Objections raised at public hearing on assessment district for Red Mill Pond dam repairs
A decision to form a special assessment district for repair and maintenance on the Red Mill Dam came a little closer to fruition at a public hearing on Monday, March 18. Lenawee Circuit court Judge Margaret Noe confirmed a legal lake level and special assessment roll of 49 property owners who would share the costs involved.The hearing was one in a series of steps, and afforded an opportunity for comment by citizens who were deemed part of the proposed district.Lenawee County Counsel to the Board of Commissioners, Irving Shaw, and Judge Noe first heard testimony from Stephen May, Lenawee County Drain Commissioner and Claire Schwartz, a licensed civil engineer and senior assistant with Fishback, Thompson, Carr and Huber (FTC&H) of Grand Rapids. May testified about meetings held to notify the public and affected parties and how bids were sought for professional consultation on lake level studies and establishing the boundaries for the assessment.Schwartz described the assessment process and how FTC&H would oversee the permitting process and drawdown for dam repairs in a way that would also minimize the environmental impact of doing so.Four individuals took advantage of the judge’s invitation to comment. Robert Stross, who lives on Red Mill Pond and is a member of Friends of Red Mill Pond, gave some historical background about alerting others upon learning of a state order to draw down the pond in 2011. He said residents around the pond gathered signatures on a petition quickly in an attempt to prevent the drawdown. “We didn’t know the cost and it was a leap of faith,” he said. Stross added that the group believed the assessment district would be larger than the proposed 49 named property owners.“Our pond is very special; it’s beautiful to look at,” Stross said. “It’s true value is in the aesthetics.” He also said he and another Friends member Frank Quinn had asked the county to explain methodology for establishing boundaries and how the assessment would levy properties, but had received no response.“We just don’t’ agree with the way the assessment district is being set up,” he said. “If we would have known it would be such a small group of people, I’m not so sure people would have signed the petition.”Dan Maves, owner of Newburg Meadows LLC, said he objected to 10 acres of his property being included in the assessment as he receives no benefit from the pond. The parcel sits 10-30 feet off the shoreline and includes embankments, and five to seven acres is farmed. “It’s virtually land locked,” he said, “and present economic conditions prevent us from pursuing development of the property for many years.”Tecumseh Township Supervisor Roy Schlegel presented a letter requesting property in the township on Tonneberger Drive and a parcel owned by CTE be excluded. Judge Noe said the letter would be taken into consideration.Frank Quinn stated that he is a professional engineer and holds a doctorate in the field of hydrology, noting that he had concerns that there was no evidence that any consideration was given other than having property abutting the pond. “The state says that all people who benefit should be in the assessment district and the benefits include the view and property values of adjacent properties,” he said.May was recalled to the stand and Shaw inquired as to whether view had been a factor in any other projects, to which May responded that view was not used as a criteria on any project administered through is office, nor had any type of aesthetics been considered in the value assessment methodology.Following a recess, Judge Noe returned with her decision. She said she heard the citizens, but was also satisfied that the public laws had been fulfilled through required notices and public hearings.“I’m certainly satisfied that Ms. Schwartz and her company have done their assigned and retained work necessary to support their recommendations,” she said. “They have identified those with direct benefit, those with navigable benefit, and direct access including public corporations noted in their report. They have clearly identified the basis for establishment of water levels for Red Mill Pond and operating the dam to regulate water levels.” She also added that Tecumseh is a “wonderful community,” and a “beautiful part of our county.” Judge Noe said the order to raise and lower the levels at certain times and rates were to be continued, also that the special assessment district be approved to handle costs related to management of the Red Mill Pond. On Tuesday, May said his office and the consultants met with citizens prior to the hearing to answer questions, and revisited the study that was done proposing approximately $315,000 to address the needs. “In the next couple of months computations will be made and we’ll seek design and permit approvals,” he said. The plan includes a proposed drawdown of the pond for construction by late summer or early fall.May said the county had also applied for a grant with the U.S. Fisheries and Wildlife to include a fish ladder so fish could get past the dam for spawning and repopulation purposes. The grant could be up to $200,000 to help with costs for the dam structure. May added that a county grant writer is also looking for other possible grants to apply for.Tecumseh City Manager Kevin Welch who attended the hearing with Mayor Richard Johnson, told city council members Monday night that he felt the residents “did a very good job” presenting their opinions at the hearing, and informed them that the city’s share in the assessment could be approximately $21,000, and could be paid over a 10-year period. The city doesn’t own property on the dam but has infrastructure connected to it.May said the estimate was derived by looking at what the infrastructure would cost if the pond were to be drained and the city had to extend its storm sewers out to the pond rather than at the pond line, and estimates were determined.