What Daniel’s Drain Project means for Meridian Township

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Construction signs stand at the entrance of Meridian Township, in front of Dobie Road. Construction started on Sept. 28, 2021 as a continuing effort of the Daniel’s Drain Project. Photo by Devin Anderson-Torrez

The Meridian Township board approved Daniel’s Drain Special Assessment District #21 Resolution #1, at their Sept. 21 board meeting.

 The stormwater infrastructure project’s objective is to restore Walden Pond and drain quality. The Project broke ground in mid-August, with site preparation across Meridian Township. 

According to Meridian Township’s News and Information site, the project was budgeted for $6,796,838, with the Township paying for $5,536,644. Daniel’s Drain SAD #21 Resolution #1 approved the Township Board funding 50% of the $5,536,64 from the general fund, while instructing the Department of Public Works to use the plans developed by the Ingham County Drain Commissioner to prepare a special assessment district for the remaining cost.

History of Daniel’s Drain Project

GEI Consultant and Project Manager Brian Cenci first heard about the project in 2013, when community members noticed Walden pond had lost a considerable amount of water; over half its volume since its’ reconstruction in 1973. The Walden Pond co-op then went to work, figuring out the best way to make changes to fix function, aesthetic and water quality.

From 2013 to 2016 there was a full maintenance review, to determine deficiencies and any other upgrade that needed to be made within the drainage system.

“The entire drain hasn’t really been touched from an improvement standpoint since the last petition which was in the late 60s,” Cenci said. “So they, the co-op, basically kind of pushed the township and in 2016, the township began planning petitions and anointed one petitioner in chapter 20, to initiate the project.”

Future of Daniel’s Drain Project

The Daniel’s Drain Project marks the most the Township has spent on drainage repair, and it has resulted in increased fees on residents, especially those whose property sits in-between multiple drains, or produces more runoff.

Okemos resident Jim Williams has experienced this ‘in-between’. In 2016, when the project started, Williams was under the impression that he was in both the Scholl’s Drain and the Forest Akers Drain, but he has come to find out that he also contributes to both Daniel’s Drain and the Cornell Woods’ Drain.

“My question to you is how far can we take this,” Williams said at the Board meeting broadcasted by HOMTV, Meridian Township’s government access channel, “Everytime you connect something to this drain my taxes go up and they keep going up and they have been for the past 4 years and I’m here to say I need to know who to talk to about how you apportion these drains. Who do we talk to? How do we figure out how much I should pay?”

Meridian Township Board Member Phil Deschaine responded later in the meeting, according to transcripts of the recording, explaining how the price gets determined.

“In his case this will be his fourth drain assessment that has been taxed on his annual tax bill,” Deschaine said. “These drain assessments are becoming a bigger and bigger expense for our residents. We don’t assess them, the drain commissioner does but in certain areas of the township they can add up, and piggy back one after another, after another.”

The price point comes from a special assessment, determining which properties will pay, and what they will pay, as a result of benefits derived.

“In our world of drains the law says, most properties which benefit from the drain project, that received benefits, is how they look at it,” Cenci said.

Cenci described Williams’ situation as one that many people fall under, and compared it to nesting dolls. One drain rolls over to the next, eventually displacing into any number of tributaries, the Grand River or Lake Michigan, meaning these smaller drainage systems lead to bigger ones and thus explain the apportioning of the drainage system.

“So you may live in that very small plat development district. But, you know, you may be part of, you know, several, three, four or five different rain districts depending on where you’re at,” Cenci said. “So every year, you may be assessed for maintenance in any of those districts in which you’re located.”

East Lansing resident Jill Kopec had not heard of Daniel’s Drain Project, until the Aug. 17, 2021 letter to residents. Kopec has not experienced any water, flooding or drainage problems herself, but she sees the project as necessary, as all infrastructure needs to be improved and repaired at some point, especially considering the damages it may cause.

