Years of flooding in one Boyne City neighborhood may soon be a thing of the past thanks to identification of an abandoned sewer system in the area.
However, not everyone affected by the flooding is cheering the discovery.
“I think it’s good we waited. Andy (Kovolski, Boyne City Streets and Parks Superintendent) and his crews were able to go out and excavate some of the old system that we abandoned as part of 2010 Division Street improvement project,” said Boyne City Manager Michael Cain during the Tuesday July 28 Boyne City Commission meeting. “That system lies north of Division Street and ran from just west of Grant Street to a little bit east of Park Street.”
According to Cain, when the road was rebuilt, this segment of storm sewer was abandoned in place. The tops of the old catch basins were removed, the structures filled and the pipes capped.
“However, based on Andy’s review, and what we’ve discovered since our last meeting, we believe the system is pretty much still intact and could—with some effort—be put back into service,” Cain said. “Putting it back into service could be a good thing for us as it is about two-foot deeper than the existing system that runs down the center of the road to where it ties into the old system just east of Park Street.”
For several years now, some residents in the affected area have complained to the city about flooding and standing water. And, while some have claimed the issue began with the city’s 2010 road improvement project along Division Street, city officials have always maintained that the exact cause is unknown.
Over recent months, Cain had offered the commission several options for dealing with the flooding but he proposed a new option last week that would take advantage of newly-found sewer line.
This new plan would allow the city to go to what would have been the maximum depth for any old system that would have drained water away from the affected area.
Cain said the drain line would be five feet lower than the existing inlet elevation near the entrance of Parkview Apartments.
Cain also said Larry Fox from the city’s engineering firm C2AE is working on revised estimates to implement the new option, including the possibility of boring under the road instead of digging it up.
Cain said Fox obtained a preliminary estimate of $17,000 to perform the work.
“He’s (Fox) been in touch with the apparent low bidder for the sanitary sewer project for Sommerset (Pointe). A lot of that project involves boring of utilities underground to avoid disruption in the soils,” Cain said.
The underground boring would go from where the sewer structure is now—in a swampy area—north underneath Division Street, then west underneath the driveway at Grant, and that would allow the city to tie into the existing system.
“Based on what we found at this point … it is my recommendation, even though we don’t have all the costs together, that the city commission authorize city personnel to take the necessary steps to implement option four as outlined,” Cain said.
He added that this option will not require any easements from Parkview Apartments as was necessary with some previous proposals to deal with the problem.
“This looks great,” said Bill Kuhn, a 464 East Division St. property owner who had said in a previous meeting that his property is worthless due to flooding. “I would just suggest, if we go with option four, that around the area we’re calling the pond area now, where the existing drainage is, we’re definitely going to have to lower that. Dig it, make it bigger to catch that water and then we should protect that area with fencing because there will be a deeper drop into that area now.”
He added, “I’d like to see that area as a big retention area with a good filtering system—however your engineers would work it out—to let that water all get to that point and get out but protect it from the kids that are going to school.”
He also suggested a temporary ditch to help drain the area quicker.
Attorney Joseph Quandt, of the Kuhn Rogers law firm, who represents Parkview Apartments, said after numerous Freedom of Information Act requests, he obtained drawings of the original project that show the sewer area existed.
“I don’t know why that should have been a mystery, because it’s been part of the file for years and years and years,” he said. “It also shows that the former drain line has been abandoned … lines up with the middle of the street … (and) doesn’t terminate short of the street.”
Quandt said Parkview has suffered significant damages to its watermain and portions of the road due to the flooding.
“There is some compelling evidence that indicates that the reason for that mounding groundwater was because of his impounded groundwater condition that was created as a result of the Division Street improvement,” he said.
Quandt said Parkview will grant the easement if requested but he added that none of the options proffered “adequately addressed the damages that have occurred to Parkview.”
Quandt said the owners of Parkview Apartments would be willing to settle the matter if the city were to grant them a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) agreement.
The apartment owners are claiming the city owes them money for damages caused by the water issue that they also claim the city is responsible for. The PILOT would allow the apartment complex owners to stop paying city property taxes until an agreed upon dollar amount was reached. In theory, the moneys would then be used to correct issues alleged to have been caused by the water issue.
“When Bob (Brooks, Parkview Apartments owner) brought this to me about four or five months ago, we did have an opportunity to meet with the city staff to discuss the issue and what we rolled out is the possibility that you could actually pay for the cost of constructing whatever remedy that you have to address the impoundment (standing water) issue within a PILOT,” Quandt said. “There are other things that need to be addressed within Parkview as well and we thought well why not combine all of that within a PILOT?”
He added, “It would get your problem paid for, it would get Bob and Pam’s damages paid for without having to go through further, you know, legal calisthenics, and then also it would not result in any type of limitation in the tax revenue that the city currently experiences because there have been developments within PILOT programs that allow for essentially a revenue-neutral … result with the PILOT.”
Quandt called the proposal a “win-win-win” and said his clients had incurred at least $100,000 related to the water issue at this point.
Boyne City Mayor Ron Grunch asked how the city would be kept revenue-neutral in such an agreement.
Quandt said if the city were to work with the low-income apartment development, the city would qualify for reimbursement but he did not identify the funding source of such revenues.
Boyne City Commissioner Derek Gaylord asked if the owners of Parkview Apartments had ever requested a PILOT agreement before.
Quandt said there had been discussions approximately seven years ago but they fell through.
Cain said he thought a new PILOT agreement should be investigated but that it was too early to make any recommendation to the city commission.
Cain said there are really three issues at play: drainage of the water, the PILOT agreement, and potential damages to Parkview Apartments.
Boyne City Commissioner Tom Neidhamer said he was concerned that the $17,000 cost would not be recoverable unless the PILOT program was first signed.
Cain warned that the work could cost much more than $17,000—in the $50,000 range—and that that figure was merely for the boring work.
Neidhamer said he did like the idea of getting to work on the matter promptly.
Cain also said the city would have to come up with an agreement on the PILOT and then go through the process of amending the city’s ordinance to allow it.
Boyne City Commissioner Delbert “Gene” Towne said he would like to see the total cost but he is OK with going with the new option of dealing with it.
Gaylord said proceeding with the potential fix is not an admission of guilt by the city as the cause of the problem. He also said he supports moving forward as soon as possible.
He added that he supports the new option, especially since keeping the road intact is so important.
Boyne City Commissioner Laura Sansom said she would like to see the matter taken care of immediately.
Grunch said the matter needs to be expedited.
A motion to approve option four was unanimously approved.