(UPDATE: This story has been edited to include an additional map of Ingham County Drain Commissioner Pat Lindemann's proposal for Ranney Park.)
Pat Lindemann, the Ingham County drain commissioner, is still pulling out his cell phone and showing folks a photo of the pollution that flows from storm sewer outlets into the Red Cedar River.
Lindemann said that in one recent half-inch rain, his team measured at least 3,100 pound of pollution that went directly into the river. He says it has to stop.
To that end, he has submitted a series of conceptual drawings to the Lansing City Council in a move to gain access to park property so that he can design drain systems that will clean the water before it hits the river.
His drain plan, he said, could likely handle up to 2 inches of rain in 24 hours before pollutants would spill into the river. He’s asking the Council for easements to Ranney Park and parts of the former Red Cedar Golf Course to create a natural water treatment system to address the Montgomery Drain area. It is unclear what the final cost of the project would be, but $30 million has been floated. The project could take years to complete.
For Ranney Park he is proposing the installation of eight open ponds, all interconnected with flowing water, using the park's natural slope to move the water. It would also feature natural areas, pavilions, overlooks and paths, all surrounded by a walkway. All of this would be contained north of the baseball diamond, leaving that, the tennis courts and the skate board park untouched. A large hill in the park would remain for sledding.
The plan for the old Red Cedar Golf Course includes two ponds connected with an outflow into the Red Cedar River. There would also be a wetlands area. Much of the area’s natural growth in trees would remain.
Underground pipes would connect all the water treated in Ranney Park with those in the former golf course, and when the system was not taking in new water from storms, it would circulate the water among the various features.
“It boils down to this,” he said. “Either I put that water there or I have to find someplace else to put it" — at more cost.
That water comes from an area bordered by U.S. 127 on the west and the Red Cedar River on the south that encompasses neighborhoods north of the Grand River, Frandor and Sears. It would also include some areas to the east in the city of East Lansing. He said the area is about four times larger than the 300 acres the region’s Tollgate system handles. Lindemann built a similar project for the Tollgate Drain in the Groesbeck neighborhood off of Wood Road. That system collects rainwater and runs it through a series of ponds. Those ponds and the natural ecosystems remove pollutants from the water.
The work Lindemann is proposing for the Montgomery Drain is considered essential to improving the conditions of the Red Cedar and drain systems in that area. It has been cited as a key piece of the infrastructure work necessary to attract the proposed Red Cedar Renaissance project on Michigan Avenue on the old golf course, which would include hotels, retail space and apartments.
Lindemann would like to break ground by winter 2016. If that happens, he expects the entire project would be completed in two and half years. City officials are continuing to negotiate a development agreement with developers on Red Cedar Renaissance.
Lindemann said in November the drain work will move forward whether the Renaissance project does or not. The two, he said, don't rely on each other to proceed. But they are mutually beneficial, with the drain work addressing water issues and potential pollution, and the development benefitting from parklike infrastructures — natural areas and walking paths — that also serve a public good in cleaning runoff water.
In November, city officials expressed concerns about the drain proposal as presented in a permit request to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero said then that the city had substantive issues with the plan, but he did not elaborate. “We’re trying to value-engineer this thing to get the most bang for the buck for taxpayers,” Bernero said. “In the end, taxpayers are going to have to pay for this.”
The project would end up adding tax assessments to property owners in the city, Lansing Township and East Lansing.
The city endorses cleaner water, but it is worried about overreach by the drain commissioner.
“We are concerned about the magnitude of the proposed project facilities and the associated impacts to the affected wetlands,” wrote Chad Gamble, the city's public service director, in a letter to MDEQ. Gamble argued that what the application indicates is “beyond what is necessary to meet DEQ’s Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) Program requirements or for goals related to achievement of water quality standards.”
Lindemann noted that the city’s complaints are based on assumptions, but without an actual plan, the claims are without supporting evidence. He said his mandate is to ensure that the Red Cedar watershed area off Michigan Avenue is designed right. But Lansing has told state regulators it believes Lindemann’s plan is excessive and “should and could be reduced.”
“Essentially what they are saying is that I will clean the water too much,” Lindemann said regarding the city’s letter. “How do you clean the water too much?”
In November, Lindemann told City Pulse the city’s letter was not about the drain project per se, but “posturing about money.” He said the permit he sought from the MDEQ would meet the state standards for handling and cleaning the "first flush" — the first inch of rain from a storm.
Council President Judi Brown Clarke said the conceptual drawings — more are available at www.lansingcitypulse.com — were “wonderful.” The proposal was referred to the Committee of the Whole, which would vet it jointly with the Park Commission to save time.
“It’s functional, but at the same time aesthetically pleasing,” Brown Clarke said. “It gives you an experience.”