A project designed to improve a drain near the Frandor Shopping Center in Lansing took a small step forward Tuesday evening. The Ingham County Drain Commission voted to begin accepting designs for an extension of the Montgomery Drain.
"This is one step in the legal process to rebuild the infrastructure within this watershed that is desperately needed," said County Drain Commissioner Pat Lindemann. "Before I can expend money and do something, I have to look into it, which is what we're doing."
But before the commission voted, it heard testimony from a number of opponents of the project, including lawyers representing the Frandor Shopping Center, Lansing Township and the City of East Lansing.
"There are a lot of issues that they're making decisions on tonight for which they have no information," said Lansing Township Supervisor Kathleen Rodgers. "They're approving a drain that doesn't have a plan."
Rodgers says the commission has not followed the drain code throughout the process and she thinks it was done intentionally.
"By doing it the way they did it, we don't have a chance to take it to our legislative body to determine that yes, we will be part of this drainage district and have an opportunity to look at all the other things the other assessed units have to look at," she said.
There appears to be no disagreement about the potential environmental benefits of restructuring the drain system, which empties into the Red Cedar River. The Mid-Michigan Environmental Action Council says the pollution and flooding problems have been well documented.
Rather, it's the financial issues that seem to be causing tension. Neighboring municipalities wonder how they will benefit from the project, especially considering they will potentially be putting money in.
"We're just going to end up with a bill at the end, with no input," said Rodgers.
T.J. Bucholz, a spokesman for the Lansing Retail Center, which operates the Frandor Shopping Center, says he's not opposed to fixing the drain. He's concerned to where taxpayer money may go -- potentially, he says, to subsidizing the City of Lansing's plan to redevelop the former Red Cedar Golf Course.
But Lansing has refused to listen or meet with the LRC, he said, which is why lawyers raised more technical objections Tuesday.
The City of Lansing has told News 10 its interest is in public health, not property development.
Joel Ferguson, the potential developer of the old golf course, said the plan has nothing to do with him, but has everything to do with a clean environment.
Lindemann says he understands the frustrations opponents voiced at the hearing. After all, he said, it is confusing moving forward with a project where benefits aren't defined.
"What they do disagree about is paying for it," he said. "Everybody wants clean water and nobody wants to pay for it. The debate about who pays and how much they pay comes later."
Lindemann says the planning phase will occur over the next 6-12 months, during which the drain commission plans to seek a lot of public opinion and meet with the merchants in the shopping center.
Lansing Township, the LRC and others say they will counter with lawsuits.
"Lansing Retail is disappointed in the Drainage Board's not unexpected decision to proceed with the drain project," Bucholz said in a statement. "Lansing Retail must now exercise its right to obtain a court's review of this decision and will do so very soon."