July 21 • 09:42 PM

Finally flowing free

After 15 years, much controversy, Mill Creek project nearing end

November 07, 2007
ST. CLAIR COUNTY — The Mill Creek project—a culmination of more than 15 years of controversy, lawsuits and countless studies—is close to completion less than a year after it began.

Employees from B&V Construction of Romulus were wrapping up their dredging work on the South Branch in the coming weeks including the removal of a beaver dam at the the start of the project site in Lynn Twp.

"It couldn't have gone any better," Foreman Pete Barachkov said on Thursday.

"The property owners were cooperative and work went as scheduled."

St. Clair County Drain Commissioner Fred Fuller concurred.

Lynn Twp. farmer Doug Nemecek is confident that dredging and tree trimming along the South Branch of Mill Creek will improve drainage, particularly where the South and North branches converge east of Sterling Rd. photo by Maria Brown.

"The property owners are quite pleased with it. We had very few complaints, if any," Fuller said.

Last December, Edwards Land Clearing of Metamora began thinning trees along ten miles of the drain from Mussey, Lynn and Brockway townships.

The best shade trees were left to suppress brush growth, preserve water quality and improve fish habitat.

Following the fish spawning season which drew to a close in July, crews began selective dredging at sites of sediment build up, aiming to restore the original bottom slope and width of the 1956 drain project.

This week Barachkov, Superintendent Hal Neighbors and operators Dale Harris and Rod Adams had plans to remove what remains of a beaver dam between Biles and Norman roads.

Eventually, they'll also clean out and remove a sediment sump created downstream of the project to collect any disturbed material from the dredging.

Lynn Twp. resident Doug Nemecek has followed the work crews' progress and is impressed with the outcome. In addition to the obvious drainage improvement, Nemecek said that property owners along the drain should be pleased with the aesthetic quality too.

He's watched as Harris and Adams have navigated steep slopes and marshy banks in their heavy equipment, pausing to gingerly move turtles and other creatures they came across along the shores.

"They've been very conscientious," Nemecek said.

Long a proponent of a larger project, Nemecek said he's just pleased to see some relief for his 200 acres.

"Now we need a 3-4 inch rain to give it a good test," he said.

Besides the work done in his own backyard, Nemecek is encouraged by improvements at the convergence of the South and North branches of Mill Creek.

"This is where the problem has been," he said.

The North Branch was dug in 1966, ten years after the South Branch, by the Army Corps of Engineers.

"They dug a superior ditch to the South Branch and that caused a lot of the problems," Nemecek said, pointing out how the North Branch flows faster than the South.

Fuller said crews will take this winter to finish up tree thinning, using the ice to help them access some steep banks. This spring, they'll check to ensure that seeded areas, intended to prevent soil erosion, are properly established and all banks are stabilized.

Fuller has called the project 'innovative.'

"We've done the project without cutting down all the trees, which is not typical," he said.

"We used computer modeling to show us where the biggest need was for excavation."

For that reason, engineers have entered the project design and construction model for consideration in the Michigan Association of County Drain Commissioners 2008 Awards Program, Fuller said.

The total project cost was pegged at $3.5 million, including a 15 percent contingency for future maintenance.

The special drain assessment will show up on landowners' winter property taxes in December 2008.

Assistant Editor
Castle Creek
07 - 21 - 19
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