Archive for Thursday, September 29, 2005

City debates mechanisms to fund drainage projects

September 29, 2005

Just three weeks after Hurricane Katrina helped break New Orleans' levees and flood that city, Lansing City Council convened to study drainage issues.

It was the Katrina situation that Council member Bob Ulin was thinking of when he said, "I'm scared of what will happen in another flood."

During a Thursday study session in the council's chambers at City Hall, the city's Public Works Department presented estimates that $2.75 million in drainage improvements were needed citywide, while present funding for storm water projects only covered about $20,000 a year. Just to pay for the necessary drainage improvements currently identified, the city would have to spend $137,500 per year (adjusted annually for inflation) for the next 20 years, according to a report by John Young, director of Public Works. The report estimates more than $25,000 of new needs appear annually.

Lansing probably will never have to fear the kind of water-wrought destruction evident in Katrina's wake, but erosion and floodplains are a perennial concern and will only get more expensive the longer Lansing defers dealing with storm water issues, officials said.

One of the sites studied by the council was Rock Creek development, which poses storm water problems because nothing has been done to shore up the streambed walls that abut the back yards of houses there.

"I suspect there was a lot of repairing vegetation (such as trees) they stripped for construction" while Rock Creek was being developed, Young told council members.

This situation has helped erode the walls of the stream behind Council member Andi Pawlowski's house so much that she estimated she's lost 15 to 20 feet of back yard.

One of the hotter points of contention among council members was how the city would pay for drainage facilities construction and maintenance. Most members seemed to agree with City Administrator Mike Smith that at least as far as getting the initial funding to begin work on the most urgent problems went, a 1- or 2-mill levy was needed. A mill is $1 in property taxes for every $1,000 in assessed valuation.

Ulin, though, called for benefit district funding: Property owners in districts that would benefit from facilities would pay for the construction and maintenance of those facilities.

The Rock Creek stream erosion, Ulin said, was a "perfect example of an argument for benefit district funding."

A storm water facilities study undertaken for the city in 1992 identified many areas where drainage problems exist, but no action has been taken on any of them.

Council member Don Studnicka denied Council member Ken Ketchum's assertion that problems were identified, "but not given to people" for consideration.

"That's not true," Studnicka said. "I was on the planning commission in 1992."

The problem, Studnicka said, was "we let developers build and ignore the laws."

Studnicka said the first tasks the council needed to do were to prohibit building within floodplains, figure out how to fix current problems, prioritize them and fund the city's capital improvements plan.

The council is expected to vote on how to fund drainage facilities and maintenance at a future meeting.

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