Development of proposed new park on Red Mill Pond could include public access to the pond and River Raisin

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An old sign from a bankrupt housing project on Red Mill Pond, located off Bishop Reed Drive, lies near the site of a proposed county park where a public access would be constructed. Photo by Mickey Alvarado.

If everything progresses in a direction that Lenawee County Drain Commissioner Stephen May hopes they might, a small public park could be developed to access Red Mill Pond and bring an added benefit — eligibility to apply for grants. And the Lenawee County Drain Commission has been looking into grants to help fund an estimated $315,000 in repairs and maintenance for the Red Mill Pond Dam to help defray costs that those in the assessment district would have to shoulder.

“Part of the criteria that is looked at when we apply for these grants is public access, which gets a higher ranking during consideration,” said May, who has recently made contact with Paul Yauk with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) real estate division. “They are working on what they call the Blue Water Trails system that provides shoreline access for fishing, canoeing and kayaking along bodies of water,” May said.

May and the DNR officials identified approximately two acres behind the Masonic building on Bishop Reed Drive that could potentially provide some public access to the pond. “Potentially, if public access is secured, it would be the DNR that would purchase it,” said May. “They like local participation, whether it’s city or private.”

He said the idea was proposed to the Lenawee County Park Commission to consider being a part of the project. There is no DNR money for improvements, so the land would at first be limited in terms of what would be there, but May said once there is public access, grant funds exist for such things.

“This is all still in the preliminary stages, but the DNR has met with the property’s owner, the K-West Group,” said May. K-West did infrastructure work for the proposed Red Mill Pond Development prior to foreclosure on the property. The company was awarded property in a court settlement that followed. May estimates that there is approximately 35 to 39 acres along the shoreline, but said the parcel being proposed for public access has the best slope to the water where some areas are higher.

“The DNR Real Estate Division is currently negotiating with the owner, and we’re out of that loop,” said May. “But we’re keeping our fingers crossed that it will work out.”

Key to the acquisition would be the benefit of the higher ranking on the grant applications. May said the state has a grant program with a total of approximately $350,000 in it, and the Drain Commission has applied for approximately $100,000 in funding. In a second grant, a fish passage grant, another $100,000 has been applied for. Both grants will be considered in 2014.

“If both grants come together, we have a great opportunity to lower costs for the district and provide access as well,” May said. “But they are very competitive grants.”

Tecumseh City Manager Kevin Welch said the city was asked if they would have any objection if a public access site could be made possible on the waterway.

“My understanding is the DNR is interested in a piece of land where they would create a boat launch,” he said. “We responded that we wouldn’t oppose that as long as the residents on the pond are okay with it and understand fully what it means to have public access to the pond.”

May said a meeting of key players was recently held and approximately half the attendees were property owners around Red Mill Pond. “They were unanimous that we should do this,” he said. “Red Mill Pond is not exclusive and public access would generate more people using it as well as some economies with people coming into Tecumseh to buy gas and food and visit the city. If this all came together it would be a very, very good project. The bottom line is this area is the River Raisin impounded by a dam, so we’re hoping things come together for everyone.”

A team of engineers from Fishback, Thompson, Carr and Huber of Grand Rapids inspected the dam this fall, and May said Drain Commission officials have been going through preliminary information with the company.

“There are no major deficiencies or repairs needed at the site beyond what we expected,” he said. “We now have a little better idea of how we’re going to move forward with our final design.” Some gates thought previously not to be operational actually were functional. “Underwater, everything seemed solid — the foundation and walls. Most of the work will be above the water level, such as the catwalk and a new stop-log that’s used to raise and lower the dam.”

May said that $315,000 is “still the number we’re shooting for,” but once a final design comes together using the information from the inspection, a cost evaluation will be conducted on the scope of the work and a budget developed. Then the project would go out to bid, when numbers would be more clear. He expects bids to go out in late spring or early fall of 2014. The state permit for the drawdown doesn’t allow a drawdown until October 1.

“That makes it a late construction season, but we should have everything in place before that and be ready to start the first of October,” he said. “We now have a five-year permit, which gives us some flexibility. We didn’t want to do a hurry-up job this year, and the state said it was okay as long as there is an operator and it’s not falling apart. We own it now and we operate it. So that bought us a little more time. We’re hopeful now on the second round for the grants.”

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