioner-selected "board of determination" gives its okay early in the process, before any public discussion of the costs, effects, or possible alternatives.

• Environmental groups shined a spotlight on how drains first dry up wetlands, then send periodic flash floods downstream that damage habitat and water quality. Expansion of drains also requires dredging, widening, and walling ditches and rivers, which ruins any natural character they might have.

That's what's about to happen to the Franklin River behind Mr. Siefman's house. Steve Korth, engineer for the Oakland County Drain Commissioner's office, says turning the river into an engineered drain is the best solution to the severe erosion problems. The plan is to bulkhead the Franklin River's banks with metal sheeting, rock rip-rap, and willow plantings and simply send the storm water down an extended drain.

Mr. Siefman and his neighbors are suing to stop the project. Putting steel walls on the river so the storm water can just flow farther is no solution, he said. "I think there's got to be a major stop to this or it's never going to get better."

Public interest groups feel the same way, and will renew their efforts to reform the Drain Code in the Legislature this year.

Michigan Drain Code Coalition, P.O. Box 304, Holly, MI, 48442, Tel. 517-324-9664; Julie Stoneman, Michigan Environmental Council, 119 Pere Marquette, Suite 2A, Lansing, MI, 48912, Tel. 517-371-1041, E-mail juliemec@voyager.net; Patty Cantrell at the Institute, 616-882-4723 x18, E-mail patty@mlui.org.

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