The proposed Trowbridge-Cheshire Drain district is outlined in red. Allegan City properties to the right of the green line are a proposed addition to the district. Another addition is the Austin Drain represented by the yellow line. The current drain is in blue and the purple indicates the natural water course of tannery creek.

Drain office seeks to prevent Tannery Creek flooding

By: 
Virginia Ransbottom, Staff Writer

A July 10 hearing determined something must be done to fix flooding issues along Tannery Creek as it enters Allegan city limits.

What that solution will be remains to be seen and is something the Allegan County Drain Commission will pursue if the decision is not challenged.

The Board of Determination’s decision wasn’t popular among many of the 50 people who attended the meeting at Allegan Township Hall.

Tannery Creek, also known as the Trowbridge-Cheshire Drain, has been flooding and causing severe erosion and bank stabilization issues mostly downstream of 33rd Street and especially downstream from a narrow culvert beneath Thomas Street.

Allegan Township submitted a petition to the Allegan County Drain Commission on May 7, requesting it to clean out, relocate, widen, deepen, straighten, tile, improve, provide structures, add lands, add a relief drain and/or relocate the drain along a highway.

A preliminary plan discussed at the hearing would be to add to the drain the section of the creek from 33rd Street northeast to the Kalamazoo River near the intersection of M-40/M-89, which would likely add many properties along that stretch to an assessment district that would share in any costs of the drain work.

Allegan city manager Joel Dye, speaking on behalf of the city council, said that addition into city limits would cover one quarter of the City of Allegan and 19 city-owned properties, including half of Oakwood Cemetery, which is 20 acres.

Other examples in the proposed new assessment district would include West Ward Elementary (although schools are not assessed), Briarwood Assisted Living, Shopko and a portion of Allegan General Hospital with the creek going under M-40 three times.

At a meeting the night before, city council members gave a statement for Dye to give to the board of determination urging them not to make a decision until more information was available on the scope and cost of the project.

However, the board only convened to determine whether it was necessary to fix the drain, not who is assessed, the scope of the project or how assessments are apportioned. That will come from the drain commission at a later date.

Dye said there was a low chance of succeeding in getting easements from every property owner in the boundary expansion into city limits, especially with most properties experiencing a low creek and the majority of the city receiving little or no improvements.

After receiving the petition, the drain commission hired “Eng.” Engineering and Surveying to conduct a preliminary analysis of the current condition of the creek. Engineer Brian Cenci said going all the way to the Kalamazoo River might not be necessary, some issues can be remedied, and those properties could get a zero dollar assessment.

“But if there is no easement, the county can’t come onto the property to determine if work is necessary,” he said.

Cenci also said turning the creek back to its natural flow would be more likely to get a habitat improvement grant. Currently the flooding has created too many meanders, which should be no more than one every 200 feet.

“On one property it meanders seven to eight times within 200 feet, which makes the bends too sharp and the water undermining the banks causing erosion and stabilization issues, which includes the undermining of a deck and a septic line.” Cenci said. “There are also 40-year-old trees standing underwater and debris that creates more meanders downstream.”

Cenci presented photographs of the damaged properties, culverts and stabilization issues along the creek.

The ability to change the flow of the creek was questioned by John Mulder of Brookside Drive who said he was told by the DNR that property owners could not use any reinforcements to prevent creek erosion because the creek was designated as a trout stream.

Jon Cook said he was Mayor when the City of Allegan put in a culvert at Thomas Street in 2005 that had to meet DNR/DEQ requirements because of the creek being designated as a trout stream. The designation cost the city $50,000 extra for such specifications as a natural bottom.

However, Cenci said he confirmed with a DNR fishing biologist the creek is not a trout stream, although any change to a waterway usually will have some impact on fisheries.

Terry Wichman of Thomas Street who is experiencing much of the flooding and erosion, asked for other solutions to be looked at first before spending millions of dollars to straighten this out. He said First Baptist Church’s retention pond is not being used which could slow down runoff and the city’s culvert at Thomas Street needed to be revisited.

Cenci said the problem is almost never any one thing.

“Every home, extra driveway, parking lot and attached garage adds a little more water into the ground that moves onto someone else’s property with more and more development,” Cenci said. “It’s death by a thousand cups of water.”

The drain office also has proposed to add the Austin Drain into the district. This includes an extension into Trowbridge Township properties.

Trowbridge Township supervisor Jeff Kaylor said adding branches upstream of 33rd Street did not make sense when most of the problem was downstream.

Cenci said a culvert between 33rd Street and Lake Ridge Lane needs to be cleaned out as well.

The board of determination included property owners who live in Allegan County but do not live or have interest in the proposed drain district. 

They included Gun Plain Township supervisor Mike VandenBerg, Ottawa County drain inspector Chris Machiela and Martin Township supervisor Glenn Leep. Dorr Township supervisor Jeff Miling was the alternate.

Leep said, “My area is also suffering from more asphalt, roofs and roads causing increased flow over the years and it has to be dealt with somehow.”

VandenBerg said the creek obviously has more water flow that needs to be addressed whether by slowing up the water or straightening it.

The current county drain length is 16,990 feet. Adding the rest of the creek through to the Kalamazoo River would add 9,040 feet into the district. That will include 770 properties in Valley Township (127.6 acres), Cheshire Township (313.3 acres), Trowbridge Township (950.6 acres), Allegan Township (increased from 687 acres to 1,294 acres) and the City of Allegan (229 acres).

Residents aggrieved by the decision of the board can appeal the decision in circuit court within 10 days, by the end of Friday, July 20. Municipalities have 20 days to appeal, by the end of Monday, July 30.

Virginia Ransbottom can be contacted at vransbottom@allegannews.com or at (269) 673-5534.

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