2018-05-13 / Insight

INFRASTRUCTURE UPGRADES: BUILDING FOR THE FUTURE


According to Lapeer County Drain Commissioner Joseph Suma, during Kamax’s recent expansion, the Roods Lake Road company performed their own drainage work, with oversight by the Lapeer County Drain Commission. 
County Press file photo According to Lapeer County Drain Commissioner Joseph Suma, during Kamax’s recent expansion, the Roods Lake Road company performed their own drainage work, with oversight by the Lapeer County Drain Commission. County Press file photo There have been a few changes to the Lapeer County Drain Commission office during Suma’s tenure, namely the move to contracting private crews instead of maintaining an in-house team to perform drainage work. “Each year is different and in previous years we’ve had that in-house crew,” Suma said. “Our last foreman decided to leave and we didn’t fill the position. We felt we could give it a try with contractors.”

Regardless of who’s doing the work, the work’s got to be done, and there’s no shortage of projects that need attention. Suma fields calls from residents regarding drainage frequently, and investigations are performed shortly thereafter. “The last few years, you have a lot of the dead ash, which is a major problem,” Suma said. “The problem that arises is the dead trees in the Flint River cause blockages.” Suma said there’s currently a study underway analyzing Squaw Creek in Rich Township. “Engineers are saying it’s backed up because of the trees in the Flint River.”

Keeping track of the nearly 600 miles of drains — long enough that if stacked in a line could reach nearly to Minneapolis — is tricky enough, but the unique topography of the county poses its own wrinkles. “Lapeer (County) is almost sitting like a mountain, the middle of the county is the high point so you have drains going four different ways,” he said. “Except for the outer northern edge, which kind of drops in.” In addition, many of the drainage districts in the county are well over 100 years old. “A lot of them were done in the late 1800s, some in the 40s or 50s,” said Suma. “The oldest one I’ve found so far was done in 1879.”

Most drains in the county carry water to bodies of water like the Flint or Cass Rivers, and Suma said the county was recently added to another waterway, and as a result, are now on the hook for a portion of the maintenance costs. “We were added to Elk Creek (Intercounty Drain Drainage District) because our water in Burnside Township goes into Sanilac,” he said. Each drainage area served by a specific drain is organized as a drainage district, and Lapeer County’s got several.

Officially, Suma’s duty as Drain Commissioner is the administration of the Michigan Drain Code of 1956, as amended, to construct, operate and maintain a system of county and inter-county storm drains. That Code gives the office considerable leeway when it comes to getting the job done, most notably regarding money. “By law, we’re allowed to expense $5,000 per mile, per drain, per year,” he said. “That’s part of the office, it does have a lot of power.”

That money isn’t in a coffer, stashed away for use exclusively by the Drain Commission. If work needs to be done, it’s the people directly affected by the drain in question that foot the bill. “The fact is, with roads, sewers and all these drains, the people have to pay,” said Suma. Though Drain Commissioners like Suma often perform their duties with little fanfare, they’re the only elected official in the state of Michigan that has the ability to levy taxes and borrow money without a vote of the people or permission from government entities. Suma said as Drain Commissioner he could impose taxes for the payment of assessments to build up a fund for the cost of the drainage projects, though he’s not done it in his nearly six years as Drain Commissioner.

According to Suma, his office currently has around 35 projects that are in various states of completion, in progress or to be scheduled, including a project focused on the Taylor Drain in Burlington Township, a tile drain, that Suma anticipates will get underway either this year or early next year.

Return to top

Copyright © 2009-2018 The County Press, All Rights Reserved

Click here for the E-Edition
2018-05-13 digital edition

Unrestricted access available to web site subscribers

Subscribers to the County Press newspaper can now purchase the complete online and E-Edition of the paper for as little as $5 for three months. If you want a six month subscription to the online edition it is $10 and a full year can be purchased for $20.

Non-subscribers can sign up for the online version for $15 for three months, $30 for six months and $60 for an annual subscription.