County re-examines abandonment of Kettle Hole district

MANISTEE — The Manistee County Board of Commissioners unanimously supported a resolution to abandon the Kettle Hole Drainage District, an effort that has been ongoing for several years.

The commissioners heard from Gary Schwaiger, Manistee County Drain Commissioner, during their monthly meeting on Tuesday.

“Several years ago the drain was supposedly going to be closed with support from the local community and agencies including local, state and federal government,” said Schwaiger. “We want to get it back to its natural state as being a trout stream and not a drainage district. It will save money for the township and also the county.”

The plan to abandon the Kettle Hole Drainage District in Stronach Township was involved in a controversy surrounding a previous drain commissioner, and the background of the district was provided at the meeting.

“The former drain commissioner, prior to Ken Hilliard, ran on a platform of ending the drainage district and to abandon it. Long story short, he wouldn’t work with anyone and kept it open while everyone wanted it shut down, including federal, state and local agencies,” said Robert Carson, Manistee County planning director. “Ken Hilliard came in but due to personal issues (Schwaiger) has recently taken his place, and has held to that promise of working with all these local entities as well as state and federal government to ensure that this drainage district is abandoned. This is an opportunity to get in here and do the right thing for this county.”

A public hearing was held in February 2015 concerning a petition to close the district, which was established in 2010. Despite the majority of testimony in favor of the closure — which included seven public officials and three property owners within the district — former drain commissioner Thom Smith denied the closure, stating that no one had proven the drain wasn’t necessary.

Those in support of abandoning the district feel that it will allow the native species to thrive and be self-sustaining. Carson said the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Forest Service previously surveyed the stream and found a sustainable population of native brook trout as well as a robust steelhead nursery for the Big Manistee River.

“The commencement of the dredging along Kettle Hole Road and the placement of that culvert caused a sedimentation issue to the stream bed,” Carson explained. “It was filling in the gravel areas that steelhead and brook trout use to spawn and populate the stream. Helping out any of these stream corridors continue to be self-sustaining is important.”

Mark Bergstrom, District 4 commissioner, also expressed the importance of allowing it to return to a stream that is viable for aquatic species.
“The Forest Service and the DNR was interested in putting money into that area to return it to being a trout stream,” he said. “We want to close it because those entities are able to do that. This is a big improvement to the situation.”

All invoices related to the drain have been paid and there is no outstanding balance.

There will be a public hearing at 7 p.m. on Thursday at Stronach Township Hall regarding the closure of Kettle Hole drain.

The commissioners also unanimously passed a resolution in support of the Manistee Area Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC) Task Force, which is working to bring a veteran’s outpatient clinic to Manistee, and a resolution to support the withholding of local Centra Wellness Network funding from state entities known as Prepaid Inpatient Health Plans, which receive Medicaid funds and distribute them to local Community Mental Health Services programs and other Medicaid providers.

The commissioners also unanimously supported a motion to amend the District Health Department No. 10 Chapter 11 Point of Sale inspection program.
Some of the requested amendments include extending the inspection expiration to 36 months rather than 24 months, eliminating the family transfer and bank foreclosure exemptions and new language will be developed to prevent land contracts from being exempt.

With support from the commissioners, the requested amendments will be brought to the district board of health for consideration.

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