Aug. 10 2011 12:00 AM

With Council approval or not, the county drain commissioner will clean the Red Cedar River

The Ingham County drain commissioner said it’ll be an
“absolute shame” if he has to move ahead with plans to clean up the
polluted Red Cedar River without a plan to develop part of the nearby
city parkland as well.

Pat Lindemann is referring to the Bernero administration’s
proposal to ask voters to sell off nearly 13 acres of the 61-acre
former Red Cedar Golf Course for private development. Lindemann is in
charge of the other 48 acres. He’s on a mission to clean storm-water
runoff from nearby developed areas — particularly the cemented Frandor
Shopping Center — before it reaches the Red Cedar River.

Together, the plans represent a “gold mine,” Lindemann told the Lansing City Council Monday.

“An opportunity like this doesn’t come along very often,”
he said. “My plan is to clean the water, period. It just so happens we
sit on an opportunity to invite a whole bunch of investment.”

The land-sale proposal — the City Charter requires voter
approval to sell parkland — is before the City Council for a second
time. The administration wants the Council to put a referendum on the
Nov. 8 ballot seeking permission to sell the land. The same proposal
failed to make it past a Council committee in May, along with a proposal
to ask voters to sell the former Waverly Golf Course and adjacent
Michigan Avenue Park. Council voted 4-3 against Mayor Virg Bernero’s
effort to seek voter permission in last week’s primary election. Some
members complained about a lack of information about potential
development plans.

Lindemann said that 15 similar drain projects he led
during his five terms as drain commissioner, like the Tollgate Drain
natural area just east of Groesbeck Golf Course, have “won international
awards. “You combine that with major economic development and the city
of Lansing is sitting on a gold mine. … I think we sit on the threshold
of a very exciting moment in Lansing history.”

Lindemann has said the Montgomery Drain system, which
includes Frandor, is the largest polluter of the Red Cedar River because
of the area’s roughly 75 percent impervious surface that pipes water
directly into the river. Essentially, Lindemann wants to use the golf
course as a huge catch basin to filter water before it reaches the
river, interrupting the direct flow from road or parking lot to river. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
is considering putting the river on its Total Maximum Daily Load list
because pollution exceeds recommended levels for partial- and full-body
contact. Lindemann told the Council he’s been trying for three to four
years to “fix this environmental problem, which is significant.”
Michigan State University conducted a survey about three years ago to
measure how residents envision repurposing the golf course so it can
effectively treat storm-water runoff.

But Lindemann’s project does not depend on whether the
Council approves ballot language and voters subsequently permit the sale
of the park property. 

“I have to pursue a fix regardless of what they do based
on the fact that the water that goes into the Red Cedar River is
polluted,” he said in an interview. “My project has to happen, with or
without this proposal.”

Lindemann said: “Sure, I can just fix the water problem,
but what does that do? That really doesn’t (look at) the big picture. I
think we would not be doing our job if we didn’t pursue something
larger, bigger or better. It would be an absolute shame for me to pursue
it without this proposal. I would be very disappointed.”

Lindemann said he’s required under two phases of the
federal Clean Water Act to clean up discharges into the Red Cedar River,
which was enacted during the Richard Nixon administration. The act
allows local units of government a certain amount of time to come into
compliance with Clean Water Act standards, depending on what type of
change is proposed, he said.

“Generally speaking, within five to eight years we should
be well under way to a cure for these pollution inputs (into the Red
Cedar River),” he said.

The cost of paying for Lindemann’s plan depends on what
Lansing voters give him permission to do. He wouldn’t even speculate on
prices, but said it will depend on costs for easements, construction,
design and contractor fees.

Bob Trezise, president and CEO of the Lansing Economic
Development Corp., said Monday that the nearly 13 acres on the north
side of the golf course along Michigan Avenue appraised for $5 million.
If voters approve in November, it would set off a public Request for
Proposals from developers. 

The Council will discuss Red Cedar, along with the Waverly
proposal (which is not tied to a redevelopment plan), at a Committee of
the Whole meeting Monday. A subsequent Council vote is planned for Aug.
22 if the proposals make it out of the committee, Council President
A’Lynne Robinson said. The Council must approve the referendum by Aug.
30 for it to appear on the Nov. 8 ballot.

In an interview, Trezise was quick to quell speculation he
had heard that perhaps the city already is set on a potential developer
of the property.

“There is not at developer or anyone else selected,
period. We’ve had many discussions with many investors, and we told
everyone it would be open and fair, and I meant it,” he said. 

“This is a 50- to 100-year project for this city,” Trezise
said about the project’s potential legacy. “I am not going to waste all
of that on some Podunk, secret deal with anyone.”