July 18, 2012 - Oxford Township gave its approval last week to pursue a two-phase course of action with the potential to not only solve a long-standing problem, but also preserve a large section of environmentally-sensitive land.
The township board voted 5-1 to spend up to $5,000 to have the Rochester Hills-based Spalding DeDecker Associates, Inc. prepare a grant application for submittal to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) in the hopes of obtaining funding to resolve the drainage issues that have plagued the Elk View Estates subdivision for approximately 13 years and do it an environmentally-friendly way.
"I don't think anybody's real crazy about it, spending the $5,000," said Treasurer Joe Ferrari. "But this grant (application) will tell us whether we're on the right path or not. If we're not on the right path, we're not going to get too far into the process."
If a grant for the drainage fix is secured, the township would then work with the nonprofit Six Rivers Regional Land Conservancy to acquire – via another grant funding source – 104 acres of vacant land located near Elk View Estates and place a conservation easement over it to protect it from future development.
According to Dane Truscott, a land protection specialist with Six Rivers, the 104 acres is located in the "critical headwaters" of the Stony/Paint Creek River and has "considerable natural resource value." This flows into the Clinton River, which is "an area of concern," Truscott said.
Located on the east side of Baldwin Rd., south of Hummer Lake Rd., Elk View Estates has been the focus of much controversy, tons of tax dollars and many headaches for both its residents and township officials.
In addition to having drainage problems that routinely lead to the flooding of some residents' basements and yards, neither of Elk View's main roads – Elkview and Bull Run – legally exists because they were never dedicated as either public or private roads nor were they ever approved by the county road commission.
Both roads are still technically private property and part of the 104 acres, owned by Bronco Investments, being considered for acquisition by the township and Six Rivers.
Virtually everyone agrees that it was the allegedly improper actions of Scott Constable, the developer who created Elk View Estates, that were primarily responsible for the current situation. However, it's also understood that errors made by Oakland County and the township's building department compounded the problems and added to the mess. Constable declared bankruptcy in 2005 and moved out of state.
The township previously paid about $80,000 to have a traditional drainage solution designed for the subdivision. Unfortunately, it's not been implemented for two big reasons.
First, the township can't get enough Elk View property owners to sign a petition establishing a Special Assessment District (SAD), which would allow them to help pay to resolve the situation.
The township previously agreed to pay 65 percent of the estimated $325,000 construction cost to fix the drainage problems and bring the subdivision's two roads up to public standards so they can be accepted, owned and maintained by the county road commission.
The plan was for the other 35 percent to be paid by Elk View property owners.
Unfortunately, the township's been unable to secure enough signatures to create the SAD.
Second, even if the SAD was established, the drainage fix as currently designed can't be legally implemented because it involves having the excess surface water flow onto Bronco Investments' 104 acres.
Bronco Investments won't give permission for this to happen. The entity basically informed township officials they will have to purchase the land, if they want the excess water to drain there.
The two-phase plan currently being pursued by the township could solve this issue because if the 104 acres is purchased, Bronco Investments would then sign the SAD petition opening the way for the other 35 percent to fund Elk View solution.
In addition to the 104 acres, Bronco owns a piece of property inside the subdivision that has the potential to be divided into five residential lots. This basically gives the entity five votes to help create the SAD.
Despite the logic of it, some officials worried about spending even more tax money on the Elk View situation after the township's already expended more than $200,000 in legal fees, not to mention $80,000 in engineering fees.
Dunn asked, "Will this $5,000 get us a grant or not?"
"There's no guarantee in that," Truscott replied.
"I don't want to keep spending money chasing a solution that might not be there," Dunn said.
Ferrari noted that Jason Matteo, a project manager with Spalding DeDecker Associates, "seems pretty positive that this (drainage solution) could be funded."
"I believe this potential project has a great shot at receiving additional funding due to the location and environmental sensitivity of the site according to the MDEQ," Matteo wrote in a June 27 e-mail to Ferrari.
It will be necessary to redesign the Elk View drainage solution so the water flows onto the adjacent 104 acres in an environmentally-friendly manner.
The township's current plan basically involves just piping the water there the old-fashioned way.
"The township's already spent $80,000 (for a design) to remedy the situation," Dunn said. "I'm not in favor of going through another design for a maybe."
"I feel your pain there," said Jim Sharpe, the township's engineer. "But if you want to get the DEQ to approve this, you're going to have to (do) something that's more environmentally-sensitive as opposed to just sticking a tube in the ground and dumping (water) onto a piece of property that currently we don't really have any jurisdiction to dump the water on to."
Sharpe was asked by officials if he believes the environmental drainage fix would cost more or less than the township's current design?
"I think it's going to run around the same cost," he replied. "I don't think it's going to be any cheaper."
Looking at the overall picture, Sharpe told the board, "Is it going to save the township any money from the 65 percent that you've already committed to? I don't think so. I think that you're still going to end up spending a considerable amount of money to go through this process."
Some officials asked if the 104 acres were acquired from Bronco Investments, how would the purchase be funded and who would own the land – the township or Six Rivers?
"We would go through another grant application (process), probably through the . . . Michigan Natural Resource Trust Fund," Truscott said. "There's multiple funding sources that local units of government can chase after and nonprofits like Six Rivers can chase after."
"We've made it clear, too, that we're only going to commit financially to what we'd commit . . . for the drainage fix," Ferrari noted. "If this all comes through and the grant says, 'Township, you have to contribute $500,000,' I'll be the first one to say I'm out."
As far as the issue of ownership, Truscott told officials, "Oxford Township might have to own it (or) Six Rivers might own it. We don't care either way as long as there's a conservation easement over the critical headwater area."
Dunn asked, "What will the township be able to do with this piece of property? Could (we) have a passive park? Could (we) have soccer fields?"
"It would be more of a natural area," Truscott responded. "You could have walking trails and stuff like that . . . There would be a conservation easement over the property, which would (prohibit) soccer fields. It would stay as is in its natural state."
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.