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HARRISON – Clare County Drain Commissioner Carl Parks addressed the January meeting of the Clare County Board of Commissioners to inform and receive board approval to proceed with dam repairs at Doc n Tom Lake/Lake of the Pines.
“We’re replacing the stop logs on the dam that’s over there,” Parks said. “Last year it was very critical, leaking very bad.”
He said Lapham’s had been called out to inspect the dam and it was agreed that the board all would have to be replaced. Parks explained that he was coming before the BOC because the cost for replacement would exceed $10,000.
“We put out four bids and only received one back,” Parks said. “We had a timeline on those bids, and only one replied back.”
Parks said the cost for the project totaled $39,000 and also said the other two bidders would be contacted to determine if they had any interest, and if so, the bidding deadline could be extended a few days. He said that if there were no other bids, the original bid would be accepted “not to exceed $50,000.”
“This is all going to be taken care of by special assessment from over there at Freeman Township, Lake of the Pines District – probably a two-year assessment,” Parks said.
He added that the hope is to have the job completed before March 1 of this year.
“They’re pretty much ready to go; it’s a company out of West Branch that does a lot of dam repairs and they do it any time of the year,” he said. “Actually, it’s a good time of year to do it; the water level’s low right now, so they can get in.”
Parks said the most expensive part of the project is putting the coffer dam in and taking the coffer dam out. Asked by Commissioner Jack Kleinhardt about lowering the lake, Parks said there would be no need for lowering the water level. Commissioner Mark Fitzpatrick questioned whether there would be any need to borrow money to cover the cost in the interim between spending the township’s current special assessment balance of $10,000 and when the assessment funds are paid again by the district’s residents, and if so, would any loan interest be figured into the project cost. Parks said his department’s lake levels revolving fund would cover that, then be replenished from the SAD revenue. The commissioners then approved a motion to allow Parks to proceed ahead with the dam repair.
Parks also dropped by the Jan. 21 Hayes Township general board meeting to update the township board and residents there about what he’s been working on in the county.
“A lot of people don’t know what a drain commissioner does,” Parks said. “We handle 54 county drains that are irrigational drains in farmlands; sometimes they’re in people’s backyards. What we do is make sure those drains are clean, not plugged up.”
Parks said a lot of problems are caused when beavers plug up drains, so his department has to take out the beavers and keep the water flowing. He went on to say there are several projects he’s working on, one of the largest being the Little Tobacco Drain down in Clare.
“That’s been going on for several years now trying to get the DEQ, the state, the feds to get this thing rolling so we can continue and get the job done,” he said. “There’s a lot of flooding that goes on.”
Parks said that project started out with a $3 million price tag and now sits at about $7 million. He said that stoppages by DEQ and being required to add more and more things to the project has brought that price up and up. That project includes a $2 million federal grant designated for removal of homes in the flood plain.
“This is strictly a voluntary thing,” Parks said. “They don’t have to sell, but right now we’ve got 17 [out of 21] that say they’re willing to sell their house, so that’s pretty good.”
Permits are still needed before that demolition can begin.
“We want to get it started by the end of February or March,” Parks said. “Then we have to get contractors involved to remove the homes; you’ve got to have asbestos people look at everything before any of this is done.”
He said it is a “major process” and that it has to be complete by 2021.
Parks also talked about the dam work at Doc and Tom Lake/Lake of the Pines, noting that since the BOC meeting there had been another bid received. He cited the earlier $39,000 bid and the second bid of $25,000.
Parks described the difference between the bids, saying the first out of West Branch included a coffer dam installation cost of $27,000. He said the second bidder, out of Mount Pleasant, said he would place a piece of steel in front of the dam to shut off the water flow – then replace the boards with aluminum, which are expected to last 80-100 years.
“I said ‘this is it, this is what we’re going to go with,’” Parks said. “So, we’re going to get this thing done in one year.”
He explained that the dam project would be paid by special assessment to the people who live in that area, breaking it down as $25 for those who live on the lakefront or nearby, and $10-$15 for other folks. Parks also said the contractor expects to be able to start around Feb. 1.
“Everybody over there should be happy on that deal, and we saved them a lot of money,” Parks said.
Parks also talked about the 21 county lakes he handles in regard to lake levels, and dealing with lake improvement boards.
“When I’m doing my lake levels I’m all over the place,” he said. “I’m opening dams and closing dams – everybody has a complaint: the lake’s too high, the lake’s too low.”
Following that line of thought, Parks noted that Budd Lake residents are talking about putting a lake level on their lake, particularly since there is nowhere for that lake’s water to go.
“They’ve been extremely high this year,” Parks said. “Right since springtime; I’m getting a lot of complaints from them.”
He said the problem is that there is no legal lake level on that lake, so petitions will be provided which will require signatures from two-thirds of the lakefront residents to get a lake level set.
“If we get two-thirds of the people to sign up for this, then we send it to an engineer,” Parks said. “An engineer has to do a study, then they’ve got to figure out what they’re going to do with the water; where’s the water going to go?”
He said there had been suggestion of pumping it into Little Long Lake, which in turn would have to deal with it, as would Sutherland Lake.
“And their spillways aren’t going to handle it, so probably all those would have to be updated,” Parks said. “
Of course, engineering can be costly, and Parks cited a situation years ago where the county commissioners agreed to front the money for a lake study, but the deal never went through, resulting in a $20,000 loss. Parks said he would recommend commissioners not proceed that way again.
“If they can come up with the money to get the engineering done – and I’m looking at maybe $30,000-$40,000 – that people are going to have to come up from their association or whatever,” Parks said. “If they can’t do it, it ain’t happening.”
Parks said that there had been an issue with levels on Long Lake this year, which had led ultimately to just leaving that dam open most of the winter to allow water to “get back down to where it should be.” He said that action can be iffy too, because spring rain is not guaranteed, which could then lead to the level being so low that people can’t get their boats out.
“It’s really a tough decision to have to make,” he said. “So you just make the decision and hope for the best.”
Terry Acton, Hayes Township supervisor, asked Parks to clarify how his department is funded, wherein Parks said that his and his secretary’s wages are paid by the county, but that everything else that is done is funded through special assessment.