MONTAGUE – Several Brookwood Circle residents are not happy with Muskegon County Drain Commissioner Brenda Moore.
These residents are riparian landowners alongside the Buttermilk Creek. At a meeting on Monday, Sept. 16, they voiced their disagreements to the city council during a public comment period.
“We were not in town when they had the one and only meeting. We were told it would be multiple meetings,” said Phil Petsch, who was the first to speak.
“We (he and his wife Rhonda) were told by the city they would be getting back to us immediately. Saturday, we got a letter in the mail from the drain commissioner, that stated they changed things a little bit, and they are willing to pay us instead of taking our property along the creek for $1.”
He said that he was now being offered by the drain commissioner’s office fair market value for a section of land for use as an easement. Petsch, appearing frustrated, said if he didn’t accept the offer his property would be seized through condemnation.
According to the website Free Advice, condemnation is the power granted to the government to seize property for public use.
“I am upset how this has been handled, I am upset that I am basically helpless in the deal. What jumps out at me is we have lived on the creek for 20 some years, when it would rain it would really come up, well guess what it’s not doing that this summer, said Petsch.
“We just had three hard days of rain this last week. Friday morning was the only time the creek came up, and it came up less than half than it normally does.”
Petsch said he believes the problem with the drain is coming from the northern part of the creek.
Another resident, James Lawrence said he moved to the city in October 2018. He said he attended the informational meeting Moore’s office had regarding the project to get caught up.
Having spoken to neighbors not living on the creek, Lawrence said he learned that most of them were not informed about the informational meeting. He seemed to feel strongly that these should have been included in the talks since they would be in the assessed area of the project.
“The last meeting we had, and I attended, being new I wanted to get caught up. It served only as frustration, and we asked questions of the director (Moore), and she couldn’t answer them. She was quite upset about how we received her, said Lawrence.
“So she decided to make personal calls to individual properties. She came to my house and my wife had to pull me inside, literally, because of her attitude was one to already to go after a fight.”
Lawrence said he and his wife Barbara moved from Indianapolis, Ind. He said the creek was what drew him to the Montague area. He didn’t feel like there was enough discussion leading to the proposed drainage project.
Steve Lohman who lives on Pinebrook Drive said he does not have property on Buttermilk Creek, but lives within the assessed drain district. He said he also had an issue with the drain project.
“I guess what I am understanding that the drain commissioner is looking to buy these drain easements for a dollar, but that didn’t pan out. So now we’re hearing different numbers being thrown out there,” said Lohman.
“I’m hearing one gentleman is probably going to get $3,000 for his property, so the drain commissioner can do what they need to do on that property. I don’t see any benefit where I live by being in the special assessment district, yet every time I hear someone is getting paid for their easements my cost goes up – this is extremely frustrating.”
Lohman said the city council should be talking to these people and telling them to not be greedy.
Council member Bruce Froelich said he is a neighbor with many of the people in attendance that evening. He said that no one has approached him for more clarification, and that the easements are not seizures of their property.
He assured them the residents would still own their property, but the easements will allow the drain commissioner access to go on or near the creek to do work. This, he said, is similar to the types of easements that are granted to gas and power companies.
Moore’s office was petitioned by the City of Montague back in 2017 to help with issues involving the creek. That January, former mayor Jim Neubauer expressed concerns about the project due to the unique nature of his own property.
Neubauer’s residence is split between two drain districts, but he was told he would only be assessed for the portion of his property that was within the Buttermilk Creek Drain District.
However, the city’s concerns began back in 2015 when water flooded the basement White Lake Senior Center, 8741 Ferry St. City Manager Jeff Auch approached Moore in 2015 who was seeking help in improving drain conditions for that area of the city.
Moore told the city in 2015 that due to the route of Buttermilk Creek that parts of it weren’t covered by her department. The city would have to petition for the drain district to be extended and re-certified.
Earlier in March, the city granted easements to Brenda Moore for the properties it owned around Buttermilk Creek.
At its March 26, 2019 meeting Moore told the city council, “As you may know, the Drain Commissioner’s office is in the process of finalizing an engineering design to alleviate the highly erosive nature of Buttermilk Creek. We intend to provide detention upstream from residential areas and slow the force of the water coming down the creek ravine with a series of rock step-pools.”
She continued, “Additionally, we will be stabilizing stream banks throughout the system to protect private and public property. When complete, Buttermilk Creek will be calmed, better suited for wildlife habitat, and a nicer amenity through your property.”
Auch said he will be contacting Moore to help facilitate better communication with the Montague residents