McGuineas drain still on hold, tensions still high

MANISTEE — A year ago this month, Manistee County drain commissioner Thom Smith defined the scope of work needed to repair the McGuineas drain pipeline in Manistee Township after months of deliberation.

On Tuesday, he presented an easement to the Manistee County Board of Commissioners for their approval to move the project forward. Ultimately, the board agreed the easement needs to be fine tuned.

“We had to do a lot of research,” Smith said prior to the regular monthly meeting. “(The county) leased the property to West Shore Medical Center, so the property owner is the county and, when you sign easements, it has to go to the original owner.

“We have an easement, but we need a bigger one to get the equipment back there,” he added. “When they made that back in 1920, they didn’t have the kind of equipment we have nowadays to go down there, so we have to have a wider easement.”

Along with the easement Smith presented, the commissioners reviewed correspondence between the drain commissioner’s attorney, Mark Koerner, and Manistee County prosecutor Ford Stone, who raised concerns about the easement as written.

“Mr. Smith’s initial request was that you approve the easement as written,” said Manistee County controller/administrator Tom Kaminski. “Once it was sent to our legal counsel, they had some questions and Mr. Smith then sent it to his legal counsel to answer those questions.”

Among Stone’s concerns were the lack of detailed reasoning for the enlarged easement; the “overbroad” language used concerning the release of all damages and claims; and the “burdensome” indemnification provision in the easement.

In the correspondence, Koerner states they will be able provide the specifics of the reasoning behind the enlarged easement, which was requested by the construction project’s engineer, and explained the language in question is standard but they will be open to negotiating modifications to it.

Smith reiterated that sentiment to the board.

“We have no problem with modifying some of the language in it if you wish,” he said. “We’ll be glad to work with Mr. Stone to do that.”

After some discussion over the legal correspondence, commissioner Mark Bergstrom said it was clear the board would not approve the easement as is.

“It looks to me like this is pretty much something for Mr. Stone, really,” he said. “… I don’t think we can take any action on this (right now).”

Board chair Jeff Dontz agreed.

“You’re not going to be breaking ground next month obviously,” he said. “… Hopefully Mr. Stone will agree to working out the details. … bring it back to the board once he signs off on it, and we’ll hopefully approve it and move the project forward.”

Tension between Smith and the board boiled over last month when discussing the more than $12,000 in arrears that accumulated in the wake of the Kettle Hole Drain District saga, which ultimately ended with Smith denying a petition to close the district, which will now have to be reassessed to pay the balance.

Commissioner Alan Marshall read a personal statement, requesting that Smith file a letter of resignation for “jeopardizing his Oath of Office and Title as a position of influence.”

While Tuesday’s exchange proved more cordial, Smith was met with skepticism over the current McGuineas project.

“Do you know how much you’ve got invested in this — from surveying and legal fees, etc. — just getting to this point?” Brook Shafer asked, to which Smith estimated was around $50,000. “$50,000 to get to this point? I think the cost that you’re passing on to the landowners is typical. … When does it end? This is just the beginning. … I think people are looking at these legal fees as excessive.”

Smith, who stated last year that he expects the entire project to cost up to $450,000, said the $50,000 was part of that estimate.

“All your ducks have to be in a row before you start,” he said. “I have nothing to do with (legal fees) … They charge whatever they charge.”

Said Shafer: “I understand that, but I think there are certain things that are being done just because, ‘we’re going to do that to protect us.'”

“Well, that’s probably a good idea,” Smith replied, “because if we don’t protect us, then guess what? It’ll cost a lot more money in the long run if something goes wrong.”

Smith described the scope of the work prior to Tuesday’s meeting.

“We’ve got 850 feet of pipe that is eroded,” he said. “It’s a cement pipe and the bottom is totally out of it. We’re going to put in a new liner on it, line all the way and put in one manhole cover so we can get in there and clean it out.”

Smith added the current catch basin will be replaced with a new and more efficient one that can be cleaned out easier with better access to it. He said no cement will be replaced, but cracks in the current cement will be fixed.

A flood related to the drain in May of 2011 near West Shore Medical Center and Manistee County Blacker Airport down to Frost Road was the catalyst to a petition to fix the drain that was filed in December of 2012.

A board of determination decided in May 2014 that fixing the drain is necessary. Smith had requested that the county back a $195,000 loan for start-up costs in August of 2014, but it was denied.

Entities that will be assessed are Manistee County, Manistee County Road Commission, Michigan Department of Transportation, Manistee Township and landowners in the district, including residential and business properties.

Smith said once the easement is signed, the contract will be let out for bids.

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Posted by Dylan Savela

Dylan is the county reporter for the News Advocate, he also is in charge of the Small Town Life, religion and senior pages. He can be reached at (231) 398-3111 or dsavela@pioneergroup.com.

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