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Water Woes

Ponds need dredging, or just wait for rain In Part 2 in a series on low water levels this summer in Clarkston's Mill Pond, we examine possible solutions.

July 25, 2012 - For Bob Ryeson, the upper portion of Mill Pond "needs dredging" to get rid of accumulated sediment in the water. In 1975, Mill Pond residents paid approximately $40,000 for dredging.

The Mill Pond subcommittee has already looked into dredging as a solution, said representative Frank Shoebel.

"As far as dredging it, it'd be hard to get permits," he said.

It is also a matter of expense. When the subcommittee considered dredging, Shoebel recalls an estimate of $250,000 to $300,000.

They also "toyed around with limited dredging to get [the pond] back to its original stream, but it still would be expensive," Shoebel said.

"I don't see that [dredging] would be a miracle fix," Bob Roth said. "We just need rain."

On July 10, the Mill Pond Subcommittee held an informal meeting to discuss the water level of the pond; approximately 30 concerned citizens attended. Mill Pond Resident Ralph Daigle spoke up.

"I want to know what written authority from the state of Michigan allows [Adler] to control a public waterway," he said.

"I'm for playing hardball," Daigle exclaimed.

When Daigle suggested the residents of the pond issue a "lawsuit for damages to their property," he received a resounding round of applause. Some called out, "we're with you!"

While many were supportive of taking legal action, others hoped to solve the issue of the low water levels by other means. Hank Radcliff, who operated the dam for eight years while the Hawks owned the property, thinks the situation "can be solved if we work together" and believes "there is enough water probably to satisfy both parties."

He suggested if Mill Pond residents "come together with the Mills owners, and the citizens come up with a dam budget, they might be able to develop funding to pay for a dam" to keep water in the upper pond.

Radcliff described his experience while operating the dam, saying he looked at the pond everyday and would make changes according to the level.

He believes at least three people are needed to run the dam regularly and wondered if Ed Adler or Bob Roth would be willing to turn over operation of the dam.

Roth doesn't believe the dam is being operated improperly. He watches the rain to determine when to open or close the dam but doesn't keep a record of the changes he makes.

City Councilman and Mill Pond subcommittee member Steve Hargis wondered if the City couldn't "work something out with Roth and Adler to let the DPW control the dam and give the responsibility to some people already on the city's payroll."

Roth was not open to the idea, however. "If you are going to take over operation, you have to take over responsibility," he said.

From building a new dam to dredging, the Mill Pond residents are seeking a solution to the low water levels.

However, Gary Tressel, a city engineer who was asked to speak at the subcommittee meeting said, no matter what, "it's going to be big dollars."

The question of cost and who bears it is of concern to the residents. During a meeting with the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) on June 29, Mill Pond Dam owner Ed Adler said he's tried to give up ownership, but no one is willing to take responsibility of the dam.

At the July 10 subcommittee meeting, citizens debated possibilities regarding possession of the dam.

Mill Pond resident Mike Fetzer was suspicious of the owner's willingness to give up the dam. He thinks "they want to sell it so they can benefit and we have to take responsibility and assume liability."

From Fetzer's point of view, "they accepted legal responsibility when they bought the property."

When the DEQ met with Adler and other concerned parties about the pond on July 29, District Supervisor of the Water Resources Division Andrew Hartz said, "If Ed Adler wants the dam to be someone else's responsibility, he doesn't need our permission to sell or turn over the dam."

Hartz explained the purpose of DEQ's visit was "to look at the issue today, understand the residents concerns, and speak with the owner. We will continue to investigate and will soon provide information to the owner about the inflows and outflows [of water] to stay in compliance with state law."

The Department of Natural Resources' (DNR) Chief of Dam Safety Program Byron Lane said, "Michigan law governs inland lakes, and an owner cannot diminish the size of a lake without a permit from the DNR. There's no law that requires training to operate a dam; no law that governs how a dam should be operated."

He also pointed out that the low water level may not be due to poor operation of the dam.

"In Michigan in general, water levels do get lower in the summer, and this has been a pretty dry stretch," said Lane.

The Oakland County Lake Improvement Board does monitor lake levels for special assessment districts, and the Mill Pond is one of the water bodies the Lake Improvement Board monitors, but they don't oversee its water level.

"We don't have control over the lake level, unless it was a court ordered legal lake level or if we were petitioned to have maintenance or ownership of the dam. That would be the only time we would get involved," said Jacy Garrison who is the county representative on the board.

According to Garrison, the Lake board's duties when it comes to the Mill Pond only include hiring someone to do weed treatments and goose control programs because the dam is privately owned.

On the other hand, "if 50 percent of homeowners around the lake signed a petition, the county could take over the dam and set up a special assessment district" said Byron Lane of the DNR.

Such a petition would require the level of the pond to remain at a specified height.

While dredging or changing owners of the dam are some possible solutions, residents along the pond can reduce weeds by being mindful of fertilizer use.

According to Hydro-geologist and Storm Water Specialist Tammie Heazlit, residents "can't put fertilizer on their grass and expect it to not have an effect on the Mill pond."

"Fertilizers cause algae growth, which depletes the oxygen levels and kills fish," Heazlit explained.

She recommended reducing fertilizers and placing "buffer strips along the pond to keep debris and sediment down" to help with vegetation growth.

For now, those along the Mill Pond shoreline are weighing their options, but aren't pleased with the responses they've received.

"Outside of lip service, I haven't seen anything done" since Ralph Daigle first contacted the DNR and DEQ in September of 2011.

"If the DNR works for the people, I expect more out of my public servants," he said.

Frank Shoebel agreed to organize a meeting with pond residents and DEQ respresentatives who might be able to better respond to their queries.

Shoebel also hopes to provide estimates for dredging. As of July 13, Shoebel's phone calls to the DEQ had not been answered.

Clarkston News reporter
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