“This is the first I have heard of it so I read a letter regarding the drain. I’m assuming the drain is  necessary as  all infrastructure needs to be updated at some point to meet the demands of the users,” Kopec said in an email. “As stated in the letter, I agree that it would be apportioned using the principles of benefits derived.  If your property uses more than one drain you should pay your portion of the use of both drains.”

With the unique categorization as a Section 20 Drain, municipalities of Meridian Township needed to petition the drain commissioner, as opposed to other situations where residents could get enough signatures to move forward themselves. So when the petition was introduced in 2016, it caused a stir and concern about finances then, as well.

Daniel’s Drain SAD #21 Resolution #1 attempts to help lower costs, with money coming out of the general fund, addressing the concern some had over how much they would pay for the project in their special assessment.

“In this case the Township using general funds to cover half the expense, because it’s a section 20 drain with a higher public responsibility, it is the right thing to do,” Daschaine said, according to broadcast transcripts.

Following the approval of Resolution #1, the Board will now move on to Resolution #2, which will include the special assessments portion of the project, indicating how much each resident will contribute to the project.

“(Resolution #2) will set a public hearing and include a requirement to send out individual assessment notices to all home(s) within the special assessment district. This notice will include a resident’s individual assessment amount and important information about the public hearing,” Meridian Township’s News and Information website posted under the Daniel’s Drain updates page.

There will be a hearing for the resolution in early November.

Board member Dan Opsommer made it a subject of importance to learn from past projects, including the Tower Gardens Drain Project, to highlight equity and help those affected by these issues the most. The Daniel’s Drain Project is a 43% increase in Township spending in the past.

“I think we need to think about equity as well, (The Tower Gardens Drain Project) was a low-income, working-class neighborhood who didn’t get (the same funding), so I think the precedent that we are setting has ramifications,” Opsommer said during the board meeting broadcasted by HOMTV. “I just think we need to think about that with Powell road, same with that special assessment district.”

Opsommer also said that because this project was introduced so long ago, and the initial failure of pipes has yet to be corrected, many families are struggling now, with little to no help from co-op insurance.

“There are still a lot of families dealing with flood issues,” Opsommer said. “We’ve got owner-occupied and tenants renting, who are still without housing or still in hotels… there’s some folks that are still really struggling and the tenants are struggling to get repairs done.”

Opsommer noted that he hopes the board will be conscientious with Meridian Cares, to help the families currently in need as a result of the Drain Project. 

Although it was pitched in 2016, construction and special assessments are just beginning and the timeline for the project stretches to the Summer of 2022. 

A timeline of Daniel’s Drain Project’s construction schedule. Graphic created in Canva by Devin Anderson-Torrez

The planned overall result of the project is a huge undertaking, and will correct past errors, as well as establish a strong foundation, as Cenci said petitions like this only come around every 40 to 50 years.

“So we’re basically upgrading the system throughout. Increasing the downstream pipe sizes. Installing a new crossing under Grand River, the original tile that was built in the 20s, we believe is still there, because they did not replace it on the Grand River Avenue in the ‘73 project,” Cenci said.

“So we’re doing it now. We’re updating the system as far as size components, but then making significant improvements to the Walden Pond, the Daniel detention basin, as they’re installing, or basically creating two wetland systems on the upstream end of it, which the water will discharge into first. And that’s called first flush treatment or stormwater treatment. So that’s a water quality issue. And then we’re expanding the overall size of the pond, so that it has more water potential capabilities, meaning that it can hold that water after a rain event.”

As for now, residents can expect Dobie Road in Okemos to be closed south of Hamilton Road and north of Forest Hills Drive, until Oct. 15.

“This work is part of the Daniels Drain maintenance and improvement project through the Ingham County Drain Commissioner. The road closure is taking place to allow for the replacement of failing stormwater infrastructure that runs under and along a portion of Dobie Road and to install bio-retention areas to decrease pollution loads in stormwater,” Meridian Township’s News and Information site said in its most recent release regarding the Drain Project.

During this time traffic will be detoured to Meridian and Jolly roads.